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Returning to a Stonehenge Mini-Collection – Stonehengiana and Thoughts on Ancient Mysteries

I seem to have slowly but surely gathered together a mini-collection of books on the ancient British stone circle Stonehenge, which has included, amongst other books:

Julian Richards’ Inspired by Stonehenge, which is a short book that was published in 2009 to accompany an exhibition of “Stonehengiana”, that originally opened at Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, and features a curious collection of Stonehenge related memorabilia, records, comics, postcards etc, mostly from the author’s collection. Inside you’ll find everything from Stonehenge themed snow globes, records, spoons, pottery, a chocolate bar set of which the different covers build into a widescreen photograph of Stonehenge when placed side-by-side, to name but a few. It is now out of print but used copies can still be found for a reasonable price the last time I checked.

I was particularly intrigued by the above set of vintage DC and Marvel comics from Inspired by Stonehenge which feature stories/cover images set around Stonehenge, including the nicely alliterated “The Day of the Deadly Druid” featuring The Mighty Thor.

Those covers seem to capture or encapsulate an era of superhero stories that seems a long, long way away from the contemporary landscape of often very expensively produced cinema and television soap opera-like superhero universes. They also don’t seem afraid to explore a sense of the mythic, mysterious, otherworldly and supernatural in their stories, which is a nice contrast with a lot of current superhero orientated TV etc work that often seems more inclined to try and explain away its characters’s origins etc through advanced science, digital technology, lasers and so on.

Stonehenge: A History in Photographs, also by Julian Richards’, was first published in 2004 and since reprinted and is still in print. It features black and white photographs of Stonehenge, its visitors etc from 1853 until 2004 and serves as an intriguing time-travelling snapshot overview of the enduring fascination for Stonehenge.

I’ve something of a soft spot for aerial images that reveal ancient mounds etc and have written about them previously at A Year In The Country; along which lines, above is a photograph from A History in Photographs taken in 1973, which is a fine example of such things.

And is there any photograph more evocative of Britain in the past and the layering of time in the landscape than the above photo, taken in 1930 and also from A History in Photographs? TARDIS-like roadside assistance box (I think)? Check. Almost folk art-like road sign? Check? Vintage car that, even if it’s not, looks as though it should have a Morris Minor-esque wooden frame? Check? Painted rural cottage that may well have only fairly recently been de-thatched? Check? Iconic ancient stone circle in the distance? Check.

James O. Davies’ A Year At Stonehenge was published in 2013 and is now out of print. It features photographs taken over five years “at all times of the day and night, and all through the seasons” and includes landscape and nature orientated images of Stonehenge, alongside gatherings and reveries etc that have taken place there.

The book’s cover flap text considers how “the true meaning of this ancient… creation and the secrets of its construction have been lost in time”, which brings to mind a section of author and academics Mark Fisher’s book The Weird and the Eerie, wherein he concisely and succinctly considers and explores the “mysteries” of Stonehenge etc:

“Faced with the stone circle at Stonehenge, or with the statues on Easter Island, we are confronted with a… set of questions. The problem… is not why the people who created these structures disappeared – there is no mystery here – but the nature of what disappeared. What kinds of being created these structures? How were they similar to us, and how were they different? What kind of symbolic order did these beings belong to, and what role did the monuments they constructed play in it? For the symbolic structures which made sense of the monuments have rotted away… [Ancient stone circles and monuments such as Stonehenge and Easter island] make us realise that there is an irreducibly eerie dimension to certain archaeological and historical practices… when dealing with the remote past, archaeologists and historians form hypotheses, but the culture to which they refer and which would vindicate their speculations can never (again) be present… [due to the symbolic structures which stone circles were part of having entirely rotted away] the deep past of humanity is revealed to be in effect an illegible alien civilisation, its rituals and modes of subjectivity unknown to us.”

