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Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)
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Details At A Glance
Theatrical Trailer-(3:18) 1.77:1 and 16x9, inferior quality but very intersting
Year Of Production
||Cast & Crew
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Very rarely there is a film that is made with a clear aim in view, and the makers hit their mark perfectly. Umbrella Entertainment have released 1964's Seance on a Wet Afternoon. Though this is a barebones release - not even a menu - this film is of such artistic quality that to have it commercially available, and in its wide-screen form, is a matter for celebration for admirers of great cinema and superb acting. This is a perfect film.
This stark black and white drama - or is it a horror story - combines two towering talents of the sixties, one from Britain, the other from the United States. Firstly we have Richard (now "Lord") Attenborough. Discovered by Noel Coward when only nineteen, "Dickie" Attenborough was first on screen, directed by Coward, in In Which We Serve (1942). His boyish, slightly pudgy face regularly featured in dozens of British films, usually as a trembling wartime coward or vest-wearing young son or husband in numerous J. Arthur Rank comedies. In 1959 he broke this mould when he produced and starred in The Angry Silence, playing a meek worker who stands up to the edicts of his striking union. Ceaselessly working, by 1982 he was producing and directing Gandhi. When he made Seance on a Wet Afternoon, the actor was "internationally acclaimed" and had just completed The Great Escape with Steve McQueen. This new project was the brainchild of Attenborough's longtime Rank colleague Bryan Forbes (Whistle Down the Wind). Once Forbes had Attenborough on board for his film the next question was who was to be his co-star. Early possibilities were Simone Signoret and Margaret Lockwood, but ultimately the actress was to come from the United States.
Kim Stanley is considered by many to be the outstanding American actress of her generation. Making her Broadway debut in 1951, Miss Stanley went on to star in the original New York productions of Picnic, in the Kim Novak role, and Bus Stop, as Cherie, the role which gave Marilyn M. her finest screen moments. In 1958 the actress had unforgettably made her Oscar nominated screen debut in Columbia's The Goddess, playing a character with uncanny parallels to the real life Marilyn. Co-starring Lloyd Bridges, in his best role and performance, The Goddess is an unjustly forgotten film, and one which hopefully will one day re-emerge on DVD. We did not see the actress on screen again until Seance on a Wet Afternoon , and after that there was only to be Frances (1982) and The Right Stuff (1983). There had been a filmed version of Chekov's The Three Sisters in 1966, but this was virtually a recording of a stage production. For the last few decades Kim Stanley has made the occasional TV appearance. Regardless of her small output, in The Goddess and Seance on a Wet Afternoon, Kim Stanley has given us two of the greatest female performances ever captured on film.
In a wonderfully immediate opening, the screenplay - by Bryan Forbes, based on Mark McShane's novel - begins with a black screen lit only by a flickering candle. We are present at a seance being conducted by phone psychic Myra Savage (Kim Stanley). Middle-aged Myra shares a sexless, strangely tense existence with her husband, meek Billy Savage (Richard Attenborough). The Savages pay their way with the money Myra is paid to conduct phony seances, claiming to contact the dead through their dead son, Edward. To further boost their income, and her standing as a psychic, Myra contrives a plan to kidnap a child, and make demands for ransom. Myra is then to contact the distraught parents offering her psychic assistance, supposedly through her powers revealing the whereabouts of the child and the ransom money. To divulge more of the plot would defeat the story telling technique of Forbes, but though the story of itself is a gripping and thrilling one, it is the manner in which it is told that is the enormous strength of this film.
