Day #190/365: Electric Eden Ether Reprise (#2): Acts Of Enclosure, the utopian impulse and why folk music and culture?
I have wandered why folk music and culture? Why have I been drawn to it and why is A Year In The Country in quite a large part focused on it?
It’s not been a conscious thing but I think as this year-long journey winds it way I’m starting to put together the pieces.
Rob Young, author of Electric Eden, has discussed the connection between such music/culture and utopian impulses and desires and how there is a connection to historic acts of land enclosure/clearance and I think that has played a not considerable part in me being drawn to such things:
“…I think the industrial revolution has much to do with it – beginning around 1760, when a Parliamentary act called ‘Inclosure’ forcibly removed common lands from the folk and scooped them into private ownership. That pushed many agricultural workers towards the new cities and factories where the only remaining employment opportunities lay. This displacement is at the bottom of so much of the British empathy with the countryside, I believe, as so much utopian thought and music here seems to desire to tap into folk memories of an unsullied rural state of mind which now appears like a golden age. Surviving relics from the world before that industrial ‘Fall’ are revered: old buildings, texts, songs, etc, are like talismans to be treasured, as a connective chain to the past.”
Acts of Enclosure? Hmmm, that rings a bell…
As the years have gone by I have found myself priced out of my own land; the cost of putting a roof over your head (in terms of the ever upward path of rental prices), of keeping the lights on and the wolves from the door seems to quietly, gradually be removing a certain less material wealth directed way of life out of the cities and in particular the city centres of this fair isle.
If you’re not driven by such counting the gold coins and pieces of silver aims in a particular way then the space needed for the creation of more wayward forms of culture has become a hard(er) path to follow and the resulting pathways have led me away from the hearts of cities and towns. (See also Mark Fisher’s comments on such things via Day #163/365).
Although I think I enjoy living amongst the fields, there is an element of choice being taken away and of things reverting to older forms of wealth/class division; it is a form of social and economic clearing out and exclusion, a removal of access to the clustering and critical mass of population that is sometimes required for cultural forms to develop and take hold.
In a way this could be considered to be a form of enclosure, the mirror image of that earlier 18th century version: this time it’s non-acts/the ending of acts of Parliamentary regulation which have in part caused it (removing statutory rent control or regulation for example), rather than overt legislation and the “common people” are being removed from the inner cities rather than forced into them.
But as I say this is being done quietly and there seems to be little viable venue or direction for a consideration that maybe a society where a handbag can cost more than a house did but a few years ago is probably not one which… well, doesn’t have it’s head up its ass and in the sand.
(I don’t think that’s a political left/right consideration, that’s just common sense that a society where that is the case without overly demurring about it is one that is out of kilter.)
I think also semi-consciously my removing myself from urban environments has been a side effect of a need to place filters between myself and the overload of culture and input which can occur more easily in such environments (although now of course there are small and not so small boxes of zeros and ones that can offer up over-gorging of such things sat in the corner of all abodes even out amongst the fields)… you rarely see billboards in such parts of the world, the headlines and shiny covers of publications and periodicals can’t catch and enter your eye from every corner… and something I thought about the other day, there’s an interesting lack of surveillance and recording out in country towns compared to their city brethren.
I’m not trying to say that all cities and compact population environments are inherently evil nor that the countryside and country living is all green grassed idyll… nor that pastoral/folk culture is part of some dichotomous good/bad pathway with urban/pop culture…
More just thinking (typing) aloud as I try to connect the dots.
The rhythms and cadences of the music that makes sense beyond your youth and out amongst the fields is different, the stories that folk music, certain areas of hauntology and pastoral/subterannean ambient music tell seem to fit living amongst such lands more… and I know the stories of pop/alternative culture a little too well and they have been told, retold and used too often by the mainstream and non-mainstream media, until for me their stories nolonger carry the meanings and connections they once did.
(I use the word pop in its root Roman sense of populi – and to quote myself quoting Rob Young – to mean culture “derived from centrally controlled, regimented, urban communities which were entertained/appeased/distracted by mass spectacle”; see Day #40/365 for more on such things and wanders amongst the wald.)
Since the advent and popularity of more urban based pop music/culture, what has been called folk music/culture has only periodically been popular/considered acceptable for wider marketing/consumption (the high summer of folk rock in the late 1960/early-to mid 1970s, the interest in freak folk in the earlier-to-mid 2000s) and as Jeanette Leech says in her introduction to the Weirdlore album:
“…when light is not on a garden, many plants will wither. But others won’t. They will grow in crazy, warped, hardy new strains. It’s time to feed from the soil instead of the sunlight.”
Hmmm. I’ve always tended to think of the direct sunlight of media and mass attention as a double-edged sword for subcultures, often not giving things the space they need to grow and develop fully…
…which brings me back to why folk music/culture; this sense of it being a cultural form which has been left alone, one which has been allowed to gain nourishment from the earth rather than the rays for me means that the space around it feels less regulated (at least in the areas I’ve been searching and researching); there is still some space to move and dream around such things, which may be less so in other areas of culture. You can still walk these “wild woods” a little more freely.