I quoted that section of Fisher’s book in the Cathode Ray and Celluloid Hinterlands book… along  which lines, below are a couple of other quotes from Cathode Ray that have stuck in my mind somewhat:

“After all no one had ever explained the meaning of [Stonehenge]. One minute it was a Roman Temple, then a Danish burial ground, a Druid place of sacrifice, an English pyramid, a launchpad for spaceships, a radio telescope, an intergalactic signal… the latest theory was that it was a simple old communal centre.” (Originally quoted from The Mind Beyond TV episode/short story ‘Stones’.)

“[Stone circles possess] an atmospheric sense of the eerie, drawing on ties to the ancient and the otherworldly… [they] represent the ultimate figure in the landscape, hinting at ancient human presence while also suggesting more macabre, unearthly forces at work.” (Originally quoted from Adam Scovell’s article ‘Stone circles: 10 staggering standing-stones on-screen’.)

Which segues nicely into the Jonny Trunk quote below, taken from an interview with him and Alan Gubby of Buried Treasure/The Delaware Road by Bob Fischer of The Haunted Generation in issue 134 of  Shindig! magazine, in which they discuss the Trunk Records’ release of the Children of the Stones’ soundtrack, which Trunk and Gubby collaborated on:

“Stone circles were a good starting point for spooky weirdness, weren’t they? Druids, solstices and magic. We were still coming out of ’60s hippydom, and the people making TV programmes in the ’70s were really into that stuff…”

And which in turn seems like a good point to step out from amongst the long shadows of ancient stones…

 

Links at A Year In The Country:

 

Links elsewhere:

 

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Jonathan Jiminez’s Naturalia – Documenting a Creeping Through the Cracks

There have been a fair few books of photography of abandoned places published (or urbex photography, to use another name) and you could quite easily spend all your spare cash on them for the foreseeable future and still have only scratched the surface of them.

Naturalia: Reclaimed by Nature by Jonathan Jiminez is part of this ever-growing library or genre of photography books and caught my eye due to its specific subject matter.

As the title suggests, it focuses on abandoned places which have been reclaimed by nature, although it doesn’t strictly focus just on abandoned places/buildings but also takes in abandoned cars, military hardware etc.

As with much of this area of photography, there is a curious push-pull to the photographs and their subject matter, as they often contain both beauty and a lingering sense of loss or even melancholia:

“I travel the world in search of abandoned places. Over time, I have increasingly focused on what appears to be the most powerful element in this vast theme of abandonment: places taken over by Nature. It is poetic, almost magical, to see it creeping through broken windows and cracks, gradually taking back the spaces built and then abandoned by Man until they are almost completely swallowed up.” (Jonathan Jiminez quoted from his site.)

I’m particularly taken by the above photograph, in which nature’s “reclaiming” of a house seems to have turned it into a real world fairy tale evil witches house… while the photograph below could almost have tumbled from some distant future’s past where nature and city have long since stopped being divided.

Links at A Year In The Country:

 

Links elsewhere:

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2022: Valerie – The Corn Mother 52/52

The Corn Mother novella weekly serialisation artwork

So, I looked up online for any details of a film called The Corn Mother, to see if there’d been any sales of related memorabilia and the like. There was nothing on any of the auction house’s sites in previous sales or on that main public auction site that I use from time to time.

In fact I could only find a handful of mentions of a film with that name; they were all about this album soundtrack for it, which talked about it being an “imaginary film”, which I’d say isn’t quite true, as, if it were, well, what’s cluttering up my stockroom?

Actually, that’s not quite right. There was one other mention. On some film fans forum. Somebody called Andrew589 asking for any information about The Corn Mother film.

I might send him a message tomorrow when the shop quietens down a bit.

 

Scene fades to black. Credits roll.

 

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2022: Valerie – The Corn Mother 51/52

The Corn Mother novella weekly serialisation artwork

Jack came back from a house clearance today. Mostly old junk and things destined for the skip. A few nice old cameras. I told him how they get used as ornaments nowadays and some people have even started using them again, so they’re worth putting out in the shop. He just looked at me gone out, said something about couldn’t they just use their phone and did Boots even develop films anymore.

