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The Nightmare Man Part 1 – Cold War Paranoia, The Island as Restorative Balm and Unsettling “Other”: Wanderings 42/52

The Nightmare Man is a British science fiction horror tinged four part mini-series originally broadcast in 1981, adapted from David Wiltshire’s 1978 novel Child of Vodyanoi.

It is set on a small-ish remote Scottish island where the inhabitants start to be attacked and murdered by an unknown assailant with the beyond human strength to literally tear their victims apart and non-human characteristics and for a while during the series there is various debate about whether the attacker could be of alien origin or even a previously undiscovered sea creature or monster.

As the series progresses the island becomes almost completely isolated from the outside world and any possible external help as a heavy fog descends making nagivation to or from it impossible. Radio signals appear to possibly be jammed and the phone lines are cut; as is often the case in fantastical horror orientated work remote rural areas are shown as being the “other” and detached from civilisation and its extensive infrastructure and support of the forces of law and order, something which is further enhanced in the series in a Wicker Man-esque manner by the island location.

Four local police officers are left to try and contain and capture the killer on 35 miles of largely rural landscape made inaccessible due to the inclement weather conditions, although there does appear to be a curious amount of near-military and armed support for them; the local dentist is an ex army-partrooper, one of the local holiday makers is a military man, the local coastguard are armed and their hunt for the attacker the police are able to collect together and lead bands of nearly forty locals who possess their own firearms.

In the UK the ownership of firearms has traditionally been largely heavily restricted and limited, particularly in urban areas but the fact that so many of the locals in this rural coastal area have easy access to them subconsciously provides a further sense of remove from more mainstream mainland society; although the ownership of such weapons is likely to have been largely due to sport and/or agricultural pest control reasons, this is not made implicit in the series and so the viewer is left with a sense of such areas being almost frontier like places where normal societal restrictions and expectations do not hold such a sway as in urban areas.

Shot largely on location and recorded on video the series’ imagery and colour palette has a murky, low definition appearance and is all subdued greys and greens that are distinctive of a large proportion of drama from the 1970s and 1980s; also much of the series is shot at night, in daytime shadowed underlit locations and/or through heavy fog and it is often difficult to fully make out what is happening onscreen. This is accompanied by the viewer being kept in the dark about the attacker’s origins, rationale or even what it is and for a large part of the series the attacker is also not shown onscreen which adds to the sense of menace and tension.

Further heightening this when the attacker does appear the viewer is shown the scene from its viewpoint and the image becomes heavily tinted with a red haze, accompanied by laboured, heavy and unnatural sounding breathing.

This is a technically simple device that is far removed from today’s CGI-heavy large budget special effects and although the physical aspects and dismembering are referred to by the characters there is little onscreen violence and no gore but the presence of the attacker still creates a strong sense of threat and terror utilising minimal resources and without the use of overly explicit graphic imagery.

Although the rural coastal landscape is presented in a somewhat bleak or dour manner this is still the type of area associated with calm, rest, a steady way of life and vacations, which is referred to in the series in particular by one of the lead characters who has returned to live there after London and says that she knows she will live on the island forever as it is home and where she belongs. The contrast with such day-to-day calm and normal expectations and the sudden almost alien seeming appearance of the attacker’s red hazed vision makes for shocking and unsettling viewing.

The contrasting aspects of the restorative nature of the landscape and the events that take place there is given further expression in the closing sections and credits; the ends of the first three episodes freeze on a still of these red hazed attacks, the discovery of a victim and the fear of an onlooker seeing an attack who is also a potential victim, all of which then fade into the gentle waves of a grey misty rural cliff top coastline as the credits roll. Once the theme music fades out there are a few brief seconds where the only noise is a very lonely and isolated seeming recording of the wind.

Later on in the series the attacker’s origins are discovered to be rooted in the international tensions and arms technology research of the time, which adds a plausible period aspect of Cold War related paranoia and also layers the sense of threat in the series with real world worries and fears; it is explained that a NATO submarine was trailing a Soviet submarine and there was a collision and a nuclear accident, the fallout from which caused the malfunction of a small Soviet experimental craft called a Vodyanoid and the irradiation of its pilot, who has been genetically modified to increase his strength and was cybernetically connected via a brain implant with his craft.

The Vodyanoid’s pilot had made an emergency landing on the island; it is explained in the plot that disconnecting from the Vodyanoid normally required skilled handlers, who because of the situation are not present and so when the pilot disembarks he literally leaves part of his brain in the craft’s cybernetics, with him being left as a deranged madman operating only on a remaining instinct to kill that has been honed and enhanced over years of military training.

This is told by the holidaying military man who after attempting to present himself as a British military leader and placing the island under martial law in an attempt to control the situation is ultimately revealed to be the leader of a specialised Soviet military unit, which comes to the island in order to reclaim the Vodyanoid craft and hopefully avoid an international incident. The craft is revealed to be carrying a biological warfare weapon which has leaked and the Soviets supply the local population with an antidote.

This aspect of the plot further heightens the series’ connection with Cold War paranoia; the “nobody wins” aspects of suspected biological warfare and the sense of hidden subterranean international activity by the Soviets, alongside which UK national sovereignty is invaded with impunity and without effective resistance by a a Soviet military taskforce. Also the pilot of the Vodyanoid leaves a radioactive trail due to his being caught in the blast from the nuclear submarine collision and when in the series a geiger counter is activated by his presence there is a sense of the nuclear dangers of the Cold War coming into contact with the day-to-day world…

To be continued in Part 2 (which, depending on when you are reading this, may not yet be online).

 

Elsewhere:

  1. The Nightmare Man DVD
  2. A very particular period snapshot: the opening and closing continuity announcements for the opening episode of BBC1’s 1981 thriller series “The Nightmare Man”, posted by The TV Museum

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. The Nightmare Man Part 2 – Frankenstein-like Meddling, Vodaynoid Myths and Exploratory Portals: Wanderings 43/52
  2. Day #183/365: Steam engine time and remnants of transmissions before the flood
  3. Day #212/365: With but a tap and a swoosh; the loss of loss and paper encapturings of once fleeting televisual flickerings…

 

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The Corn Mother: Audio Visual Archive 41/52

Cover art variation from The Corn Mother.

The album features music by Gavino Morretti, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute, United Bible Studies, Dominic Cooper, A Year In The Country, Widow’s Weeds, Depatterning, Sproatly Smith and Field Lines Cartographer.

 

Reflections on an imaginary film:

In the early 1970s a folk horror-esque screenplay made the rounds of the film industry but remained unmade until 1982.

The story is set in the late 19th century in a rural British village and revolves around the folklore of the “corn mother” – where the last row of the corn harvest is beaten to the ground by the reapers in an attempt to drive the spirit of the corn mother back into the earth for next year’s sowing.

The small closely-knit farming community’s worries about coming modernisation and the possible repeat of a blighted harvest that had occurred earlier in the village’s history, lead to burgeoning irrational fears and a search for a scapegoat who they persecute in order to salve those fears. Suffering from guilt and remorse at their actions, the villagers become plagued by nightmares in which their selected scapegoat returns to them to exact her revenge, and this becomes known as “the visiting of the corn mother”. The plot descends into a maelstrom where reality and unreality merge and the village becomes the kingdom of the corn mother.

The film was completed but was never released due to financial problems with the production company which resulted in legal wrangles, unpaid fees and recriminations, during which knowledge of the whereabouts of the footage became lost, with rumours suggesting that it may have been deliberately destroyed. It has been reported that a handful of preview copies of the film were made available on the now defunct formats of the time and these have become something of a mythical grail for film collectors.

This album is 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, multiplying and growing louder with each passing year.

 

“You want to see the film as described in the liner notes, and as conjured in the songs on the album, and that’s an incredible trick to pull off… This is hauntology – the genre, rather than the philosophical dystopic – in its finest form, where buried memories of film, TV, music, and life come to the surface, often unverifiable because the hard copy has been lost or was never properly recorded in the first instance.” Alan Boon, Starburst

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways Book – Released

Hidden Histories, Echoes of the Future’s Past and the Unsettled Landscape

The book is available at:
Amazon UK, US, France, Germany and their various other international sites.
The A Year In The Country Artifacts Shop and our Bandcamp site.
Lulu.com

Author: Stephen Prince. 238 pages. Paperback and Ebook.

In keeping with the number of months in a year, A Year In The Country: Straying from the Pathways is split into 12 chapters, which travel from eerie landscapes and folk horror to the dysfunctional utopian visions of Brutalist architects via hazily misremembered cultural memories.

The book explores the wider realm of “otherly pastoralism” and its intertwining with the lost futures and parallel worlds of hauntology. It examines such varied and curiously interconnected topics as the faded modernity and “future ruins” of British road travel; apocalyptic “empty city” films; dark fairy tales; the political undercurrents of the 1980s; idyllic villages gone rogue; photographic countercultural festival archives and experiments in “temporary autonomous zones”.