The Savages have a strangely fascinating relationship. Myra is domineering, beneath a facade of ordered and controlled domesticity, seeming to despise her husband. Billy is meek, and does everything to please the wife he adores. Gradually we come to realise that Myra is teetering on the edge of insanity, if not already over the edge and hurtling into the abyss. It becomes hypnotic, watching these two in the confines of their claustrophobic Victorian home. The two performers are unquestionably perfect. No actor was ever better at portraying the meek and sexually frustrated than Attenborough - remember 10 Rillington Place? He avoids the cliches, and makes Billy a sympathetic and pathetic human being. His most telling scenes are without dialogue when he is watching his wife's increasing insanity reveal itself. And more than matching him is the astonishing Kim Stanley, who gives new meaning to the word nuanced. The almost countless emotions that flit across that woman's face! Is there anyone on the screen today who can do that? These two performances are astonishing and exciting, and enormous suspense is built on screen between the two. The climactic confrontation is dramatic and frightening, but exhilirating in the sheer energy of the performances. This is extraordinary acting.
Forbes is brilliantly supported in every aspect of this film. Photography (Gerry Turpin), art direction (Ray Simm) and editing (Derek York) are all excellent. Add to this the emotionally involving score from the great John Barry (Born Free), who also arranged and conducted, and you have a film that is perfection.
Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.
Firstly, the film basically looks great. Obviously taken from a source different from that used for the US release, there is virtually no film damage on this transfer. That is a huge plus, but on the negative side there has been considerable compression and the image does suffer from that.
The transfer is presented in a 16x9 enhanced transfer at the ratio of 1.77:1, the original theatrical ratio having been 1.66:1.
Gerry Turpin's black and white photography is luminous, and generally beautifully reproduced here.
There is very little grain, and an extensive grey scale, with deep solid blacks, and non-flaring whites.
Detail is extremely good in most scenes, but shadow detail is often lacking.
There are extensive video artefacts due to compression, most noticeably on trees in the exteriors, and tweeds in the clothing. However, nothing becomes distracting and the general clarity and precision of the image more than compensate. Edge enhancement was not evident and the close-ups, of which there are many, are quite brilliant. Take a look at the two stars around 30:35.
Film artefacts are almost non-existent. There are no reel cues, no flecking on the extensive blacks - note the beautifully rendered opening shot of the candle - and only two instances of scratches, one negative (27:53) and one positive (101:49). These last for just a couple of seconds.
There are no subtitles.
Video Ratings Summary
There is one audio stream, Dolby Digital mono, encoded at 192 Kbps.
This is a dialogue film and the disc delivers every syllable with exceptional clarity.
There are no clicks, pops or dropouts, and no sync problems, the extensive dialogue feeling immediate and live. The only auditory flaw was in the dialogue of Patrick Magee, with very prominent sibalence. Others in Magee's two scenes were fine, but this flaw continued throughout his lines.
The mono sound has great detail and depth, with John Barry's score reproduced beautifully.
Audio Ratings Summary
|Surround Channel Use|
Taking "bare-bones" to a new level, this release does not even have a menu.
The disc does have thirteen chapters, only accessible from the film itself.
The feature is divided into twelve chapters, and the thirteenth chapter is the original theatrical trailer.
Original Theatrical Trailer (3:18)
Presented in a 16x9 enhanced transfer at the ratio of 1.77:1, this is a very interesting trailer, filled with the atmosphere of 1960s movies.
"Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes ...
The Talented young team of film makers who gave you -
Whistle down the Wind
The Angry Silence
The L-Shaped Room
now bring you their most unusual film."
The print is nowhere near the quality of the feature itself, but is nicely constructed. It lets you know what to expect, without giving anything away, and whets the appetite for the film itself.
Well worth having.
R4 vs R1
NOTE: To view
non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually
also NTSC compatible.
The Region 1 release, from Homevision, appears to have been taken from a badly damaged print, and has no extras.
The Region 2 release, from Network, may use the same source as that used by Umbrella. The only extra, again, is the trailer.
This film contains some of the best acting you will ever see. Every aspect of its making is brilliantly handled and the final film is a thrilling study of insanity and the macabre horror which ordinary individuals are capable of. If you are old enough to have seen it in the 60s you will want to see it again. If you don't know this film, make sure you remedy that. This is a perfectly conceived and executed movie.
© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Thursday, July 30, 2009
|DVD||SONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output|
|Display||Samsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD.
Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player.
Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
|Speakers||VAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)|
Seance on a yet afternoon