One thing that caught my eye was these boxes with film reels in them. You know those old fashioned looking silver canisters that take you back to another era. The kind of things cinemas used. A fair few of those. I asked Jack about them but he said the woman whose house they were from didn’t seem to know all that much about them.

Most of the canisters were unmarked but one had, I think, The Corn Mother written on it. It was faded and scuffed, so it was hard to be sure. I don’t know if this kind of thing goes for much or if you’re even allowed to sell them if they were used in cinemas. I’ll have to look it up online.

 

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2022: Jack – The Corn Mother 50/52

 Act 4/4

The Corn Mother novella weekly serialisation artwork

This lady asked me to come and clear out her husband’s stuff. I wasn’t sure if he’d passed away or they’d split up and he’d left it all behind, and I didn’t want to ask and upset her. You just have to get on with the job in that situation.

There were plenty of old cameras and lenses, some darkroom equipment. I’m not sure if anybody really wants that stuff anymore. Maybe a few collectors online buy that kind of thing. Valerie would know more about that.

Down in the cellar there was more of the same and a few boxes with film reels in them. I asked her about those. She didn’t seem to know a lot about them, said he used to bring home all kinds of stuff from work, hated seeing things thrown away.

It’s not really my line. Old furniture and nick-nacks, that’s what I tend to look out for. What I know about.

 

(This is part of ayear long serialisation of The Corn Mother novella written by Stephen Prince. More details on The Corn Mother book and albums here.)

 

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2021: Andrew – The Corn Mother 49/52

The Corn Mother novella weekly serialisation artwork

I know it was made. I’ve read about it. It’s been written about a fair old bit. I’ve had conversations about it. Asked at conventions if anybody had a copy and they didn’t say “Never heard of it”, they’d just say something like they were looking for it as well.

But last week when I looked it up online I couldn’t find any mention apart from that album I bought and some references to corn mother folklore. There’s not another single word anywhere about it.

I thought maybe it was just a blip online. Some search engine algorithm had gone out of sync, servers gone down or something. A whole pile of coincidences that had happened at once.

I’ve searched again every day since. It’s still not there. There’s nothing at archive.org that stores a lot of old web pages either. I asked and emailed people I know about it and I just got a similar blank response as that actor gave me at the film convention last year.

But I’ve got the notes I made all those years ago for the fanzine up in the loft somewhere, my printouts of internet pages, the magazines where it’s mentioned. They’re all here. All of them.

 

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2020: Andrew – The Corn Mother 48/52

The Corn Mother novella weekly serialisation artwork

I went to a film convention recently. You know how people who starred in cult films and television dramas over the last few decades can have a further stage in their careers, after the acting jobs have dried up, by appearing and doing paid for signings at conventions? Well, somebody who was in The Corn Mother was at one of them.

(Actually, even still quite active and famous actors have been appearing at them for a while now, what with science fiction, fantasy and superhero genres having become such big business.)

As far as I know it had never happened before that somebody from The Corn Mother had made an appearance at a convention. A bit unusual that, as you would’ve thought somebody would have done, even if it was just one of the people with a cameo part.

Although it was quite a trek to get there I still went. I was going to ask them about the film. Face to face.

They were doing a signing and I paid my money and queued up. When my turn came they asked me who I’d like the signature made out to. It was now or never.

I asked them if they had any particular memories of The Corn Mother. They just looked blank. Not annoyed. Not like they didn’t want to talk about it. Just blank. They asked me if I was sure I’d got the name of the film right, as they couldn’t remember that one.

I said yes I was sure but I got the same blank response and so I mumbled something and stepped away. I know they’ve been in a lot of stuff, worked on over a hundreds films and television programmes, and it’s heading towards 30 years ago that it was made, and they had a relatively small part in it, so maybe they’d just forgotten about it.