The book also discusses film, television and books, including: Requiem, Prince of Darkness, The Prisoner, The Company of Wolves, Detectorists, A Very Peculiar Practice, Edge of Darkness, Day of the Triffids, Penda’s Fen, High-Rise, The Living and the Dead, Night of the Comet, In the Company of Ghosts: The Poetics of the Motorway, The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale, GB84, This Brutal World and The Fountain in the Forest, as well as music that draws from, or interconnects with, hauntological spectres and reimaginings of the past, including hypnagogic pop, synthwave and the work of Ghost Box Records, Adrian Younge, D.A.L.I., Grey Frequency, The Ghost in the MP3, DJ Shadow and Howlround amongst others.

The book is edited and typeset by Ian Lowey of Bop Cap Book Services.

Chapter list:

1. Explorations of an Eerie Landscape: Texte und Töne – The Disruption, The Changes, The Edge is Where the Centre is: David Rudkin and Penda’s Fen: An Archaeology, The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale, The Stink Still Here – the miners’ strike 1984-85 – Robert Macfarlane – Benjamin Myers’ Under the Rock: The Poetry of a Place

2. Fractured Dream Transmissions and a Collapsing into Ghosts: John Carpenter – Prince of Darkness, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Village of the Damned, Christine – Nigel Kneale – Martin Quatermass – John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos

3. Hinterland Tales of Hidden Histories and Unobserved Edgeland Transgressions: Adrian McKinty’s In the Morning I’ll Be Gone – Clare Carson’s Orkney Twilight – David Peace’s GB84 – Tony White’s The Fountain in the Forest

4. Countercultural Archives and Experiments in Temporary Autonomous Zones: Jeremy Sandford and Ron Reid’s Tomorrow’s People – Richard Barnes’ The Sun in the East: Norfolk & Suffolk Fairs – Sam Knee’s Memory of a Free Festival: The Golden Era of the British Underground Festival Scene – Gavin Watson’s Raving ’89 – Molly Macindoe’s Out of Order: The Underground Rave Scene 1997-2006

5. The Village and Seaside Idyll Gone Rogue: Hot Fuzz – The Avengers’ “Murdersville” – The Prisoner – In 
My Mind – Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth Mon Amour

6. Albion in the Overgrowth and Timeslip Echoes: Requiem – The Living and the Dead – Britannia – Detectorists

7. In Cars – Building a Better Future, Peculiarly Subversive Enchantments and Faded Futuristic Glamour:
 In the Company of Ghosts: The Poetics of the Motorway – Joe
 Moran’s On Roads: A Hidden History – Chris Petit’s Radio 
On – Autophoto – Martin Parr’s Abandoned Morris Minors of the West of Ireland – The Friends of Eddie Coyle – Killing Them Softly – Langdon Clay’s Cars: New York City 1974-76

8. Brutalism, Reaching for the Sky and Bugs in Utopia: Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal World – Bladerunner – J.G.
Ballard – Ben Wheatley – High-Rise – Peter Mitchell’s
 Memento Mori – Brick High-Rise

9. Battles with the Old Guard and the Continuing sparking of Vivid Undercurrents: 
A Very Peculiar Practice – Edge of Darkness

10. Lycanthropes, Dark Fairy Tales and the Dangers of Wandering off the Path: 
The Company of Wolves – Danielle Dax – Red Riding Hood – Wolfen – Hansel & Gretel: Witchhunters – The Keep

11. The Empty City Film and Other Visions of the End of Days – Survival and Shopping in the Post-Apocalypse:
 Day of the Triffids – Into the Forest – Night of the Comet –
The Quiet Earth

12. Universe Creation, Spectral Lines in the Cultural Landscape and Reimagined Echoes from the Past:
 Hauntology – Hypnagogic Pop – Synthwave – D.A.L.I.’s
 When Haro Met Sally – Nocturne’s Dark Seed – Beyond the 
Black Rainbow – Mo’ Wax, UNKLE, Tricky, Massive Attack, Portishead, DJ Shadow, Andrea Parker – Ghost Box Records, 
 The Focus Group, Belbury Poly – The Memory Band – The Delaware Road – Rowan : Morrison – Howlround – Mark Fisher – the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – Adrian Younge’s Electronique Void – DJ Food – Grey Frequency – Keith Seatman – Douglas Powell – Akiha Den Den – The Ghost in the MP3 – Black Channels – The Quietened Village – The Corn Mother

“Chock full of treasures, both well-known and obscure… the twelve chapters tackle their subjects in an accessible yet scholarly manner, never shying away from often weighty concepts but never using unnecessarily complex language when simple terms will do… Simply put, A Year in the Country: Straying from the Pathways is a delight, and will thrill existing seekers of hauntological fare as well as serve as an introductory hit to those yet to sample its enchantments.” Alan Boon, Starburst

“Author Prince’s eye remains firmly fixed on things you may not have seen, even when you were watching them…  takes reality as its starting point, and not only makes its weirdness tangible, it tells you why as well.” Dave Thompson, Goldmine

“Straying From The Pathways is a comprehensive and hugely satisfying read, both as a book and as a reference guide to the liminal and the eerie in popular culture. There are numerous rabbit holes and recommendations for the reader in which to wander or to explore, and the book as a whole rewards repeated readings, such is the wealth of ideas or intriguing cross-referencing between genres and mediums… Highly recommended; a haunted house of a book that you will wish to frequent time and time again.” Grey Malkin, Moof

 

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The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales of Lycanthropy Part 4 – A Consideration of Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Company of Wolves and their Varying Degrees of Separation from Folk Horror: Wanderings 41/52

Part 4 of a post that takes as some of its starting points the folk/fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, the films The Company of Wolves, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and Red Riding Hood, alongside “The dangers of straying from the path and tales of lycanthropy” (visit Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here).

The Wicker Man Collage-A Year In The Country-1080

As a final point or few in connection to such things, would it be fair to describe the likes of The Company of Wolves, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and Red Riding Hood as folk horror? They might not be directly connected to what has become a fairly compact near canon of folk horror cinema that includes at its core the films The Wicker Man (1973), Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and Witchfinder General (1968) but they do appear to contain some similarities with work that has come to be connected with folk horror.

To quote myself in the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book folk horror could be defined as often containing:

“…a sense of their inhabitants living in, or becoming isolated from, the wider world, allowing moral beliefs to become untethered from the dominant norms and allowing the space for ritualistic, occult, supernatural or preternatural events, actions and consequences to occur.”

A number of those characteristics can be found in The Company of Wolves et al, while their source material is often folk and/or fairy tales and they are all horror films in part. The communities they focus on often do appear isolated and in say Red Riding Hood there appears to be a breakdown of the rule of law and its restrictions on the arbitrary exercise of power, with their isolation enabling such actions to be undertaken in a relatively unfettered manner.

In The Company of Wolves and Red Riding Hood there is a kicking back against the authority and advice given by elders but this is more due to rites of passage rebellion than necessarily due purely to isolation from the wider world.

To a degree Red Riding Hood and Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters could be considered connected to but not strictly folk horror in the subcultural sense that has flourished in recent years, while The Company of Wolves may possibly be more closely connected or entwined with it. In part those different degrees of closeness and separation are due to the way in which folk horror has often become a genre definition that refers to work of a more cult, subcultural and less mainstream commercial nature.

Such differing degrees of separation may in part be due as much to the mainstream, escapist, commercial and non-cult film nature of Red Riding Hood and Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters as much as their cultural differences.

 

Elsewhere:

  1. The Company of Wolves trailer
  2. The Company of Wolves DVD and Blu-ray
  3. Red Riding Hood’s trailer
  4. Red Riding Hood DVD and Blu-ray
  5. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters DVD and Blu-ray
  6. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters trailer
  7. Folk Horror Revival
  8. The Book of the Lost
  9. A Fiend in the Furrows
  10. Robin Redbreast DVD
  11. The Wicker Man Wikia

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales of Lycanthropy Part 1 – The Cautionary Warnings of Little Red Riding Hood and The Company of Wolves: Wanderings 38/52
  2. The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales of Lycanthropy Part 2 – The Company of Wolves, the Thwarted Pop Career of Danielle Dax and the Bridging of Worlds: Wanderings 39/52
  3. The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales of Lycanthropy Part 3 – Hollywood Dons the Red Cloak Once More and Reveals “What They Did Next”: Wanderings 40/52

 

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The Quietened Mechanisms: Audio Visual Archive 40/52

Artwork variation from The Quietened Mechanisms.

 

The album is an exploration of abandoned and derelict industry, infrastructure, technology and equipment that once upon a time helped to create, connect and sustain society.

It wanders amongst deserted factories, discarded machinery, closed mines, mills and kilns and their echoes and remains; taking a moment or two to reflect on these once busy, functioning centres of activity and the sometimes sheer scale or amount of effort and human endeavour that was required to create and operate such structures and machines, many of which are now just left to fade away.