Visit Weirdlore around these parts here.
The right to live amongst the common land around these parts here.
William Gibson’s comments on the effects of the direct sunlight of attention, subcultures as places where post-industrial societies go to dream and their premature plucking can be visited via Day #162/365.
Day #188/365: The Ash Tree; Sacred Disobedience, an unorthodox guidance and further fields In England
“Your search in Castingham shall be vain, witchfinder.”
I suppose the horrors and monsters under the bed I’ve been drawn to/explore during A Year In The Country have tended to be more man made than supernatural; I suppose this is a view that connects with Ben Wheatley’s consideration of Threads as a horror film and even his own Kill List more concerns the evils of man than those of phantasms and spirits.
“Now we have ye, now we see ye, in your night shape, the night hare.”
Having said which, I seem to keep stumbling across the more ghostly concerned work of M.R. James, largely in televisual form and via the referencing from other practitioners rather than in the leafs and pages of books…
Along which lines, The Ash Tree from 1975.
It was created and prepared for cathode ray transmission by David Rudkin, who for a while seemed to be the go-to chap for otherly Albion-ic television (he was also responsible for Penda’s Fen and Artermis 81); there is something visionary about this small body of work.
“I am confounded…”
In many ways The Ash Tree feels like it could sit quite comfortably amongst the not-so salubrious fare that littered the faded dream palaces of mid seventies Britain, it has that nasty, unsettling feeling to it that a fair few cinematic escapees of the time in this fair isle did, possibly reflecting a wider sense of corruption and malaise in society (a theme that I seem to return to around these parts and more of which in a moment)… Connecting it with such other flickering tales is not to dismiss it, just that, well, it’s not easy viewing.
Having recently rewatched it, I still feel unsettled. I’m kind of mildly surprised that it escaped onto television as it’s a very adult piece of work, one which borders in part on exploitation cinema, albeit with an underlying arthouse intelligence.
I think of it as a film, even though it was made for television and is only just over half an hour long; it feels like a film in compact, condensed form.
…and that from which it is compressed may well be in part Witchfinders General, with which it shares an era and some themes… and it also brings to mind once again the deadly tree games of a certain early-mid 1970s British horror portmanteau film (see Day # 167/365)…
I don’t know if it was just the murky colours of the transfer I watched but this is yester-year, pastoral England most definitely transposed to that aforementioned 1970s dissolution and grime. There is little beauty in this landscape and it’s rolling fields. Bleak is a word that comes and jumps to mind; these are moors and feeding grounds full of judgement, punishment, voyeurism and unexplained carrion.
“What I have seen I have seen…”
Although I won’t enter into details of the plot overly here, suffice to say this is a tale of the hunting, hounding and revenge, of an establishment “vendetta, against women who are better” (to semi-quote The Eccentronic Research Council).
“…an unorthodox guidance…”
File under: Trails and Influences: Recent Explorations. Case #23/52.
I’m not sure how I came across the work and life of Angus McPhee. It’s been a very recent discovery and I’m still learning and exploring… it’s a difficult subject matter to write about as I want to be as respectful as possible…
It’s astonishing work and a sad and astonishing life story.
Here’s a brief introduction courtesy of the Weaver Of Grass, which was a document of the development and touring of a show about his work:
“Angus McPhee was from Iochdar, in South Uist, part of the Outer Hebrides, or Western Islands of Scotland. He was a crofter who as a young man went off to war in 1940. Something happened during the next few years and he was invalided home, a changed man, an elective mute. Soon he was transferred to Craig Dunain, a Victorian psychiatric hospital outside of Inverness. There he spent the next 40-odd years. During this period he created extraordinary woven grass objects. These were hardly recognized by the hospital staff, until in the late 1970s the noted art therapist Joyce Laing visited the hospital, looking for examples of ‘Art Brut’, Outsider Art, or ‘Art Extraordinary’. Joyce seized upon the pieces she found in the hospital grounds, and thus fortunately was able to preserve a small part of Angus’s work.” (When Angus had finished one piece he would discard it and start another).
I think I shall let those few words, his once home and the work tell it’s story and speak for itself.
A Triple Bill For One Night Only
Curse Of The Crimson Altar – A queen escapes from beneath…
A Field In England – Box Fantasma reimagining…
The Equestrian Vortex – Released from the ferrous loops…
There are two versions of The Curse Of The Crimson Altar in my mind; one is the actual film, which is a pleasant enough, fairly mainstream potboiler… and the other version which lives in the basement of the main film, drenched in green light, with a soundtrack by Trish Keenan and James Cargill and where Ms Barbara Steele reigns supreme… in this other version, the sections lorded over by their queen have grown and taken on a life of their own, to become a fully fledged feature that has quietly subsumed that which originally spawned it.
