Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 27: Marking Time With CBC's Nightfall

Image Source: The Nightfall Project.

Time Management. Procrastination. Internet Use Disorder. Today's Countdown to Hallowe'en blogathon continues by looking at this blog's topics through a horror lens, in this case, how to slow down distracted Millennial sensibilities. Listening to radio drama is a step back to an earlier time, when people had longer attention spans; radio plays demand imagination and attention. They are an antidote for today's limitless multi-tasking.

From 1980 to 1983, Canada's CBC Radio produced a show called Nightfall, described as "one of the most disturbing radio series ever produced." The show's introduction, from the dedicated site, The Nightfall Project ran:
Welcome…to the Edge!

You stand at the rim of the abyss, gazing out over … nothing. Your fear mounts as you are compelled to move closer, to look deeper into the darkness. Your mind races as the many possible outcomes of your next step are considered. Your foot wavers above the abyss, and then — — you are falling, lost in the misty realm of your dreams. You see nothing clearly, yet it is frighteningly familiar. You feel terror swell in your throat, but force it back down. It's only a dream, you say to yourself. Dreams aren't real. They can't hurt me. There's no reason for me to panic. And then, dark locks in: it's NIGHTFALL.
Part of Nightfall's critically-acclaimed impact came from the fact that the show's creators adapted original Canadian horror plays as well as frightening British and European dramas. The latter were sometimes relocated in isolated Canadian towns, with electric effects. The Porch Light episode from 1982 is an example of a scary story set in a Canadian white-out blizzard, so that the characters have nowhere to run.

Another example is the episode, Wildcats, based on the Geman short story by Christian Noak. Wildkatzen oder Wenn die Dämmerung kommt was performed as a 1961 radio play in Germany by Westdeutschen Rundfunk and then adapted in Canada in 1981 by the much-loved Czech Canadian radio personality, the late Otto Lowy (when Lowy died in 2002, Canada's Senate delivered a tribute statement in his honour). The tale was originally about a passenger getting off at the wrong train stop in rural Germany, but it became much more threatening when the scene was eerily shifted to the Canadian wilderness by a broadcaster who was as acquainted with Europe as he was with Canada; the Nightfall Project comments:
For 22 years, up until his death in 2002, Lowy hosted The Transcontinental, CBC Radio's "musical train ride through Europe". During that time he also wrote and acted in several radio and television programs (including acting in two NIGHTFALL episodes, in addition to writing this one). 
In this episode, a man traveling by train (series regular Neil Dainard) disembarks at the wrong station and ends up having to spend the night at the old Blue Trout Inn, a run-down hotel from the days when the area was a major tourist attraction. The Inn is run by two elderly sisters (Jane Mallet and series regular Ruth Springford) who live in fear of the local wildcats. Having lived alone at the Inn alone for years, the two women realize they have a chance for company and plot to keep the man there by administering morphine and claiming he is ill. They also take advantage of the man's state to ask him detailed personal questions. Unfortunately for them, the man's truthful confessions inspire the women to make their own… 
This is one of the more unusual plays in the NIGHTFALL series and it merits more than one listen to really get the full effect of the story. A lot of key story points can be lost if you're not paying attention. I have tried for years to find the original short story this is based on, but I have so far drawn a blank. Perhaps a lead might be found if Otto Lowy's files have been archived somewhere.
The show adapted classics such as The Monkey's Paw (listen to this searing warning against bending fate and cheating death here), The Telltale Heart, The Body Snatchers, Young Goodman Brown, and The Signalman. The show also covered science fiction, such as the post-apocalyptic mutant tale, The Chrysalids. Many episodes depended upon arcane glimpses into the future, evil predictions and frightening time loops. A good example is the episode, Mkara: "Ethiopia, 1938. After killing a sacred elephant for ivory, Charles Woodley is told he is cursed, that he will die five years later, on the same date he killed the animal. Ethiopia, 1943. Woodley, believing in the curse ... has deteriorated, is waiting to die. A friend, a doctor, comes to visit."

Sometimes, the listening environment brings out the depth of radio dramas: the most harrowing episode of Nightfall I heard in 1982 was The Debt: "A fraternity initiation ritual goes too far, and the young man being initiated is killed. And that's the end of that. Or is it..."  I listened to it over a scratchy car radio, while driving on an endless rural stretch in Quebec (where an old seigneurial east-west road is called a rang and a north-south highway is called a montée) in the middle of the night.

Montée Rockburn sideroad, Quebec. Image Source: Cycle Fun Montreal.

Turn the lights down low and listen to stories from the gathering dark...

You can listen to many of the total 100 episodes, here or directly above (scroll up and down the right hand menu to see all the episode selections), with summaries and reviews here and here. Recommended episodes include The Devil's Backbone and Wind Chill. For a horror take on American presidential elections, listen to The Monkey's Raincoat, "A satirical vision of the future of American politics, as a freshly inaugurated President must prove his caliber (pun intended) by eliminating several assassins on his way to the White House." Nightfall gained an audience in the United States when it was rebroadcast by National Public Radio.

Image Source: Nightfall.

See all my posts on Horror themes.

See all my posts on Ghosts.

Nightfall is © Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio and is reproduced here solely for the purpose of not-for-profit review and discussion.

Thanks to -J. for one of the links mentioned above.

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