Features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Howlround, Grey Frequency, Listening Center, Sproatly Smith, Embertides, Keith Seatman, Time Attendant, A Year In The Country, Dom Cooper, Field Lines Cartographer, Vic Mars, Depatterning, Pulselovers, Quaker’s Stang, The Heartwood Institute and Spaceship.

 

“The theme of the… collection is the end of Britain’s industrial revolution, a period of social and geological turmoil whose ruins still litter the landscape, especially in the Midlands and North of England. This isn’t industrial nostalgia… but an often poignant commemoration.” John Coulthart, Feuilleton

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Echoes And Reverberations Reviews and Broadcasts (and Something of a Revisiting of The Quietened Village, The Corn Mother, The Quietened Bunker, The Watchers, The Quietened Mechanisms and All The Merry Year Round)


A selection of the reviews, broadcasts etc of the Echoes And Reverberations album:

“Amongst the hypnotic electronica from Grey Frequency, Listening Center and The Heartwood Institute are recreations of the atmospheres of Penda’s Fen, Survivors and No Blade of Grass, as well as pieces inspired by the scripts and soundtracks of imaginary films. The music is enhanced by field recordings from the length and breadth of our sceptred isles – from a suspension bridge in Herefordshire, a church in Worcestershire, a graveyard in Chiswick and a viaduct in the Lake District – and the end result is bewitching and enthralling, transporting you from wherever you’re hiding out the current hellscape to more comfortable, if apocalyptic, times and places.” Alan Boon, Starburst, issue 465. Visit the review online here and the print edition of the magazine here.

“…audio Polaroids of a secret cartography… a gentle lullaby for post-dystopian dreams.” Joe Banks, Shindig!, issue 95

“…every fresh listen adds another layer of understanding – or, perhaps, misunderstanding – to the experience, to conjure fresh and further phantoms around the dimly remembered moments of a decades-old TV show…” Dave Thompson, Spincycle at Goldmine

“The Radiophonic Workshop is the ghost at this particular feast… Dom Cooper’s What Has Been Uncovered Is Evil takes the Hammer film of Quatermass and the Pit as its focus, creating a soundscape of sinister electronics in a nod to Tristram Carey’s Martian soundtrack…” John Coulthart, feuilleton

“…rain drops, sun clocks and piano painted soundscapes bring listeners from the bucolic settings of its predecessors into a worldly odyssey of global kaleidoscopic changes” Eoghan Lyn, We Are Cult

“Sproatly Smith merge hazy dreamlike folk with eerie, ominous soundscaping in a piece inspired by the post-apocalyptic 70s TV series Survivors. The Ogham Stones by Depatterning imagines pagan carvings from County Wexford via brooding electronic experimentation incorporating surreal use of folk motifs. The collection holds together as a cohesive album with a shared aesthetic. Many of the pieces have an unsettling nature and sound believably like incidental music from vintage horror films.” Kim Harten, Bliss Aquamarine

“Pressed with a softly surging wide screen aspect, [Grey Frequency’s] King Penda deftly looms with impacting grace, much like some celestial watcher in the skies approaching, arriving and eventually departing our solar postcode, its pulsating kosmische toning emanating both a curiously radiance which at once serves as a mixed messenger herald of tranquil peace like welcoming or else a foreboding dark shadow of portent.” Mark Barton, The Sunday Experience

And then on to the radio etc broadcasts:

The Unquiet Meadow played something of a smorgasboard from the album across three episodes and included tracks by Sproatly Smith, The Heartwood Institute, Pulselovers and Grey Frequency. Visit the episodes here, here and here. Their Facebook page can be found here.

Steve Baker played The Heartwood Institute’s Ribble Head Viaduct on his On The Wire radio show, which has been something of a stalwart amongst the radio waves for several decades. Originally broadcast on BBC Radio Lancashire, the show is archived at Mixcloud and its blog is here.

Sunrise Ocean Bender played Pulselover’s and Grey Frequency’s tracks (alongside a track from sometimes fellow AYITC traveller Keith Seatman) on the Of Course As Well episode of their radio show. Originally broadcast on WRIR, the show is archived at Mixcloud and its blog post can be found here.

The Gated Canal Community Radio, hosted by Front & Follow and The Geography Trip, played Grey Frequency’s King Penda on their sohw (alongside a track by Polypores, another sometimes fellow AYITC traveller). Originally broadcast on Reform Radio, the show is archived at Mixcloud and the Gated Canal Community Radio website is here.

The Séance also played King Penda on their phantom seaside radio show (where you will also find some of Jodie Lowther’s intriguing work). Originally broadcast on Radio Reverb, totallyradio and Sine FM, the show is archived at Mixcloud and the episodes track listing can be found at their website here.

Mind De-Coder included Pulselovers The Edge Of The Cloud in amongst the otherly pastoral and psychedelic wanderings of its show, where you will also find the likes of Moon Wiring Club, Folklore Tapes, a track from the Ghost Box released Chanctonbury Rings, Meg Baird and some archival Tangerine Dream.  The show is archived at Mixcloud and the accompanying blog post can be found here.

And then returning to some broadcasts of previous AYITC albums:

Golden Apples of the Sun included several AYITC released tracks amongst their journeys through “psych-tinged realms, pastoral folk, glitch, lo-fi electronica, hauntology and hypnagogic pop… a world beyond time, where the past and future intermingle in sun-dappled hallucinogenic soundscapes of strange and beautiful music”.

Included on the Tripping on Birdsong episode of the show were Sproatly Smith’s Watching You, Phonofiction’s Xylem Flow and Widow’s Weeds ft Kitchen Cynics The Brave Old Oak from The Watchers and also Depatterning’s The Keepers Dilemma from The Corn Mother, where they can be found alongside tracks by The Valerie Project, The Advisory Circle, Espers, Carl Sagan, The Twelve Hour Foundation and Jane Weaver. Originally broadcast on RTR FM, a resequenced version of the show is archived at Mixcloud and its accompanying blog post is here.

The Present Continuous, a project which explores the fringes and avant-garde of music and audio, included The Heartwood Institute’s Corn Dolly from The Corn Mother album, alongside the likes of Howlround and Belbury Poly in their Folk Horor and Hauntology Special. The show is archived at Mixcloud here and their site is here.

And finally, something of a repeat mention for:

Bob Fischer’s The Haunted Generation, which featured an interview with AYITC and a discussion about Echoes And Reverberations alongside “pastoral headspace, Cold War dread, Rob Young’s Electric Eden book, Noah’s Castle, Ghost Box, The Prisoner, his new book/album” and a fair bit more. Visit that at The Haunted Generation website here and the post about it at AYITC here.

And an A Year In The Country Special of the Kites and Pylons radio show, which featured tracks from Echoes And Reverberations, The Quietened Village, The Quietened Bunker, The Corn Mother, The Quietened Mechanisms, The Watchers and All The Merry Year Round by The Heartwood Institute, Listening Center, Field Lines Cartographer, Cosmic Neighbourhood, Keith Seatman, Time Attendant, Quaker’s Stang, A Year In The Country, Pulselovers, Howlround, Circle/Temple and Grey Frequency. Originally broadcast on Mad Wasp Radio, the show is archived at Mixcloud here and the post about it at AYITC is here.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to all concerned. Much appreciated.

Echoes And Reverberations is a field recording based mapping of real and imaginary film and television locations. It is a reflection on the way in which areas – whether rural, urban, or edgeland – can become permeated with such tales and undercurrents, creating a landscape of the imagination where fact and fiction intertwine. Each track contains field recordings from one such journey and their seeking of the spectral will-o’-the-wisps of locations’ imagined or often hidden flipsides.

The album features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Grey Frequency, Pulselovers, Dom Cooper, Listening Center, Howlround, A Year In The Country, Sproatly Smith, Field Lines Cartographer, Depatterning and The Heartwood Institute.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales of Lycanthropy Part 3 – Hollywood Dons the Red Cloak Once More and Reveals “What They Did Next”: Wanderings 40/52

Part 3 of a post that takes as some of its starting points the folk/fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, the film The Company of Wolves and “The dangers of straying from the path and tales of lycanthropy” (visit Part 1 here and Part 2 here).

As mentioned in Part 1 the fairy/folk tale of Little Red Riding hood has had an enduring and near ubiquitous presence and even many centuries later is still repeatedly reinterpreted and used as inspiration for film and television dramas, one of which is The Company of Wolves, a 1984 film directed by Neil Jordan.

A more recent take on the tale was Red Riding Hood, a 2011 film directed by Catherine Hardwicke and which is very loosely based on its source material. This version has been called a “romance horror”, which is not all that surprising once you learn that Catherine Hardwicke also directed Twilight (2008), which was a form of “vampire romance horror” aimed at teenagers/younger adults and was a large-scale commercial success that went on to take nearly 400 million US dollars at the box office.

Red Riding Hood may have been a conscious or not attempt to see “if it worked for vampires, it might also work for werewolves.”

Red Riding Hood takes the original tale’s possible focusing on the passage to maturity and woman hood of a young girl and transplants it more into the landscape of post-teenage angst, rebelling again parental approval and the eventual triumphing of a love which they disapprove of.

