Thursday, January 26, 2006

Gormenghast and a bottle of scotch

It's Sunday afternoon here in The Philippines and I have time to kill until late Tuesday night when I leave on the trek to Manila and thence home. Well not quite true, I do have to appear at the customers site Monday and Tuesday but that's work; this is pleasure :-)

What more natural than to watch, again, Gormenghast[^], the BBC realisation of the novels, made in 2000. As I write I'm halfway through the series (I ripped the DVD's to the laptop) and about a third of the way through a bottle of Ballantines Scotch (duty free from Tokyo).

A wonderful experience. The production manages to convey the spirit of the novels; no mean feat. The scene where Steerpike escapes from the prison cell Flay left him in, only to find himself suspended hundreds of feet above the christening of Lord Groan still gives me that uncomfortable crawling of the skin and visceral fear I associate with heights with which I'm uncomfortable.

The enmity between Flay and Swelter comes across wonderfully and I have to say that the choice of Richard Griffiths as Swelter was inspired. It took me quite a while to place him; of course, it was Pie in the Sky[^].

I wrote, some time ago[^], about how, 30 years after first hearing it, the climax of Wagner's Liebestod still sends a chill down my spine. It's the same with this production of Gormenghast. That scene halfway through the first episode, where Steerpike and Lady Fuschia meet for the first time. The music is absolutely perfect. I've been known to watch that part of the DVD multiple times just to hear the music!

In fact, for me, half the appeal of the TV adaptation is the music. I'm a sucker for lush romantic music; witness my enthusiasm for the music of Mahler, Bruckner and Scriabin. The visuals of the musicians are wonderful; we see strange and unfamiliar musical instruments. Alpenhorns, odd looking harps, string instruments that look like a Daliesque violin, almost but not quite right.

I really enjoyed the third episode of the series, the one with the school masters. At first glance it doesn't seem to fit at all into the story we've seen so far (and I had the same feeling with the novel itself) but it's inspired insanity works for me.

I can't imagine what it must be like for someone to watch this production who hasn't already read the novels. Indeed, I almost wish I hadn't read them before seeing it; in much the same way that I envy someone who's never before heard, say, Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy[^] and has the wonder of that work ahead of them.

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