 

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2020: Andrew – The Corn Mother 47/52

The Corn Mother novella weekly serialisation artwork

I looked today and The Corn Mother isn’t on that online folk horror film list any more. Maybe they decided to take it off until somebody’s actually seen it.

It’s peculiar though, as I’ve also noticed the chatter about the film online is quietening down. It’s falling off forum discussion groups. I’m not sure why. Perhaps these things just go in cycles.

 

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2019: Andrew – The Corn Mother 46/52

The Corn Mother novella weekly serialisation artwork

Like happens with a lot of cultural movements, folk horror as a genre seems to have reached some kind of possibly saturated peak. I keep seeing it mentioned in mainstream national papers, book festival programmes, new films being called folk horror and so on.

Curiously though, The Corn Mother and the whole mystery around it doesn’t seem to have caught the attention of mainstream pundits. You’d think it would be tailor made for at least one “lost film” article.

Maybe there have been some written but I’ve just missed them.

And although I’m more resigned to never finding it, there are some things that still keep me holding out hope that one day the film will turn up.

Like the long thought lost original psychedelic ending to Saul Bass’ far from conventional take on the science fiction genrePhase IV being found. That was made in 1974 but the original ending wasn’t discovered until 2012.

Initially after it was found it only got, I think, a brief showing at one cinema in the States but it’s been released to stream at home now.

So you never know.

 

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2018: Andrew – The Corn Mother 45/52

The Corn Mother novella weekly serialisation artwork

I was doing one of my periodic searches for The Corn Mother online the other day. I don’t do that so much anymore. Maybe my passion for the whole search has died down. Maybe I’m just getting older and I’m starting to finally accept that I’m never going to see it.

In the search results there pops up this album called The Corn Mother. It’s described as being “Reflections on an imaginary film” and the explanatory text that accompanies it is pretty much a potted history of the film’s plot, it’s production, non-release and all the rumours about people having seen it.

It’s not accurate in all the details but not far off.

Strange that they’ve called it an imaginary film. Yes, it’s near- mythical but it’s not an imaginary film.

The album is said to be “an exploration of the whispers that tumble forth from the corn mother’s kingdom, whisperings that have seemed to gain a life of their own”.

I’ve ordered a copy. I’m looking forward to hearing it, seeing if it captures the spirit of the film that’s been playing in my head for all these years.

 

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2018: Andrew – The Corn Mother 44/52

The Corn Mother novella weekly serialisation artwork

When I first started thinking about finding The Corn Mother in the eighties, like most people, I only had chance to see a film during the few weeks it was showing at the cinema. Maybe after saving up a bit of pocket money I might be able to rent it when it was finally released on video or if it went straight to rental. Generally I couldn’t buy it, as back then official copies of films mostly cost silly money as they were often only made for the rental market.

If you were lucky a few years later it might be shown on TV. Seeing it then meant noticing it in the TV listings and, if it was on later at night, setting up the video recorder’s timer and hoping it worked okay. There are a fair few films that I saw most of and then I’d set the timer wrong and it wouldn’t record the last five minutes or so.

All that’s changed nowadays. You can see almost everything with just a few clicks of your remote. Either by starting a subscription for a streaming service or paying for individual films online. And that’s before I get to all the DVD and Blu-ray releases. Both official ones and those available on sites that sell copies of films and TV programmes that have never been officially released, often not great quality and sometimes originally taped from a TV broadcast. Plus there are all the unofficial uploads of films on public video streaming sites.

But of course The Corn Mother’s never appeared on any of them.

It’s a strange thing but it could be said that the idea of films being lost is an obsolete idea but it’s not really true. There are some films that are thought to have been genuinely lost and also there are a lot more that you know exist but for rights reasons etc, they’re very hard to see. Like Hippie Hippie Shake based on the memoirs of Richard Neville, the editor of underground sixties satirical magazine Oz. There seem to have been a few preview screenings of that and then it was just caught in some release limbo.