This 2011 take on the fairy tale sits alongside other contemporary television and cinema reinterpretations of mythology and fairy tales that includes the likes of television series Grimm (2011-2017), which was a form of police procedural set in a contemporary world where mythological creatures exist and Once Upon a Time (2011-2018) in which characters from various fairy tales and other stories have been transported to a real world town while also being robbed of their original memories and the film Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), which has been described as being a “dark fantasy action horror comedy film” (y’kno’, just to make sure it appeals to the fan base of as many different genres as possible).

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is set in an unspecified time period probably hundreds of years ago and is very loosely inspired by the original German fairy tale Hansel & Gretel where a young brother and sister are kidnapped by a witch who lives in a forest, in a house constructed of all kinds of sweets, cakes etc, where she intends to fatten up the brother before eating him. In the original version the children do eventually defeat the witch and escape to live “happily ever after” with their family but in the 2013 film they defeat the witch and become famed roving witch hunters.

Essentially it is a sequel to the original Hansel & Gretel fairy tale, a suggesting of “what they did next and what became of their lives after they had been through a traumatic experience”. Although not necessarily overtly expressed, this is something of a divergence to a degree from standard genre film tropes, where often a story ends at the point when the foe has been vanquished or soon after and before any potentially complex longstanding emotional and psychological after effects can be seen.

However (please note: spoiler alert) there is no need to worry as Hansel & Gretel do ultimately defeat their latest witch foes – although the film ends with a sense that their quest is unending and that they have now added new younger recruits to their cause. In a way, while it could be argued that while there are still evil witches loose in the world that their work is necessary in terms of fighting the good fit, it could also be suggested that their lives have been permanently scarred and set along a possibly never ending particular path of seeking out and even acts of vengeance by their previous experiences.

The film is at heart a blockbuster action romp and a popcorn friendly piece of cinematic escapism, which while being set in times gone by adds a number of contemporary touches to the story and technology portrayed; the duo’s weaponry is a steampunk-esque take on period weaponry and the forced diet of candy that the witch inflicted on Hansel has left him diabetic and he needs an insulin shot every few hours or he will die.

The 2011 film Red Riding Hood also brings a contemporary aspect to its source material in that it contains a considerable amount of ambiguity and darkness; in it a village is threatened by a mystical wolf creature/a werewolf and the story revolves largely around Valerie, who is the red hood/cape wearing Little Red Riding Hood character (albeit more a young woman than a young girl).

In order to defeat the wolf a renowned witch hunter from outside the village called Father Solomon is asked for help. His actions increasingly blur the lines between good and evil as he employs increasingly harsh authoritarian and questionable methods in his quest to discover and kill the werewolf, possibly causing more death and distress than his foe does. He imposes his dictatorial will on the village via his group of heavily armed men, who could be seen to be a paramilitary force of questionable authority.

All this is done under his declaration and justification that “We do this for the greater good”.

Although his men seem fairly disposable and prone to being despatched by the wolf, for a good portion of the film Father Solomon himself appears near omnipotent, if somewhat ineffective in his quest but quite suddenly his reign ends and he himself is first possibly mortally wounded by the wolf and finally turned on and killed by one of his own men. Even at the end he maintains that his actions were undertaken for higher moral purposes:

“I only meant to serve. To protect us from darkness.”

As with much werewolf, vampire etc genre fiction and film, Red Riding Hood contains its own mythology on restrictions that are placed on the werewolves actions and abilities; here the wolf cannot enter Holy/church grounds, although this is not explained why, just as say often in fictional work vampire’s cast no reflection in mirrors for largely unexplained reasons and they are particularly defenceless against Holy water, crosses and so forth.

In Red Riding Hood the inability to enter Holy ground seems to imply that the werewolf is inherently evil, which appears to be at odds with the film’s ambiguity about the creatures, their motives and their position on the scale of good and evil – something which is particularly highlighted due to the ambiguous nature and actions of Father Solomon.

Initially the ending of Red Riding Hood appears to connect with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters in a sense of acknowledging the traumatic after effects of dark and extremely distressing experiences. Valerie finds that she no longer wishes to live in the village and has begun to live an isolated life in her granny’s former home in the woods:

“Everything I knew was ripped apart. I saw it differently, all the lies… the wolf didn’t come back but the village still lived in fear, it was the only life they knew.”

At this point her “forbidden” and parentally disapproved of romantic love is no longer present as he had been bitten/infected with the werewolf curse during the film’s battles and he has nobly left in order to learn how to control this infliction.

Ultimately though the film returns to more well trodden genre routes, expectations and a sense of a “true love conquers all” happy ending as he returns to her and the final scenes show them frolicking in the snow happily and free together.

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Shildam Hall Tapes: Audio Visual Archive 39/52

Artwork from The Shildam Hall Tapes – “Reflections on an imaginary film.”

In the late 1960s a film crew began work on a well-funded feature film in a country mansion, having been granted permission by the young heir of the estate.

Amidst rumours of aristocratic decadence, psychedelic use and even possibly dabbling in the occult, the film production collapsed, although it is said that a rough cut of it and the accompanying soundtrack were completed but they are thought to have been filed away and lost amongst storage vaults.

Few of the cast or crew have spoken about events since and any reports from then seem to contradict one another and vary wildly in terms of what actually happened on the set.

A large number of those involved, including a number of industry figures who at the time were considered to have bright futures, simply seemed to disappear or step aside from the film industry following the film’s collapse, their careers seemingly derailed or cast adrift by their experiences.

Little is known of the film’s plot but several unedited sections of the film and its soundtrack have surfaced, found amongst old filmstock sold as a job lot at auction – although how they came to be there is unknown.

The fragments of footage and audio that have appeared seem to show a film which was attempting to interweave and reflect the heady cultural mix of the times; of experiments and explorations in new ways of living, a burgeoning counter culture, a growing interest in and reinterpretation of folk culture and music, early electronic music experimentation, high fashion, psychedelia and the crossing over of the worlds of the aristocracy with pop/counter culture and elements of the underworld.

The Shildam Hall Tapes takes those fragments as its starting point and imagines what the completed soundtrack may have sounded like; creating a soundtrack for a film that never was.

(Quoted from text which accompanies the album.)

Features work by Gavino Morretti, Sproatly Smith, Field Lines Cartographer, Vic Mars, Circle/Temple, A Year In The Country, The Heartwood Institute, David Colohan, Listening Centre and Pulselovers.

 

“‘Ext – Day – Overgrown Garden’ is all knotweed and nettle, tendrils of melody and petals of expectation… Circle/Temple’s ‘Maze Sequence’ leads you through the silent hedges, and leaves you in the middle. You’ll find your own way out eventually.  Probably… The Shildham Hall Tapes leaves you convinced that you remember the show… you can picture certain scenes and might even recall the unease you felt when you went up to bed when it finished.  Which is an startling achievement in itself. The fact that you now have proof that it happened is even more amazing.” Dave Thompson writing at Spincycle / Goldmine

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales of Lycanthropy Part 2 – The Company of Wolves, the Thwarted Pop Career of Danielle Dax and the Bridging of Worlds: Wanderings 39/52

Part 2 of a post that takes as somes of its starting points Little Red Riding Hood, The Company of Wolves and  “The dangers of straying from the path and tales of lycanthropy” (visit Part 1 here).

As mentioned in Part 1 of this post, the 1984 film The Company of Wolves included a number of notable cameos, one of which is the experimental musician, artist, alternative almost popstar, interior designer and gardener Danielle Dax. She appears briefly as a she-wolf from the world beneath the village and whom, despite meaning no harm, is shot at by villagers and ultimately returns to her subterranean home as she feels she is not fit to stay. In The Company of Wolves Danielle Dax’s performance and the stylised way in which she moves recall the performance art meets contemporary dance aspects of Kate Bush’s live and promotional video work earlier in her career, with whom her work in the 1980s shares some similarities.

Viewed today her work in the 1980s appears at times to be not all that far removed from the performance art-like aspects of Kate Bush’s earlier work, with which it also shares in part a certain pop-hook sensibility. At one point in the late 1980s Danielle Dax was signed to a major label and was promoted via mainstream media, as Kate Bush has been for much of her career. Her live performances during this period also shared a multi-faceted and non-conventional aspect with Kate Bush’s in the later 1970s and featured dancers/performers, body paint, handpainted sets, costumes and the films of Holly Warburton, whose layered dream like collages also appeared on a number of her record covers.

(As an aside Kate Bush’s work could also be connected to The Company of Wolves and some of its themes/aesthetics as, particularly in the earlier part of her career, her songs and other work at times drew inspiration from and explored a mixture of mythology, pastoral unsettledness and even outright horror and often creates a world unto itself. Her song “Hammer Horror” utilises a gothic aesthetic and lyrics which talk of “The first time in my life, I leave the lights on to ease my soul”, “Hounds of Love” borrows the line “It’s in the trees! It’s coming…” from the 1957 British horror film Night of the Demon and “Waking the Witch” starts as a gentle rousing from sleep and then becomes a jarring nightmare of sorcery accusations and persecution, intertwining lyrics from the traditional shanty song “Blood Red Roses”.)