When taking in this film, it does feel like for brief moments it steps down into the basement and into another place, giving just a glimpse of what could have been…
…and I suppose in a way, there’s a connection between such things and the creation of imaginary soundtracks to films that never existed (see Day #167/365).
Well, partly because of this quote from an unedited interview transcript with Ms Keenan:
“I’d like people to enjoy the album as a Hammer horror dream collage where Broadcast play the role of the guest band at the mansion drug party by night, and a science worshipping Eloi possessed by 3/4 rhythms by day, all headed by the Focus Group leader who lays down sonic laws that break through the corrective systems of timing and keys.”
(see Day #33/365)…
…which tends to make me think of Curse Of The Crimson Altar and this other version that I hold in my cultural wishes and dreams list…
…and partly because of them creating the soundtrack for Berberian Sound Studio and it’s film within a film, The Equestrian Vortex… somewhere in my mind and the universe that inner loop of celluloid also exists. I know it must do…
…just as somewhere there is also a version of A Field In England reimagined by Julian House (see Day #73/365).
And talking of Ms Barbara Steele… although I’m not a huge horror fan, sections of Mark Gatiss A History Of Horror series for the venerable British Broadcasting Corporation have stuck in my head… in particular when he interviews Barbara Steele about Black Sunday; the chap can barely contain himself or his utter excitement at hearing her talk about the phantoms and shock of the film and she fantastically plays up to the part. A fine meeting of your childhood nocturnes…
You can watch that section starting around 20.32 here (careful, careful, this is not for the fainthearted)…
Talking about “curious disconnect(s) between what you think/hope a film/piece of culture will be like and what it actually is like…” (see Day #181/365), some of my favourite pieces of work leading up to and through A Year In The Country have been the introduction and end title sequences to particular cathode ray series produced in this island state around the late 1960s to about 1980.
In these days of instant zero and ones access to knowledge about almost all culture, I find that sometimes I don’t want to know about a piece of culture, sometimes I just want to enjoy and soak it up, to travel with it… or sometimes to not actually watch, say, the series itself but just to let it and what it represents exist in my mind only. Accompanying that, title sequences act as hints or clues to these imaginary, unseen stories…
Sometimes when I do sit down and watch a series, it feels like a separate piece of work to the imaginary version that I think of… or if I saw it when I was younger, this new set of images I’m sat watching bear only a passing resemblance to my stored memories of the series I once watched (along similar lines, a perusal of James Cargill’s considerations of such things is well worth a look-see; more on that at Day #33/365 and here.)
I’m not quite sure why but my interest in such introduction/end title sequences halts at programs recorded around 1980.
Why is that?
In a more easily definable sense its possibly because after around 1980 British fantasy/science fiction television began to try and compete with the slickness and spectacle of cinema blockbusters but it couldn’t and in the process it lost some of its own character or mystery…
But there’s something not quite definable at play here. Compare the title sequence for the mid-1980s Tripods with that for the late 1960s The Owl Service; the first is part of now, of today, of here, the latter is from then, before and elsewhere.
Trying to work out why such things have become such icons or touchstones of something otherly, of hidden layers and meanings would appear to be quite a large part and parcel of the A Year In The Country journeying…
…in a more abstract sense, possibly it’s because that point in time was a tipping point in society, it’s direction, aims, wants and needs; a move towards more individualistic concerns, accompanied by a move economically, politically and socially towards the right.
Programs made up until that point somehow are imbued with an antideluvian quality, they are now broadcasts or remnants from an “other” time; in many ways, that is one of the defining features of what has become known as hauntology – a collective mourning or melancholia for this time before, these lost futures, this reaching for the stars (in a socially progressive sense).
So, programs made before 1980 were produced before the beginning of the end of the sway of a certain kind of progressive modernism/utopianism thought and ideals, replaced by a monotheistic capitalist/scientific belief system…
…and they are both belief systems; the more a system of thought shouts that it is the only way, that it is logical, rational, right, backed by hard evidence, it’s advocates have a particular prescribed clerical uniform etc (robes become white lab coats?) then… well, I expect it’s not.
The march of history is endless and one day I suspect scientific theories based at their core on matter we can’t see, feel, touch, hear or often definitively proven will be considered in the same way that… well, previous eras forces, spirits, gods and malevolences that couldn’t be seen, touched or proven are often considered now; one way of looking at the world but kind of quaint, not true, belonging to a less sophisticated time and so forth.
This is not to be dismissive of any of such things. They arise when needed and are (in some ways) suitable/useful for their times. Scientific and capitalist beliefs are that now. Sometimes it’s just steam engine time, so they happen:
“You know steam engine time? Humans have built little toys, steam engines, for thousands of years. The Greeks had them. Lots of different cultures. The Chinese had them. Lots of different cultures used steam to make little metal things spin around. Nobody ever did anything with it. All of a sudden someone in Europe did one out in a garden shed and the industrial revolution happened. That was steam engine time.” William Gibson here.
One day, it may nolonger be steam engine time.
And so, on this page, a selection of remnants from transmissions before the flood.
