Thursday, January 09, 2020

Whistle and I'll Come To You (1968)


Whistle and I'll Come To You (1968) starring Sir Michael Hordern as the Professor.

GB 1968. PC: BBC.
    P+D+SC: Jonathan Miller – based on the short story "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904) by M. R. James. DP: Dick Bush – 16 mm – 1:1,33 – b&w. PD: Judy Steele. Cost: Ken Morey. Make-up: Eileen Mair. S: Ron Hooper, John Ramsay. ED: Pam Bosworth. Assistants to the Director: Sheila Lally, Paul Stone.
    C: Michael Hordern (traveller, Professor), Ambrose Coghill (Colonel), George Woodbridge (hotel proprietor), Nora Gordon (proprietess), Freda Dowie (maid).
    For Omnibus, BBC1, tx. 7/5/1968
    42 min
    In memoriam Jonathan Miller (1934–2019), recommended by a valued friend.
    Viewed on television from YouTube, 9 Jan 2020.

Wikipedia synopsis: "The story tells the tale of an introverted academic who happens upon a strange whistle while exploring a Knights Templar cemetery on the East Anglian coast. When blown, the whistle unleashes a supernatural force that terrorises its discoverer."

AA: I saw for the first time the acclaimed Whistle and I'll Come To You made by Jonathan Miller for the BBC. Sir Jonathan Miller who died last autumn was a great British theatre, opera and television director, excelling in drama (Shakespeare, Verdi) and comedy (Beyond the Fringe), and among many other things also a distinguished author.

One of Miller's books is On Reflection (1998), a study on mirrors. Mirrors and reflections are prominent also in Whistle and I'll Come To You. Together with his cinematographer Dick Bush Miller conveys M. R. James's ghost story in purely visual terms. The vision is based on a composition in depth, and mirrors add an extra dimension. Surprising camera movements and angles add to intensity.

From the ordinary Miller creates something extraordinary. Sounds are used creatively. The wind is a key element in the coastside guesthouse in Norfolk. We can understand how the professor starts to sense that there is an alien presence in the room, evoked by the old whistle he has picked from the embankment of the Knights Templar cemetery. Its Latin inscription means: "Who is this who is coming?".

The main narrative itself has a nightmare approach, but in addition there are dreams within the story. Dreams in films are usually not particularly convincing. In this film they are even more reduced than the main story but genuinely compelling.

Hamlet's lines "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy" are familiar in horror fiction from Frankenstein till Lovecraft, and they are also quoted in this film.

Whistle and I'll Come To You belongs to a distinguished lineage that started in the 1940s in subtle horror films such as Dead of Night and The Seventh Victim. Jacques Tourneur revived the Val Lewton legacy in Britain in the most prominent M. R. James film adaptation, The Curse of the Demon, based on Casting the Runes.

But I was also thinking about Roman Polanski (Repulsion) and moments in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and his performance in the Psycho maxi trailer. In Michael Horden's excellent performance there are even affinities with Jacques Tati and Les Vacances de M. Hulot.

The tradition to which Whistle and I'll Come To You belongs has been recently revived in new wave horror films such as A Ghost Story and Hereditary.

The film is based on a story by M. R. James, but the film also brings to mind the ghost stories of another James – Henry James (The Turn of the Screw, The Jolly Corner).

This is the first film that I have viewed from YouTube on a television screen. Looks good.

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