There are few writers that figure more prominently in everything I do than the teller of beautiful Edwardian ghost stories, M.R. James. Alongside W.G. Sebald, J.G. Ballard, Alan Garner and Virginia Woolf, his writing holds a great power over me with its familiar yet unfamiliar worlds. His writing preys upon my mind at regular intervals, even outside of the Christmas period from which they were first devised as fireside treats. Above is the trailer for this year’s October film and, in spite of both its brevity and its crumbling nature (due to the age of the stock used to film it), it is an important little project for me. For the last few years, I’ve tried to produce a ghost story for every Halloween with varying results. Though this is not quite a narrative film, it should help fill the inevitable gaping gap that will be left by the increasing tabloidism of television scheduling; once the home of such ghostly, spooky (and regular) treats. More than another regular ghost film, however, this is my first genuine attempt to respond to James’ work but should excavate it in an unusual way.
Far from being a narrative film, No Diggin’ Here is simultaneously a landscape essay and a creative response to two things: James’ original story, A Warning To The Curious (1925), and Lawrence Gordon Clark’s subsequent adaptation of it for the BBC in 1972. Though I don’t want to go into too much detail at this stage about what this exactly means, No Diggin’ Here is designed to be a subtle questioning of how both of those previous works have responded to the landscape and, ergo, how such differences that arise between forms can be interesting and indeed ghostly. This is a film that has been designed to show a formalism behind such ghostliness in spite of such arrogant ideas being at the heart of those regularly punished in James’ work, especially in A Warning To The Curious. This is in part because it is designed to be an argument used in a presentation looking into why analogue forms are simply more conducive to ghosts and perhaps even Folk Horror as a whole, to be delivered later in October. This, as the trailer above tells, is to be shown at the British Museum and is the final piece of evidence used in the presentation; like a last clue for a Jamesian antiquarian, slotting into place only to unleash some hidden menace.
I’m lucky enough to have worked with Paul Carmichael again on the voice-over which, as an avid fan of archive television, he took particular relish in. But even more excitingly, it features a brand new violin piece by the wonderful Laura Cannell. Cannell captures the landscape of East Anglia through her music in a way that I didn’t conceive to be possible until hearing her work. The closest I’d heard before it was either in Ralph Vaughan Williams or Brian Eno. In many ways her work is an amalgamation of the two but also entirely her own response and world; mixing the technical textures of the former with an eye for the eerie of the latter. In other words, she’s the perfect musician to score a film reacting to the landscapes of M.R. James and I only hope the trailer raises the curiosity of those who enjoy being haunted by such evocative music.
No Diggin’ Here has a preview screening at the British Museum on the 16/10/2016 and is online on the BFI website in October and on Celluloid Wicker Man on 31/10/2016.