‘Prepare for Darkness’.

Gothic

This was the Gothic Film Festival organised by the Cambridge Film Trust at the Kirkstall Abbey ruins in Leeds, close by the River Aire. This gothic ruin made great site for these films ‘with their dark heart’, especially as the dusk came in and the lighting created a chiaroscuro effect within and without.

A little less favourable was the autumn weather. Some screening suffered from both wind and rain over the festival weekend. I went on the Sunday, when the rain had gone and the wind had died down. Even so, as warned in the brochure, we came wrapped up in thermal wear and wrapped in blankets. After the show was over I stood in a bus shelter whilst a couple indulged in energetic exercises to unthaw their bodies. One nice touch by the organisers, a welcome for ‘well behaved dogs’. I saw one, with equally well-behaved owners. Fortunately neither of the films had scenes likely to spark canine nightmares. The humans were possibly less fortunate.

The opening film was Carl Dryer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, a silent film made in 1928. This is not strictly a gothic film, but it fitted well into the religious environs. The film is based on the actual records of the trial of this young French heroine – the English are the villains. It is one of the most intense films that one can see. There are sequences with crowds and tracking shots, but most of the film consists of large close-ups with acute angles. The intense style is reinforced by the consistently brightly lit white backgrounds, all photographed by Rudolph Maté. And it had a bravura accompaniment by Stephen Horne on keyboards and additional interments. Unfortunately there was only a small audience to appreciate this masterpiece.

The second film, The Innocents (1961) had a much larger audience. This is an adaptation of Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw directed by Jack Clayton. A governess, played superbly by Deborah Kerr, comes to a country house to care for two children. As the past invades the present the film has a terrific sense of the creepy and the uncanny. The black and white scope photography was beautifully done by Freddie Francis and the mise en scéne has a lot of subtle touches.

The organisers had a digital projector set up in the nave along with a large screen. This worked very well, and the chairs were pretty comfortable for an ad hoc arrangement. The two films enjoyed pretty good transfers to digital formats, though the effect of frame adjustment was slightly noticeable on The Passion … The introductions both referred to the First Gothic Film Festival so I hope we will get another opportunity with more dark works of cinema.

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