Describing Danielle Dax as an “alternative almost popstar” is a reference to the nature and journey of her work in music and performance during the 1980s; in an alternative time-line she may have gone on to more mainstream success but this was not to be, something which is reflected in the title of her 1995 compilation’s title Comatose Non-Reaction: The Thwarted Pop Career of Danielle Dax.

Danielle Dax’s background and music orientated output from the 1980s is more rooted in and explores the cultural underground (and to a degree psychedelic and gothic culture) than Kate Bush’s but the likes of her 1988 single “Cat House” seems to exist in similar territory as for example Kate Bush’s 1977 and 1978 singles “Wuthering Heights” and “Wow”. All three of these singles have a strident performance, a pop accessibility and accompanying promotional video’s which focus solely on the one dancer/performer against a blank background and make use of period ghosting/video trail effects. With the backing of a major label and higher profile release it is not difficult to envisage “Cat House” achieving chart success (something which its provocative subject matter may have both helped and hindered).

While visually striking in its own terms Danielle Dax’s appearance in The Company of Wolves is intriguing due to her own background as an at times experimental performer and therefore the manner in which her presence appears to possibly unexpectedly bridge the cultural worlds of mainstream film and underground culture.

However this “bridging” of different cultural worlds is not as surprising as it may initially appear; the film’s producer was Stephen Wooley who was one of the founders of the London-based Scala cinema in the late 1970s, a cinema renowned for its screening of a then unique mixture of exploitation, horror, high art and transgressive film:

“The Company Of Wolves pays homage to… and subconsciously draws from Woolley’s eclectic programming of London’s Scala repertory cinema, with shades of An American Werewolf in London (1981), Czech fantasy Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) and The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982)… Too arty for mainstream horror fans but much gorier and more muscular than the art house expected, The Company Of Wolves remains an endless delight for film enthusiasts and lovers of the Gothic tradition.” (Jane Giles, former chief programmer of The Scala, writing at the Picture House website).

Perhaps ultimately the manner in which The Company of Wolves seems to exist and even fall between a number of different stools, aesthetics and cultural areas is a fundamental and intrinsic aspect of its character and also part of what makes it such an intriguing, possibly flawed but still often mesmerising viewing experience.

 

Elsewhere: 

  1. The Company of Wolves trailer
  2. The Company of Wolves DVD and Blu-ray
  3. Scala Cinema 1978-1993 book
  4. Fab Press’ Scala Cinema book merchandise
  5. Stephen Woolley on historic venue the Scala: “It was a cinema with a lot of tribes”

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales of Lycanthropy Part 1 – The Cautionary Warnings of Little Red Riding Hood and The Company of Wolves: Wanderings 38/52
  2. An Old Soul Returns – The Worlds and Interweavings of Kate Bush: Chapter 39 Book Images
  3. Day #108/365: Let me grab your soul away – Kate Bush and darkly cinematic flickerings through the meadows, moors and mazes…

 

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A Year In The Country at The Haunted Generation and Kites and Pylons

There’s been something of a bumper overview of A Year In The Country recently, via an interview with AYITC by Bob Fischer for his The Haunted Generation site and an “A Year In The Country Special” episode of the Kites and Pylons radio show.

So first up, The Haunted Generation interview, of which Bob Fischer said: “We covered pastoral headspace, Cold War dread, Rob Young’s Electric Eden book, Noah’s Castle, Ghost Box, The Prisoner, his new book/album… and so much more.”

Bob Fischer also writes The Haunted Generation column in Fortean Times, and both the site and the column continue similar explorations to the 2017 article he wrote for Fortean times, which was an overview of hauntology, its themes, his personal connections with it and so on. Along which lines, at the first post on The Haunted Generation site he said this:

“…my 1970s childhood was imbued with an odd sense of melancholy and a vague, unsettling disquiet. Hoorah! These were feelings that I vainly attempted to describe, evoke and recapture for decades, until I realised that a generation of musicians, artists and writers were already – rather conveniently – doing the job for me. If you’re reading this, then it’s likely you’re familiar with the world of ‘hauntology’ – of Ghost Box Records and Scarfolk Council and Boards of Canada – but if not, then that’s fine. I’d be delighted for this blog to act as a gentle introduction…”

He can also be found hosting a regular radio show for BBC Tees, alongside hosting events where he interviews the likes of Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence, who wrote Scarred for Life: Growing up in the Dark Side of the Decade – Volume One: The 1970s (a book which explores the more eerie, unsettled side of 1970s pop culture – public information films, dystopian science fiction and so on).

(If you’re curious, the new album mentioned above by Bob, is Echoes and Reverberations, which is a field recording based exploration of real and imaginary film and television locations, and includes work by Grey Frequency, Pulselovers, Dom Cooper, Listening Center, Howlround, A Year In The Country, Sproatly Smith, Field Lines Cartographer, Depatterning and The Heartwood Institute. The upcoming new book is A Year In The Country: Straying from the Pathways, which is released on 8th October 2019 and which “wanders amongst eerie landscapes, folk horror, the dysfunctional utopian visions of Brutalist architects and hazily misremembered cultural memories, taking in the likes of the faded modernity and ‘future ruins’ of British road travel, apocalyptic ’empty city’ films, dark fairy tales, the political undercurrents of the 1980s and idyllic villages gone rogue.”)

Next up, on the 8th September 2019 there was “A Year In The Country Special” of the Kites and Pylons radio show.

Kites and Pylons is a show hosted by Lee Pylon, which focuses on “Library music, strange radiophonics, otherworldly electronica”, often of a hauntological nature, and on the show you’ll find the likes of Belbury Poly, Boards of Canada, Polypores, Sinoia Caves, Broadcast, The Focus Group, Joe Meek, John Baker, Delia Derbyshire and Basil Kirchin.

The show has also featured guest mixes by amongst others Midwich Youth Club, Simon Heartfield and sometimes fellow AYITC travellers Keith Seatman and Mat Handley (Pulselovers/Woodford Halse).

Each episode is originally broadcast via Mad Wasp Radio and then archived on Mixcloud and could well act as a spectral soundtrack for when reading the posts at The Haunted Generation.

The “A Year In The Country Special” episode included tracks from the A Year In The Country themed albums The Quietened Village, Audio Albion, The Quietened Bunker and others, and features music by The Heartwood Institute, Listening Center, Field Lines Cartographer, Cosmic Neighbourhood, Keith Seatman, Time Attendant, Quaker’s Stang, A Year In The Country, Pulselovers, Howlround, Circle/Temple and Grey Frequency.

Anyways, thanks indeed to Lee and Bob for their interest and support. It’s much appreciated – a tip of the hat to both, and as always to those who have created the music for the AYITC albums.

 

Links:

  1. The A Year In The Country interview at The Haunted Generation website
  2. Bob Fischer at Twitter
  3. Bob Fischer at Facebook
  4. Bob Fischer at BBC Tees
  5. Kites and Pylons at Mad Wasp Radio
  6. The Kites and Pylons “A Year In The Country Special” at Mixcloud
  7. Kites and Pylons at Twitter
  8. Fortean Times
  9. Scarred for Life: Growing up in the Dark Side of the Decade – Volume One: The 1970s
  10. Woodford Halse
  11. Keith Seatman’s Test Transmissions site

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Echoes And Reverberations
  2. A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways
  3. The Quietened Village
  4. Audio Albion
  5. The Quietened Bunker

 

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Audio Albion: Audio Visual Archive 38/52

Artwork from Audio Albion –  a music and field recording map of Britain, which focuses on rural and edgeland areas.

Each track contains field recordings from locations throughout the land and is accompanied by notes on the recordings by the contributors.

The tracks record the sounds found and heard when wandering down pathways, over fields, through marshes, alongside rivers, down into caves and caverns, climbing hills, along coastlands, through remote mountain forestland, amongst the faded signs of industry and infrastructure and its discarded debris.

Intertwined with the literal recording of locations, the album explores the history, myths and beliefs of the places, their atmospheres and undercurrents, personal and cultural connections – the layered stories that lie amongst, alongside and beneath the earth, plants and wildlife.

(Quoted from text which accompanies the album.)

Features work by Bare Bones, David Colohan, Grey Frequency, Field Lines Cartographer, Howlround, A Year In The Country, Keith Seatman, Magpahi, Sproatly Smith, Widow’s Weeds, Time Attendant, Spaceship, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute and Vic Mars.

