Raus, Untoten!

My latest foray into the world of fiction is a short story, Shadows in the East , which will appear next year in the third volume of a new anthology, Raus, Untoten! published by Fringeworks.

Raus, Untoten! is – as the title suggests – concerned with the German undead: including, but not limited to, that curious creature in horror films, the ‘Nazi zombie’. The editor of the anthology, Matthew Sylvester, wanted contributors to avoid the usual cliches of the genre and try approaching the subject from from unusual angles. I am dying (pardon the pun) to see how imaginative other authors have been, but clearly there was no shortage of enthusiasm: the anthology will be published in four volumes, as follows:

Volume One – October 31st 2013
Volume Two – January 31st 2014
Volume Three – April 30th 2014 (which will include my story)
Volume Four – July 31st 2014

The authors are an eclectic mix from both sides of the Atlantic and include Warhammer novelist Graham McNeill, and choreographer David Thomas Moore.

Matthew Sylvester has also written a story for the first volume. He interviewed me the other day, and our discussion can be read on his website at http://matthewsylvester.com/2013/08/23/author-interview-james-downs

My contribution was inspired in part by my fascination with the workings of German film studios during the 1930s and 1940s, particularly the vast complex at Babelsberg, home to UFA. I have seen many photographs of the studio buildings, both interior and exterior shots, and felt that these could be the ideal setting for my story. Originally, I intended there to be much more cinematic content, with allusions to Doktor Kaligari and other film themes woven into the narrative; as the story developed, it moved in a different direction and some of this material fell by the wayside – possibly no bad thing, either. Sometimes what writers want to write is not what their readers want to read, and there comes a point when an author has to decide who he wishes to please. I am hoping the anthology will be well received and look forward to posting more news about its progress here.


‘Anton Walbrook – Star and Enigma’ exhibition

Well, it’s almost time now to close down the exhibition, ‘Anton Walbrook – Star and Enigma’, which has been running at the Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture, University of Exeter , since 5 March 2013.

For this exhibition, artist Matt McLaren produced a remarkable series of over thirty pictures illustrating scenes from some of Walbrook’s best known films, including Gaslight (1940), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) and The Red Shoes (1948.)  The pictures were created by an unusual technique involving paper cut outs and miniature sets, which are then photographed. Matt recently graduated from the MA illustration programme at Camberwell Art College .

Anton Walbrook (1896-1967) – whose biography I am currently writing – was an appealing, enigmatic star, popular in two warring countries under two different names. Born Adolf Wohlbrück in Vienna , he trained under theatrical impresario Max Reinhardt and achieved great success on both stage and screen in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s, appearing in hit films such asWalzerkrieg (1933), The Student of Prague (1934) and Michael Strogoff (1935.) Leaving Germany in 1936 to escape the Nazis, he became Anton Walbrook and arrived in Britain via Hollywood in early 1937. Walbrook quickly won the hearts of British film goers with his portrayal of Prince Albert in two lavish biopics of Queen Victoria and his role in the hugely popular Dangerous Moonlight, but perhaps his best work was done in partnership with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, with whom he made four films between 1941 and 1955. His postwar career involved work for the theatre, film and television in France , Germany and Britain , including two films with director Max Ophuls. He died in Germany following a heart attack on stage in Münich but – in accordance with his wishes – his body was returned to England and he was buried near his home in Hampstead.

The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum holds a wealth of material relating to Walbrook’s life and career, including early German cinema magazines, postcards, films stills, theatre programmes and presscuttings. A selection of this material was on display alongside Matt’s artwork. As well as curating the exhibition, I provided the accompanying text. Some of my personal collection of Walbrook memorabilia will also be on display, including an original costume worn for his role as Prince Albert . Now that the exhibition has ended, I plan to use this blog to share some more of my memorabilia collection and also provide updates on my progress with the biography.