Thanks to Mark Fisher for helping bring together threads of thought and a cohering of ideas around the sense of lost futures associated with hauntological thinking in his Ghosts Of My Life book (see Day #163/365).
The Reaping Amongst The Stones archival print. £30.00.
Limited edition of 52. Each print is signed and numbered.
59.4cm x 21 cm / 23.4″ x 8.3″ (same width as A2, half the height of A2).
Printed with archival Giclée pigment inks on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 100% cotton paper.
Day #181/365: Queens Of Evil; “What sort of conjurers are you?” – “Persuaders, your eminence, hidden persuaders.”
There’s sometimes a curious disconnect between what you think/hope a film/piece of culture will be like and what it actually is like…
I’ve been thinking about this film for a few years now but I’ve never seen it. Periodically I would read up about it online, think about it some more and then not watch it.
It’s not just that it’s a quite hard to find film, particularly in an English language version that stopped me watching it… I think in part I imagined it as a quite magical, otherly, fairytale like piece of work and I wasn’t sure that I wanted the reality challenging the imaginary film I had created in my head. It had become its own myth without me ever seeing it…
I think I first heard about it on the venerable British Broadcast Corporations, during an episode of the Film Program.
Now, I like the Film Program. I’m also quite fond of the civilised refuge of Radio 4 on which it occurs. I wasn’t expecting to hear about an obscure Italian late 1960s European cult pop-art woodland-folkloric critique of power and psychedelic idealism on it. Left of centre mainstream classics and commercially released contemporary independent films yes. Queens Of Evil/Le Regine/Il Delitto del Diavolo, no.
Anyway, one day I sat down and set off for a cup of tea and a slice of cake in the woods…
A film is unlikely to be able to live up to the long lead-up this one had… I’m not sure if it did. Possibly I think of the film I saw as being a different one to the one I had imagined… I think I’m still processing it as I write but here are some thoughts.
The film’s plot? Well, a handsome young freewheelin’/hippie/idealist kind of chap comes across a house in the woods after he’s been involved in a road accident where a materially wealthy gent was killed… living in this house are 3 young women who take him in, charm, nurture, seduce and confuse him… everything is rosy for a while but there’s something off-kilter about the setup and he can’t quite seem to leave…
I won’t say more in case you should ever watch the film…
Instead I shall try and describe it… I would have to say imagine a gently decadent grown ups version of a tea-party in the woods, a dash of Snow White (in fact somebody says “It’s just like Snow Whites house” about the cabin in the woods at one point), a bit more of a dash of Hansel and Gretel and it’s tales of leading astray, more than a touch of late 1960s kidnapping hipster gals living in a giant see-through bubble in the countryside film The Touchables, social critique and the dreamlike qualities of some of Czech New Wave films such as Daisies and Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders…
…actually, that’s quite a bit what this felt like. Though Italian, it could well have been part of that cycle of fairytale like Czech films… it has a similar playful, childlike idyll and sometimes dreamlike quality to it but if you should go into the woods today… well, let’s just say you may well be hiding behind the sofa by the end. Tread carefully is all I shall say. It is playful in parts but this is most definitely a film for grown ups and not always an easy piece of celluloid to watch…
Oh and to add in to that mix of what it’s like I would say The Wickerman. That was actually the film it was compared to on the radio broadcast where I first became aware of it… there is a similar sense of game playing, of leading a worldly innocent through a set of rituals, of levels of power and control… oh and similarly to that towering modern(ish) folklore tale, apples and symbols of temptation play a part in this game.
And as with The Wickerman, this is a tale full of it’s own and borrowed mythology and which seems to exist and be told in a world of it’s own imagining, where the outside rarely intrudes.
By the end you realise that this (sometimes) fairytale fable is actually a quite severe satire or critique on society, of those in higher echelons of power and also the decadence and potential corruptibility of the psychedelic/free love movement and it’s associated idealism… in many ways it is a story of a culture tottering right on the edge of when the utopian, carefree, sundrenched dream of the 1960s was about to fall into the darkness of it’s own dissolution in the following decade (something I seem to return to the idea of in the pages of A Year In The Country… Liege and Lief becomes Comus, as it were).
This is one film that I feel would greatly benefit from a careful brush, scrub up and restoration. It’s something of a visual delight, full of late 1960s ethereal high fashion (think Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell, Psychedlic Folkloristic) which at points is mixed with chimeric fantasy, largely set in sharply stylish but indolent, tree inhabited period interiors… but you may well only be able to see it in a somewhat blurred incarnation…
View a (contemporarily created) trailer here (and look away before the end). Watch the film… well, I’m not quite sure where.
Day #178/365: The cuckoo in the nest: sitting down with a cup of cha, a slice of toast, Broadcast, Emerald Web, Ghost Box Records and other fellow Shindig travellers…
Now, on the occasional time when I wander down a high street and into a newsagent in recent years, I don’t tend to expect to find a magazine that takes as its subject matter hauntological and interconnected culture and/or a touch of otherly folk music.