 

“A gorgeous collage of sound myths, emboldened stories and earthly sounds… This is as good a map of some of the more wonderful parts of olde Albion as could be put to record, as the tracks record sounds found and heard walking down pathways, through to the echoey caves and caverns… The geography feeds into the music and in return, the music to the geography…” From Eoghan Lyng’s review at We Are Cult.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales of Lycanthropy Part 1 – The Cautionary Warnings of Little Red Riding Hood and The Company of Wolves: Wanderings 38/52

The origins of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood can be traced back to 10th century European folk tales, with the best known versions being based on stories written by Charles Perrault and The Brothers Grimm in the 17th and 19th centuries.

Although there are numerous variations on Little Red Riding Hood, a general summary of its plot tells of a girl who wears a red hooded cape/cloak who takes a walk from her village home through the woods to deliver food to her grandmother, having been ordered by her mother to stay strictly on the path. She is approached by a Big Bad Wolf who wants to eat her and the food in her basket. She naively tells him where she is going and as a delaying tactic he suggests she picks some flowers, which she does. The wolf then races ahead to the grandmother’s house, gains entry by pretending to be the girl, eats the grandmother and disguises himself as her.

When the girl arrives at her grandmother’s she does not initially realise that the disguised wolf is not her grandmother but rather only notices that she looks very strange. They have an exchange where she comments on this; “What a deep voice you have”, “The better to greet you with”, “What big eyes you have!”, “The better to see you with” etc and culminates in “What a big mouth you have”, “The better to eat you with”. The wolf then jumps up from bed and eats the girl whole, after which it falls asleep. Some versions end here but in others a hunter or woodcutter comes to the rescue and with an axe and cuts open the sleeping wolf, allowing the girl and the grandmother to emerge unharmed. They then fill the wolf’s body with heavy stones and when it awakens and attempts to flee the stones cause it to collapse and die.

Little Red Riding Hood can be viewed and interpreted in a number of different ways, some of which include; that it is a warning about the contrast between the safe civilised world, represented by the village and the dangers of the forest; the dangers of not obeying one’s parents; a cautionary tale about the sometimes possibly predatory nature of men and also as a rite of passage story in which a girl leaves home, enters a transitional state and by going through the events in the tale becomes a woman.

It seems to have an enduring and near ubiquitous presence and even many centuries later is still repeatedly reinterpreted and used as inspiration for film and television dramas, one of which is The Company of Wolves, a 1984 film directed by Neil Jordan who also co-wrote the screenplay with Angela Carter, basing it on her earlier short story and radio adaptation.

The film is framed by its tales possibly being the dreams of a sleeping girl in contemporary times and it contains a number of cautionary interwoven stories based loosely around Little Red Riding Hood, the mythology of wolves and werewolves, the dangers of the woods etc.

The way in which it contains a number of different stories rather than being a straightforward reiteration of its fairy tale source material connects The Company of Wolves to British horror portmanteau or anthology films, a number of which were produced in the 1960s through to the early 1980s, including Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Tales That Witness Madness (1973) and The Monster Club (1981).

Set in and around the woods and a small village in an unspecified time in previous centuries it creates its own enclosed mystical dream world, conjuring a claustrophobic fairytale forest where the sun and daylight rarely seem to enter, giant mushrooms grow, children’s toys come to life and mythological creatures roam. Tonally the film could be seen akin to a children’s film or television programme that has veered off into a much darker realm, accompanied by an aesthetic which brings to mind the Gothic horror of Hammer Horror-esque films.

The resulting film is an intriguing and curious example of British cinema and has a certain clunkiness that seemed to be an often recurring characteristic of British horror, science fiction and fantasy television and cinema of the time. That may in part be due to it attempting to compete with American Hollywood blockbuster style films in terms of special effects and ambition but it being impeded in doing so by a limited budget. Viewed today the film seems as though it may fall between two stools; it does not have the appealing lo-fi wobbly-set homespun charm of say some 1970s British fantasy television nor quite achieves the sheen and polish of its American cinematic counterparts and seems to sit somewhere between the two. This “falling between two stools” aspect is particularly noticeable in the sequences where humans transform into wolves which are somewhat unreal and unconvincing but also still retain a shocking impact and repellent visceral character (although their unconvincing nature could in part be due to a comparison with and expectations of a certain amount of realism in special effects brought about by the visual proficiency available in contemporary advanced CGI techniques).

The Company of Wolves appears to focus on the cautionary tale aspects of its source material, particularly in the manner that it repeatedly presents men as potentially highly predatory, alongside depicting the passage into adulthood of women and the trials and threats they may face as they does so in relation to male predatory behaviour.

Ultimately though The Company of Wolves version of the Little Red Riding Hood character appears to reject her elder’s warnings about the “wolves that reside in men” and the comforts and security of civilisation as when she meets in the woods somebody who declares himself to be neither a man nor a wolf, despite initially resisting she ultimately appears to join him after he has transformed into a wolf, becoming a wolf herself and fleeing into the forest with him.

It appears ambiguous about this ending as over its conclusion a voiceover by the same actress warns:

“As you’re pretty, so be wise, wolves may lurk in every guise… Now as then is simple truth, sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth.”

The Company of Wolves features a number of notable cameos, including Terence Stamp as the devil who anachronistically drives a Rolls Royce through the woods and stops to tempt a young boy/man with an enchanted potion in a manner reminiscent of the White Witch’s use of Turkish delight sweets to corrupt her victim in C.S. Lewis’  novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950). At this point Terence Stamp was in his mid-forties and in The Company of Wolves he has a striking slightly grey haired almost regal presence which appears to forebear his future standing as one of the elder statesmen of British acting.

To be continued in Part 2 (which, depending on when you are reading this, may not be online yet)…

 

Elsewhere: 

  1. The Company of Wolves trailer
  2. The Company of Wolves DVD and Blu-ray

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales Lycanthropy Part 2 – The Company of Wolves, the Thwarted Pop Career of Danielle Dax and the Bridging of Worlds: Wanderings 39/52
  2. Portmanteau Explorations: Tales from the Black Meadow, The Book of the Lost and The Equestrian Vortex – The Imagined Spaces of Imaginary Soundtracks: Chapter 9 Book Images

 

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All The Merry Year Round: Audio Visual Archive 37/52

Booklet artwork from All The Merry Year Round.

 

All The Merry Year Round is an exploration of an alternative or otherly calendar that considers how traditional folklore and its tales now sit alongside and sometimes intertwine with cultural or media based folklore; stories we discover, treasure, are informed and inspired by but which are found, transmitted and passed down via television, film and technology rather than through local history and the ritual celebrations of the more longstanding folkloric calendar.

(Quoted from text which accompanied the album.)

Includes work by United Bible Studies, Circle/Temple (Dom Cooper of The Owl Service/Bare Bones/Rif Mountain), Magpahi, Cosmic Neighbourhood, Field Lines Cartographer, Polypores, A Year In The Country, Sproatly Smith, Pulselovers, The Hare And The Moon & Jo Lepine (The Owl Service), Time Attendant and The Séance (Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne and James Papademetrie).

“A Year In The Country… operating like some sinister rustic arts and crafts movement manifesting online via a Wi-Fi connected scrying mirror… an almanac of unearthly sonics to tide you through the winter nights.” Ben Graham writing in issue 74 of Shindig! magazine.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca, In Time and Anon – Striving for the Stars in a Brutalist Retro Future and Other Near Future Tales: Wanderings 37/52

Andrew Niccol is a New Zealand born screenwriter-director, whose films often seem to wrap quite challenging issues in something of a Hollywood coating. The first film he wrote and directed was Gattaca (1997) in which the genetic modification and screening of human embryos in order to ensure that they possess the superior traits of their parents has become common, as has the genetic testing of employees. Genetic discrimination is illegal but in practice genetic profiling and discrimination is widely used by employers and society in general. Reflecting this the title of the film is based around the letters G, A, T and C which are letters used to represent the four nucleobases of DNA and are some of the molecules identified within genetic science which carry genetic information.

The use of genetic technology has led to a segregated society where those who have been born via this system, known as valids, have much better life choices, access to employment etc and those who have not are known as in-valids and tend to be relegated to menial jobs and are generally considered inferior. This aspect of the film could be seen to be both a comment on the dangers of eugenics and also a remoulding of race, class or caste based segregation:

“I belonged to a new underclass nolonger determined by social status or the colour of your skin… Now we have discrimination down to a science.”

The film appears to be set in the relatively near future or possibly an alternate timeline version of the world in years to come and creates in part a mid century modern or populuxe-esque retro-future vision that makes extensive use of real world locations, featuring modern and at times minimalist/Brutalist concrete architecture of the 1950s, alongside futuristic turbine electric-powered cars based on 1960s car models. The bar/nightclub shown in the film also has a retro cabaret-ish air that would not look out-of-place in more recent revivals of vintage style and fashion. While much of the work is done on computers this is not a society where carrying around mobile digital devices appears to be the norm, apart from small hand-held genetic testing devices which further emphasise the retro-future aspect of Gattaca by having imperfect flickering video displays.

