Monthly Archives: December 2017

Some Leaf Collecting highlights from 2017

 

Leaf Collecting is now five years old. Many thanks to all its readers.

Here are a few cultural highlights from its writer’s year.

Travel: a belated return to Orkney, including to the great Pier Arts Centre in Stromness.

One new film : Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin was certainly not flawless but did draw a great performance from Simon Russell Beale as the secret police chief Beria.

Older films: Stage Door was especially striking during its first quarter, with 12 young actresses, and with scarcely a man in sight, exchanging fast, witty dialogue in a model which we might copy more often today, while the J.B. Priestley-scripted Last Holiday had an interesting left-wing slant on Britain just after the Second World War.

Theatre: Heroica Theatre‘s Joan Eardley: a Private View and Company of WolvesThe End of Things.

TV: certainly Broken, but another fine drama was Decline and Fall – an accomplished adaptation of an Evelyn Waugh novel on BBC1 on Friday night? Almost made you think we were back in the 1980s! Also The Mash Report, freshly and reliably mocking the tropes of old and new media as well as politicians around the globe.

Radio: Jeremy Bowen’s Our Man in the Middle East, the Radio 1 Vintage three-day pop-up channel – an imaginative way to mark the 50 years of the station – and the always enlightening and instructive Late Junction.

Music: the Scottish musician Gerry Cinnamon’s influences are very clear, but it is still striking to see what individual success can still be achieved without mainstream media support, with just moderate skills in playing, composition and singing but added to persistent application and a hard-earned stage confidence.

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Desire, deception and devilry by candlelight

 

Leslie Megahey is not the best-known UK film director, so it is interesting to find around the internet so much evidence of admiration for one of his films, Schalcken the Painter.

This was first screened by the BBC at Christmas 1979 , both as an edition of the arts programme Omnibus and also the latest in a series of annual Yuletide ghost stories. Its main value is in its photography which brilliantly recreates the look of 17th century Dutch paintings.

Film critic Graham Fuller points out that it is in particular the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen and Pieter de Hooch which provide the template for the film and this is certainly convincing if you look at the artists’ work on the Essential Vermeer website.

Leslie Megahey’s script was based on a 19th century story by the Irishman Joseph Sheridan Lefanu, which constructed a plot around an non-existent (as far as I can find out) painting by a real-life Dutch artist Gottfried Schalcken.

The original story describes how Schalcken loses his betrothed, Rose, niece of the artist to whom he is apprenticed, the real-life Gerrit Dou, to a rich old man. Once married, Rose disappears without trace but later Schalcken has a nightmare in which Rose and her rich husband appear to him. Megahey’s updating provides more detail about Schalcken’s life and more detail of his fictional nightmare.

 

The original story of “Schalcken the Painter” mentions Leyden and Rotterdam, but these pictures of period Dutch architecture were taken in Amsterdam in 2001.

 

 

One reason why the drama remained in my memory, it must be confessed, was because it included a certain amount of exposed female flesh (still rare on television at that time and usually irresistible to the younger male viewer). It ended with a particularly provocative scene where, in Schalcken’s nightmare, he imagines watching his lost love Rose invite him to watch her making love to her monstrously frightening and ugly husband.

 

 

 

Dou and Schalcken are still among the less famous artists of their period, so I remember the different frisson, prompted by strong memories of the drama carried over the years, when I later unexpectedly came across a Dou painting in the Palais des Beaux Arts in Lille.

Watching Schalcken the Painter again, I was reminded about other interesting works of fiction which imagine the lives and work of forgotten painters. First, Ali Smith’s novel How to be Both which includes the work of the Italian Francesco del Cossa and Leslie Megahey’s own later Cariani and the Courtesans which features his slightly later compatriot Giovanni Cariani.

 

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