But this issue of Shindig magazine would have been one case where I might have discovered such a publication as sometimes it can be found nestled alongside other more generally culturally appealing periodical tomes…
Shindig is an independently published magazine that focuses on psychedelic, garage, beat, powerpop, soul and folk music, often from or influenced by previous eras. Although it does tend to explore experimental electronic work, you’re probably more likely to discover the likes of The 13th Floor Elevators, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, The Pretty Things, The Flamin’ Groovies and The Chocolate Watch Band on the cover than, well, contemporary electronic experimentalists, avant-garde cinema inspired, psychedelic modernist band from around and about The Black Country, such as Broadcast…
…but there is one issue that’s something of a cuckoo in the Shindig nest.
That’s issue 32 (which I have mentioned in passing before, see Day #59/365). Shindig is generally a fine publication but this particular issue is particularly fine in terms of the interests and pathways of A Year In The Country.
Why is that?
Well, let’s do a list of the contents:
1) Broadcast are on the cover: well, that’s a good start around these ways.
2) The Children Of Alice: Inside there’s a ten page (yes, ten pages indeed) article on the band/interview with James Cargill by Thomas Patterson. It covers Broadcasts history and influences, their work and geographic relocation, some rather classic photographs, James’ future plans and well… the subject of the sad passing of Trish Keenan, which is dealt with in a respectful manner. Oh and the article has a two page illustration by longstanding Broadcast collaborator Julian House.
2) The Noise Made By Trish: in which Seasons They Change author Jeanette Leech celebrates Trish Keenan and her work.
3) Your Hidden Dreams: a wander through some of the electronic pioneers who could be considered to have led the way towards Broadcast, including Silver Apples, Suicide and United States Of America.
4) An Electric Storm: a consideration of the arrival of Delia Derbyshire, fellow BBC Radiophonic Workshop companion Brian Hodgson and David Vorhaus’ White Noise album, subtitled “Mark Brend Chronicles the birth of “hauntological””.
5) Sounds From The Living Room: In which Dan Abbott chooses what he considers Broadcast’s 10 best releases…
Okay, pause for breath… and then there’s…
6) The Equestrian Vortex: an investigation of Berberian Sound Studio and its accompanying soundtrack by Broadcast.
(Above Trish Keenan and James Cargill partake in tiffin accompanied by neighbours from the semi next door, Alex and Maxine Sanders, who’ve popped round for a little afternoon channelling of witch cults of the radio age.)
7) But then there’s an 8-page consideration of the stylish sleaze and cinematic transgressions of Italian Giallo cinema by Jame Blackford (BFI) and Lee Dorrian (Rise Above Records), which considers the genres connections and influence on Peter Strickland’s Berberian film… oh and there’s a 2-page illustration by Mr Julian House again.
Wandering away from such things and more towards folkloric culture…
8) Ring Out The Solstice Bells: A brief consideration of the co-tour by The Trembling Bells with former Incredible String Band chap Mike Heron… oh and that’s accompanied by a quick mention of Witches Hats & Painted Chariots, the Shindig associated book on The ISB and psychedelic fok, plus a smidgeon about The Green Man festival.
9) A Half-Remembered Past: wandering back towards hauntological shores, there’s an interview with the aforementioned Julian House and Jim Jupp of Ghost Box Records… accompanied by a label primer featuring The Focus Group, Pye Corner Audio, Belbury Poly, The Advisory Circle and former Broadcast-er/current Children Of Alice-r Roj.
10) At The Dragon’s Gate: An interview with Kat Epple of psych-folk-becoming-cosmic-electronica-became-released-on Finders Keepers Records duo Emerald Web (well worth taking flight with the ravens here).
11) Long Live The Children’s Film Foundation: Vic Pratt (also of the BFI… they get around you know) looks at the decades of celluloid adventures, japes and scrapes of well, The Children’s Film Foundation.
12) Glowing Reputation: wandering back to the fields of psych folk, there’s a four page consideration of two of Mike Heron’s solo albums by Alex Nielson.
13) Reviews of albums by wanderers through the otherly fields including Spriguns of Tolgus, The Memory Band, The Incredible String Band… oh and Mark Goodall’s (he of the Timecode: Hauntology 20 Years On conference) book Gathering Of The Tribe, which is a consideration of occult/secret knowledge creation and undercurrents in music.
Well, what can I say? To be honest, I think just the Broadcast/James Cargill article alone would have been enough to have me smashing the old digital piggy bank, counting out the coppers and passing them through the ether.
Although of course there are acres and acres of writing to be read in the ether along similar subjects, there’s still something precious about when that package drops through the letterbox and there is also something to be said for being able to sit down with a cup of cha and a bite of toast to peruse and soak up a more finite, edited, consideration of culture (mind the sticky fingers on the pages though).
Consider a purchase of the magazine here.