The future that is presented appears to be both quite uniform – all the workers from different social groups dress and have their hair in similar styles – and also notably stylish. This is far from the “burning trash can” crumbling urban vision of densely populated cities in the future that is often depicted in science fiction but rather offers what appears in some ways to be a highly ordered, unbusy, sterile but also beautiful world. This is accompanied by a sense of ache or yearning to the film, that is in part a reflection of its main character’s quest and also possibly due to the arresting, evocative and distinctive nature of Michael Nyman’s score. It is in some ways a dystopia but not one that, at least if you are a valid, appears to cause all that much distress or unrest and the computer based workers at the main complex in the film seem focused, organised and not prone to say gossiping, appearing nearer to a well-dressed and well-behaved industrious but sedate ant colony.

Gattaca’s plot concerns Vincent who is an in-valid but who dreams of a career in space travel but in the normal scheme of things he would be denied this because of his genetic status and he is relegated to a menial job as a cleaner. In order to achieve his dream he has been driven to a form of identity deception known as being a “borrowed ladder” or a de-gene-erate, whereby he uses the genetic material (blood, urine, skin cells, hair etc) of a valid to gain employment at the space-flight conglomerate the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation. In order to do this he has come to live in a symbiotic relationship with his valid whereby he provides for them financially at their home and his valid allows him to use his genetic material in an ongoing basis, which is necessary to avoid detection as at Vincent’s workplace every day testing of workers for their valid status via their genetic material is the norm.

(The film’s imagery also subtly reflects its world’s obsession with genetics; the intro sequence uses microscopic images of human hair and nails – which are collected by the authorities in Gattaca as a way of determining if somebody is a “valid” or not and the spiral staircase in the main appartment featured in the film is reminiscent of a DNA helix.)

Vincent’s “job interview” for his post purely involves his genetic testing via a urine test (in which he substitutes his valid’s), the results of which are considered as being indicative enough of performance and ability without any further discussion. Although he does not look like the valid whose genetic material he is using in the world shown in Gattaca in order to pass security checks etc this does not seem to matter as essentially considerations of genetics has surpassed photographs and visual ways of identifying people.

Choosing a romantic partner is also largely done via genetic testing that is carried out via for example taking a prospective mate’s found or given hair to a business which offers an analysis and screening service. At one point a character offers a potential partner a hair for testing and says “Here, take it, if you’re still interested let me know (i.e. after it has been tested to indicate genetic superiority). While a tester at a screening service who has not physically seen or met one of the character’s potential partners but still says after screening via a hair “9.3, quite a catch”, further indicating that attraction and desirability is no longer predicated on looks or personality.

In terms of the love story aspect of the film to a degree it is a classic “girl/boy from the wrong side of the tracks hides there origins and attempts to live in a higher social strata and a girl/boy from that higher social strata falls for them, discovers the truth and together they fight against unjust societal restrictions that prevent such mingling” plot, albeit in this case being from the wrong side of the tracks is not due to being born to for example an economically deprived background but rather is due to an individual’s genetic makeup.

Curiously when Vincent does finally achieve his long-held wish to go into space it seems like just another day at the office; his preparation seems to have more involved computer work than rigorous physical testing and intriguingly he and the other astronauts enter the spaceship still wearing their normal work suits rather than a space suit.

After Gattaca Andrew Nicol went onto write and direct In Time (2011), which while in some ways a genre orientated dystopian science fiction action film also essentially takes forms of social division and inequality and reimagines them. In this film, also set in a near future, people stop ageing at 25 and develop a countdown on their forearm set for a year. This counts down in real-time and when it reaches zero that person “times out” or dies. In this sense it connects with both the film Logan’s Run (1976) where everyone is destroyed when they reach 30 and also to a degree Harlan Ellison’s 1965 short story “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman'” where people have a set amount of time to live which can be revoked – also in both Ellison’s story and In Time the enforcing authorities are known as a Timekeepers and timekeepers respectively.

This not ageing past 25 aspect of the film leads to some curious and striking visual and thematic aspects of the film; a son’s mother appears to be of the same generation as him, multiple generation’s of a husbands relatives when introduced (his mother, daughter and wife) all appear to be debutantes also of the same generation.

In the film time has become the new currency and workers are paid for their labour via it. Within the city where In Time takes place there are distinctly different time zones which it costs a considerable amount of “time” currency to pass between; these are divided between a poor manufacturing area where people are literally “time poor” and an area where the “time rich” live, where people have enough time to be effectively immortal.

The plot is essentially a modern-day take on Robin Hood; Will Salas, a factory worker, is given 116 years by a man who has decided to deliberately “time out” and who explains the realities of the economic system to him as being that the rich hoard most of the time to live forever, while constantly increasing costs to keep poorer people dying:

“For a few to be immortal, many must die.”

Salas enters the richer area (via a taxi ride that literally “costs” him years to pass through different zones) and after a brief period of exploring via his new-found time rich freedom he comes under suspicion for his wealth, is arrested and his time confiscated. He then kidnaps a wealthy businessman’s daughter, flees back to the poorer area where the two bond and begin to rob time banks in order to redistribute time to the needy. These activities escalate in the value of time stolen and given away as they attempt to crash society’s economic system – which appears to happen as now time rich workers downing tools and flooding into the more affluent areas.

A noticeable but not overly referred to aspect of the film is that the forces of law and order in In Time seem curiously under-resourced, possibly as a reflection of a complacent belief that the system is unshakable and ultimately there only appears to be one timekeeper who is overly focused on or tasked with stopping Salas and his partner’s spree of robbery, rampage and wealth redistribution.

In Time shares retro-future styling with Gattaca, in particular via its depiction of futuristic electric cars that are styled on vintage automobiles (the vehicles in In Time were created from older production model modified cars). This appears to be a recurring aspect of Niccol’s film making as in the film Anon (2018) which he wrote and directed the vehicles depicted are also previous era’s models/styles. Anon also shares with Gattaca a use of real world concrete minimalist architecture – although in terms of locations Anon is not as overtly stylised.

Anon is not so much a near future film but rather an extrapolation of the modern world, digital technology and social media. In it privacy and anonymity no longer exist due to everybody having what are called biosyn implants that subject every person to a constant stream of information in their vision, they also make personal information constantly available to everybody else and it records their life down to the millisecond and the resulting information is downloaded to a vast database called “The Ether”, which the police use to find their suspects.

It has been called “an augmented reality neo-noir nightmare” (Bryan Bishop, The Verge) and it is at heart a variation on a detective thriller; the victims in a series of murders appear to have had their vision hacked and replaced with their killer’s viewpoint and the resulting investigation leads the main detective to an anonymous hacker who has somehow managed to disappear from the database.

The technological changes in society are not portrayed as being as clearly negative as in Gattaca and Anon; the stream of information is all-invasive and overbearing to a degree but most of the characters appear to find it useful rather than rebel against it, with the noticeable exception of the anonymous hacker and the technology is portrayed as being put to a good use by the detective in his investigations.

The potential problems of this technology is more shown as a threat only when it has been hijacked to make someone think that they can see things which are not there and which for example causes the detective to exit a road junction into what he thinks is a clear road but which is actually filled with traffic, causing the other cars to crash into him.

Taken as a body of work these three films (and others which Andrew Niccol has worked on such as the enclosed and staged real/virtual-world shown in the film The Truman Show from 1998) could be considered in part to be intriguing high-concept popcorn movies; they are distinctly entertaining while also exploring the effects, changes and threats that can be brought about by modern technology and innovations in a way that is not all that dissimilar to Black Mirror (2011-), the anthology television series created by Charlie Brooker, albeit in a less darkly twisted manner.

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Quietened Cosmologists: Audio Visual Archive 36/52

Booklet artwork from The Quietened Cosmologists.

 

The Quietened Cosmologists is a reflection on space exploration projects that have been abandoned and/or that were never realised, of connected lost or imagined futures and dreams, the intrigue and sometimes melancholia of related derelict sites and technological remnants that lie scattered and forgotten.

It takes as its initial starting points the shape of the future’s past via the discarded British space program of the 1950s to 1970s; the sometimes statuesque and startling derelict artifacts and infrastructure from the Soviet Union’s once far reaching space projects; the way in which manned spaceflight beyond Earth’s orbit/to the moon and the associated sense of a coming space age came to be largely put to one side after the 1969 to 1972 US Apollo flights.

(Quoted from text which accompanies the album.)

Includes work by Field Lines Cartographer, Pulselovers, Magpahi, Howlround, Vic Mars, Unit One, A Year In The Country, Keith Seatman, Grey Frequency, Time Attendant, Listening Center, Polypores and David Colohan.

“(Pulselovers’ Lonely Puck)… a wonderfully serene and affectionate love note mailed out from across the outer edges of the cosmos, a transmission from a long lost and forgotten outpost if you like, twinkle toned and radiantly awash in what sounds like shimmering cosmic church bell celebrations…” Mark Barton writing at The Sunday Experience, which can be visited here and here.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Folklore on Screen, Folk Horror in the 21st Century, The Geographies of Folk Horror and Contemporary Folk Horror in Film and Media Conferences – A Return to Investigations of the Spectral Landscape: Wanderings 36/52

Late summer in the UK this year there’s something of a gathering of academic conferences that focus on folk horror, the spectral undercurrents of folklore and the landscape and so on.

