Tuesday, February 4, 2014

In short: A Pleasing Terror & A Warning to the Curious

Sometimes, living in The Future is a wondrous thing, for it is here that not only does Robert Lloyd Parry exists, a man who makes his living with one-man shows in which he presents some of the works of M.R. James in monologue form, it is also the place where Robert Lloyd Parry brings some of his James adaptations out on DVD. Quite helpful for people not living in James country.

On a filmic level, the performances included on the two DVDs - A Pleasing Terror contains "Canon Alberic's Scrapbook" and "The Mezzotint" and A Warning to the Curious the title story and Lost Hearts - are simple and straightforward, consisting of Parry dressed up as M.R. James sitting and talking into the camera, which is not a set-up that invites visual pyrotechnics. When the few changes of camera angle or slow, dramatic zooms in each story appear, they are quite effective, though, and always stand in service of enhancing Parry's performance.

And Parry's performances are what's truly important here. It's obvious that the man has a scholarly knowledge of James and his work; it is also obvious that Parry has an enormous ability to interpret James's stories, to bring out their wit as well as their horrors, resulting not just in delightful interpretations of the stories but also in a subtle exploration of their antiquarian author as an actual human being. Parry puts quite a bit of emphasis on James's humanity, showing the person telling us his still rather horrifying stories to be fully emotionally involved in his tales, as if he were using his sense of irony and humour as armour against certain thoughts.

How good Parry's performances here are is easiest demonstrated by the fact that the artificiality of the set-up of a man holding a dramatic monologue towards the camera is never really an issue at all. In fact Parry's highly structured and constructed interpretations seem easy and natural in a way only a performance can be. It's not so much as if M.R. James would tell us his stories, it's as if a perfectly realized ideal of M.R. James did.

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