One of the stranger larger scale films to have escaped from the celluloid dream factories…
“Death approaches! We are all mortal again! Now we can say ‘yes’ to death, but never again ‘no’. Now, we must make our farewells: to each other, to the sun and moon, trees and sky, earth and rock, the landscape of our long waking-dream.”
It could be seen as being part of the mini-genre of films from the 1970s that dealt with population control and/or ecological/resource collapse/disaster that I seem to return to in these pages (ie Z.P.G., No Blade Of Grass, Soylent Green, Phase IV, Logan’s Run etc; see Days #83/365, #88/365 and #149/365).
“And I have looked into the face of the force that put the idea in your mind. You are bred, and led, yourself.”
But I think this is one of the most genuinely strange of them all, particularly as it appears to be quite a big budget, star scattered production (I guess this is what happens when film studios give open-ended creative freedom to people after they’ve made a big hit film – the director, John Boorman, had been given that pass after the success of his city slickers up against the folk from the woods and swamps film Deliverance)… to use a phrase from the film itself, this is one of those times when popular culture goes “renegade”…
“We’ve all been used!… And re-used… And abused!… And amused!”
It feels like a genuinely psychedelic and dreamlike (or to use the more academic, hauntology text appearing phrase, oneiric) experience in many ways… a dissonant, challenging blockbuster/spectacle film in a way, full of “I can’t actually believe that this was allowed to come to the big screen” moments, questioning of societies actions, elements of 20th century fairy tales and philosophy amongst, well, the thigh length boots, nudity, guns and entertainment.
(Reading the film’s director talking about its making, there was possibly a literally psychedelic element to its production; “Um, it was the 70’s, and I was doing a lot of drugs. Frankly, even I’m not entirely sure what parts of the movie are about.” All the better for that lack of knowing and over exposition…).
“Forcing the hand of evolution…”
And it’s one of those pieces of celluloid where if, as film critic Mark Kermode says in his book “The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex: What’s Wrong with Modern Movies”, big budget escapades actually rarely lose money in the long-term then it makes me think it’s a shame that such dedicated, off kilter, visions aren’t allowed to be realised a bit more often. Or again to semi-quote Mr Kermode, if you’re going to make these big blockbusters and they probably won’t lose money, why not make them good?
“You have penetrated me. There is no escape. You are within me. Come into my center… Come into the center of the crystal.”
The plot? Well, the rich and powerful have secluded themselves behind an invisible barrier in an earthly paradise of bountifulness and eternal life, while the rest of the world has turned to scrubland and society has crumbled and reverted to a more or less medieval way of life. Out in those wastelands are exterminators who literally cull the population at the orders of the secluded powerful, who supply them with weapons to carry out their bidding, which are delivered by a flying, tribute collecting stone godhead… but then one of the exterminators manages to gain entrance to the endless idyll… and well, I don’t want to give too much away if you’ve not seen it…
“I looked behind the mask, saw the truth.”
The secluded paradise is a curious mix of advanced technology, new age-isms and a kind of indulgently folkloric way of life… these are dancers at the end of time (to quote Michael Moorcock in a book series with not too dissimilar themes in part of a privileged elite living in a bubble world of luxury and indulgence at the expense of the rest of the world); but it is an idyll which is degenerating and many of those who have been dancing its slow, indolent, self-regarding waltz for hundreds of years are slipping into a literally catatonic state of apathy or have to come to just wish to be able to end their unending lives.
“I am innocent of psychic violence.”
It’s a film full of beauty and brutality (and Brutals); lithesome eternals wander the bountiful lands in flowing semi-transparent garments, all democratic, liberal (and conformistly oppressive) decision-making, in stark contrast to the hirsute, futuristic Mexican fetish banditry of the interloper from the wastelands who breaks into their lands, bringing with him action, virulent fertility and the violence of change…
“The vortex is an obscenity…”
I would recommend a trip into this particular vortex and a seeking out of the tabernacle with Zed or as one of the taglines said step “Beyond 1984, Beyond 2001, Beyond Love, Beyond Death”…
Other trails and pathways: talking of beyonds, if you should be drawn to the lysergic otherlyness of Zardoz then you may wish to take a wander amongst the arborea of Beyond The Black Rainbow, where I think you may find traces of the vortex…
..or to wander slightly off track, join in the Future Dance and enjoy the critiquing of the echo chamber conformity of social media popularity rituals via the App Development and Condiments episode of criminally under-exposed (on these shores at least) series Community and its affectionate tribute to such 1970s sf dystopias as appear on this page. Highly recommended and makes me chuckle quietly just to think of it.
Well, while I was thinking about the work of John Wyndham (see Day #173/365)…
As I think I’ve mentioned some of this before but at a young age, when I was living in a small country idyll – population approx. 300, attendance at school across all 7 years of infant and junior approx. 30 – I began to discover the work of John Wyndham… initially via The Midwich Cuckoos (the copy I read had the last page torn out and so for years I didn’t know what happened at the end of the story)…
…this lead over the coming years to numerous readings (or attempted readings) of his fiction*, alongside various viewings of the flickering adaptations of his work; The Seeds Of Time, the hidden mutations of The Chrysalids, Trouble With Lichen, The Kraken Awakes… but the two that I’ve always been drawn back to are The Midwich Cuckoos and Day Of The Triffids and their tales of rural idylls overtaken and sown with eldritch children or of mankind struck down and left to fight amongst the soon to crumble ruins of civilisation and out in country compounds against vastly evolved nature…
I like the way that when books which stay popular are reprinted over the years, their new artwork and cover designs often capture and reflect the spirit of the times in which they were commissioned. This seems to be particularly true in the cases of genre fiction (science fiction, crime, fantasy etc); the contents stay the same but the covers quotas of luridness, sleaze, paranoia, wayout-ness etc varies and changes…
Along which lines here’s a selection of my favourites of The Midwich Cuckoos and Day Of The Triffids.
While looking up the fictions of Mr John Wyndham, I also had a peruse of the 1981 BBC television adaptation… images from it genuinely gave me the heebie jeebies. I know it did when it was first broadcast but I don’t think it’s just a reflection of that. There’s something about the triffids in this version that is genuinely gruesome and unsettling. Yes, they don’t look “real” in the way that digital generated later versions may do but they do look part of the real world. You don’t want to be around them.
There’s something about much of modern-day British television drama/genre programs that’s just terribly unconvincing. I tend to think of them as being like Children’s Film Foundation productions but not in a good way; adult programs without an adult spirit (characterisation? intelligence? lighting?). I can’t quite say what it is but as Mark Fisher says in Ghost Of My Life, they don’t look lived in, though it’s not just a visual problem… hmmm.
If you should plan on sleeping with the lights on, you can watch the intro to the earlier TV adaptation here. I suspect I may well return to such flickerings around these parts…
*And as I also think I’ve mentioned before, a curious thing, the way that youngsters of a certain age are drawn to apocalyptic, dystopian, cataclysmic visions of the future; The Hunger Games would be a modern-day version of this I suppose… I know at the time I was drawn in part to some such stories as the idea of being left alone in the world meant I could raid the toyshops for all the LED electronic games and batteries I needed. You have to get your priorities right in a post-disaster world.continue reading
Limited edition of 52. Each print is signed and numbered.
59.4cm x 21 cm / 23.4″ x 8.3″ (same width as A2, half the height of A2).
Printed with archival Giclée pigment inks on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 100% cotton paper.
Something of a favourite around these parts is the film Strawberry Fields. I’m not quite sure why…
It’s basically a film about a postwoman who is possibly running away from the loss of her mother and her over demanding, somewhat unsettled sister. She seeks escape in some seasonal strawberry picking fields and the film becomes a compressed microcosm of lives, loves, family and friendships, all of which seem to fracture, stumble and tumble in a brief moment of time.
The setting feels like a world unto itself; it comprises mostly of just the picking fields, ramshackle semi-derelict buildings, temporary accommodation, deserted beaches, neglected barns and equipment, the concrete brutalism and shabby infrastructure of the local railway station and monolithic overhead roadways (spaghetti junction relocated amongst the fields and flatlands). Everything apart from the roadway looks cobbled together, patched up, built from whatever could be found…
And the colours in the fields are often just ever so slightly over vivid, adding just a touch of unrealness to it all…
Adding to that, it’s a world curiously free of controlling older adult influences. There’s possibly only one such person whose face is seen… the characters feel like barely contained adults rampaging as unsupervised children through emotions and this brief snapshot of life…
And when I first saw the images of the overhead roadway when I was heading towards A Year In The Country, something chimed inside me, the juxtaposition of nature and the unforgiving, un-beauty of this man-made structure seemed to sum something up… it made me want to pick up and my camera and find where it was, to capture the spirit it represented.
Strawberry Fields is a vision of the countryside and coastal hinterland as a form of literal and emotional edgeland: the structures, physical and personal, are thrown together, tumbledown, temporary, in a state of flux…
…which leads me to the film Wreckers.
In this the often relaxing vision of the village as an orderly country idyll is gently flipped on its side: a tour around the village leads not to “Oh, that’s a pretty church” but to a cataloguing of who did what traumatic thing where, the emotional relationships and rules feel like they have reverted back to some earlier unregulated medieval time.
As in Strawberry Fields, the physical structures aren’t neatly polished chocolate box visions of the countryside; the cottage that should have roses running up the outside and be full of quaint comforting knickknacks is in the process of being renovated… but it doesn’t feel like it’s being spruced up, rather that it has had its niceties stripped away and left raw, the other buildings shown are generally tumble down throwbacks and bodged together barns.
These films are a brief view of places where normality and the subtle veneers of civility and civilisation have quietly stepped back for a moment and come unfrayed around the edges…. or as the title of this page says, here the hinterland/village is shown and seen as a form of edgeland.
PS Nice soundtrack to Strawberry Fields, largely by Bryony Afferson and her band Troubadour Rose. All slightly dusty Americana tinged folk songs that lodge in the mind for days, drones and snatches of ghostly vocals.
The trailer to Strawberry Fields can be viewed here and you can pick your own here. Despite what I’ve written above, this isn’t a grim, gritty realist drama. In many ways it’s a gentle, touching film… not too dissimilar could also be said about Wreckers (though that is possibly a touch more emotionally harsh as a film).
File under: Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #24/52.
I was watching The Village Of The Damned and it seemed like the perfect summing up of one of the themes of A Year In The Country: an imagined sense of an underlying unsettledness to country idylls, of something having gone wrong and rotten amongst the hills, valleys and sleepy little high streets of this green and pleasant land.
I think I was rewatching the film as I expect I saw it when I was young and I knew one particular piece of dialogue very well but consciously I couldn’t remember having seen it…
So, the film: a quick precis of the plot; a typical English village suddenly finds all its inhabitants have passed out and anybody who tries to enter the village or its surrounding lands also loses consciousness. The army and authorities are called in to try and find out what’s going on. The villagers awake apparently unharmed and it would appear life can go on more or less as normal in these bucolic surrounds but months later all the child-bearing age women find themselves unexplainedly pregnant. When born, these children all have similar piercing eyes, striking hair, advanced intelligence, powers of mind reading/control and possess a hive mind where if one of them learns something they all do. They are truly the cuckoos in the nest and their powers, possible amorality and drive to survive threatens the villages way of life, lives and possibly mankind’s rule and existence.
It is a film full of iconic imagery, nearly every scene arriving with at least one more: the early collapse into unconsciousness of that most British symbol of pastoral civility, the bobby on a bicycle, via nighttime mobs with burning torches and the children themselves with their emotional detachment, silver hair and glowing eyes.
In many ways it could be seen to be the flipside or even accompaniment to the film version of Quatermass and The Pit: that film is a post second world war consideration of the battle for genetic superiority/purity/control as experienced in the still recent historic conflict. In The Village Of The Damned an amoral, Aryan race are seeded amongst the population, determined to survive and colonise whatever the cost.
There’s more than a touch of horror fictions previous and future to the film: shades of Frankenstein when the villagers take it upon themselves to form the aforementioned burning torch bearing mob in order to rid themselves of this technologically biologically advanced new life form and later The Omen, with its sense of a cold detached cuckoo in the nest, with telepathic/telekinetic powers beyond our ken or control and who will use those powers to despatch any threat or adversary.
One thing I found interesting was that the scenes set in the local village shop/post office look like a modern-day drama recreation of such things: it’s full of the now simplistic looking boxes and cans of food from that era, that I am so used to seeing in slightly over neat and tidy contemporary period drama productions that they don’t like they were real or ever truly existed.
This is a world that seems to only be populated by perfection diction upper middle-class figures of control and authority or the local pub drinking working class and it’s terribly, terribly white. Which was possibly indicative of how things actually were then but to the modern eye it’s such a set, defined and delineated society…
…and those upper middle classes seem to take it all curiously in their stride and apart from the very occasional emotional outburst (mostly from a female and rarely the educated males) don’t get too het up about the fact that they have essentially given birth to and are being threatened by some unexplained, actually very other biological force. It is generally dealt with the same level of emotional alarm and froideur as if it was merely some socially rather unacceptable gaffe.
Although these cuckoos are essentially a hive mind or colony, their leader or more vocal spokesperson is played brilliantly by Martin Stephens, just the touch of a smile playing about his lips as he stares otherwise without emotion at his mother after sending someone to a fiery departure (he would appear to have been the go to young actor for such quietly unsettling preter-naturalness in the early 1960s as he also appears amongst the reeds and willows of The Innocents: see Day #106/365).
And going back to the analogies with the recent(ish) historical conflict: the way the British or at least the social class with authority, deal with these invaders, these colonising cuckoos, is shown to be very decent in comparison to how the rest of the world might. Reason generally prevails and we are for talking, consideration, study and compromise: elsewhere there may well be brutality and the simple application of military force to deal with the problem.
The film is based on the novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, which I read when living in a tiny country village when really rather young, I suppose not to dissimilar to the setting of the book.
And in common with the book/film, although it was most definitely a country idyll, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in these pages we were surrounded by symbols of a readiness or warnings against those who might be tempted to trespass on these lands; low flying planes flew overhead regularly, practising avoiding enemy radar, there were abandoned concrete pill box defences in the fields, unexploded military ordinance would be found from time to time and the disposal experts would have to be called in and there was a map in the local information centre which as youngsters we considered near mythological as it apparently showed where aeroplanes had crashed during wartime…
…oh and that’s before we get to the two ancient looking even then brown Bakelite boxes in and around my domestic home life that were nuclear air raid sirens (see the About page for more on that) or why my friend had a working Geiger counter (that also appeared to be from another earlier technological age, all valves and flickering needles) that was used as a toy. Why and wherefore did it come from? I’m not sure…