They could be considered this summer’s academic research flipside of the A Midsummer Night’s Happening, Weirdshire and The Delaware Road: Ritual & Resistance events that I wrote about earlier in the year.

Anyways, I thought it would be good to gather them together, and also to place them in a lineage of earlier events which explored similar themes.

The 2019 conferences are:

Folklore on Screen, presented by the Centre for Contemporary Legend at Sheffield Hallam University on 13-14th September 2019, which is described as “A 2-day international conference, with a hauntological music event”, and is said to explore “the meaning, import and relevance of folklore in the media and its representation, communication and perpetuation”.

The events at the conference are split into different categories: Monster Mash, Ghosts in the Machine, I Want to Believe, The Haunted Generation, The Devil Rides Out, Island of Lost Souls and At the Mountains of Madness, with some of the papers being presented having titles which include Beasts, Monoliths & Witchcraft – the Unsung Nigel Kneale and The Wicker Man and the misuses of Folklore.

In a connection to less academically orientated otherly folkloric, hauntological etc work, the event also features a panel called The Haunted Generation, the members of which are David Southwell of Hookland, Andy Paciorek of Folk Horror Revival/Wyrd Harvest Press and Bob Fischer, who writes The Haunted Generation column for Fortean Times, which the panel is named after.

In an interconnected manner to that panel, one of the organisers of the conference, Diane A. Rogers, also contributed an article and was interviewed for the Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd – 2. Spirits of Place book (other members of the team behind the Centre for Contemporary Legend include David Clarke, Andrew Robinson and newer member Sophie Parkes-Nield).

Also, connected to the event, Heretics Folk Club are hosting an accompanying music night featuring Sharron Kraus, Cath & Phil Tyler and Hawthonn (coincidentally, back in the first year of A Year In The Country in 2014, I wrote about a Heretics Folk Club event where Sharron Kraus performed – the photograph/collage in the middle above is from that event.)

Coming soon/about now, there is a conference at Falmouth University on 5-6th September 2019, which is titled Folk Horror in the 21st Century.

Reproduced below is some of the accompanying text from the conference:

Since at least 2010, critics and bloggers have been working to define folk horror, understand its appeal, and establish its key texts, including what has become the central triumvirate of the folk horror canon of the 1960s and 1970s—Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968), Blood on Satan’s Claw (Piers Haggard, 1971), and The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)… The 1960s and 1970s also saw a rise in folk horror texts in British literature and TV series: Robin Redbreast (1970), BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas (1971-78), Penda’s Fen (1974), Children of the Stones (1977), and Alan Garner’s novels The Owl Service (1967) and Red Shift (1973)… Critics have also begun to uncover a rich pre-history for the folk horror of the 1960s and 70s, looking back to the 19th and early 20th century fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Arthur Machen, and M. R. James. But the history of folk horror can be traced still further back, to Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Shakespeare, and the mystical poetry and witchcraft plays of the seventeenth century… At the same time, directors in the 21st century have been re-inventing the genre with such new incarnations with films such as The Blair Witch Project (1999), Eden Lake (2008), Wake Wood (2009), Kill List (2011), A Field in England (2013), The Witch (2015), The Hallow (2015), Without Name (2016), Apostle (2018), and Hereditary (2018)… This conference will aim to explore and represent the ‘state of the art’ of folk horror scholarship about all periods and regions…

This conference is organised by Ruth Heholt, Dawn Keetley, Joanne Parsons and David Devanny, and its website features a rather fascinating Bibliography, some of which I’ve already read and written about such as Robert Macfarlane’s article “The Eeriness of the English Countryside”, and I expect the rest could well keep me busy for a month or few…

As with Folklore on Screen, the conference is also accompanied by a musical event; this features We Are Muffy, a duo that comprises of Nick Duffy and Angeline Morrison, who are said to spin narratives “of remembered and imagined pasts”.

(Angeline Morrison also collaborated on an album called In the Sunshine We Rode the Horses, which was released under the name Rowan : Morrison. For that she worked with Stephen Stannard of The Rowan Amber Mill – it’s something of a fine album, that has its own character but also feels like listening to some lost acid/psych folk album from the late 1960s or some point in the 1970s. I’ve written about it elsewhere at A Year In The Country and it also features in the upcoming A Year In The Country: Straying from the Pathways book.)

While just gone, on 29th August 2019 the Royal Geographic Society hosted a conference called The Geographies of Folk Horror: from the Strange Rural to the Urban Wyrd, a selection of accompanying text for which is reproduced below:

Over approximately the last decade, Folk Horror has seen increasing popularity in films, blogs, books and on internet fan pages. Folk Horror concerns itself with marginal and liminal landscapes that in various ways are active in the production of the horrific. Folk Horror’s landscapes are predominantly rural, coding the countryside as oppositional to modernity and capable of hosting ancient secrets ready to be revived or unearthed to the terror of the outsider… The reach of Folk Horror arguably extends beyond the rural through the Urban Wyrd, wherein the cracks in the sheen of the cosmopolitan urban let forth the ghosts of occluded pasts and disturbing practices. This session therefore seeks to bring together those interested in Folk Horror, the Strange Rural, the Gothic countryside or the Urban Wyrd.

Those presenting papers at the conference were Katy Soar, Owain Jones and its co-organisers James Thurgill and Julian Holloway. Their respective paper’s were called “Wraith-like is this native stone”: folklore, folk horror and archaeological landscapes; Horror in (English) Folk Music and the Rise of Eco-Horror as a new Theme; On the Geographies of Folk Horror; and Sounding Folk Horror and the Strange Rural.

A more recent development that has emerged [from earlier] explorations of the strange and uncanny has been the retrospective coining of ‘Folk Horror’, a strain of horror based largely on (mis)representations of pastoral geographies and the people who inhabit them as menacing, malevolent and anti-modern.” (From James Thurgill’s paper.)

Also, coming up on 30-31st July 2020 is the Contemporary Folk Horror in Film and Media Conference, which will take place at Leeds Beckett University.

This conference is being organised by Melody Blackmore and Sue Chaplin, and although the programme is yet to be announced, the conference’s name suggests it will more be focusing on contemporary folk horror, although the website and accompanying text includes references to and potential ideas for papers on films and television dramas from the 1960s and through to contemporary times:

The 1960’s and 70s folk horror canon brought the ‘Unholy Trinity’ of Witchfinder General (1968), The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), and The Wicker Man (1973), establishing a platform for rural horror and isolated cults. There is a current folk horror revival, with films such as Kill List (2011), A Field in England (2013), The Witch (2015),and Midsommar (2019) heading the film and media popularity. But what does this mean? What cultural, political and social reflections are part of the folk horror renaissance?” (From text on the conference’s website.)

The above conferences continue a lineage of previous events and related academic research groups, some of which I have written about at A Year In The Country before, and which could be said, loosely, to explore the hauntological landscape and the undercurrents of folk/folklore.

Those earlier events include 2017’s Child Be Strange: A Symposium on Penda’s Fen, 2014’s A Fiend in the Furrows: Perspectives on Folk Horror in Literature Film and Music and The Alchemical Landscape research group at the University of Cambridge, which has hosted a number of ongoing events and discussions and focuses in part on “occultural” representations of rural, landscape and spectral work.

In a more strictly hauntological sense, in 2013 there was a one-day academic symposium at the National Media Museum organised by the Communication Culture and Media Research Group, which is part of the University of Bradford, and which focused on the legacy of philosopher Jacques Derrida, who coined the phrase/concept hauntology.

Going considerably further back, in 2003 there was a three-day academic conference on The Wicker Man called The Wicker Man: Readings Rituals and Reactions at the University of Glasgow, which lead in 2005 to the release of a book called Constructing The Wicker Man, that collected essays based on the papers presented at the conference. That in turn lead to a further academic collection of essays, The Quest for the Wicker Man: Historical, Folklore and Pagan Perspectives, that featured an intertwined set of writers and editors.

(As an aside, Constructing The Wicker Man is one of the rarer books that I have come across during the wanderings of A Year In The Country, and in that sense I would probably file it alongside the likes of Filming the Owl Service and the book version of Penda’s Fen’s script.)

There may have been earlier academic conferences etc along these lines than that 2003 one but I don’t know of them, and in some ways it could be considered something of a root or fount for all the following conferences listed in this post. It also follows what I think was the first release on DVD of The Director’s Cut (aka The Long Version) of The Wicker Man in 2002, which was one of the notable stepping-stones towards the growing popularity and exploration of folk horror etc, the flowering of which has been one of the factors which led to the hosting of the conferences listed in this post.

And why that flowering and interest? Well there are a number of possible factors, explanations and so on, some of which I wrote about earlier in the year in a post on The Disruption booklet, which documents a conversation between Andy Beckett and Roger Luckhurst on the 1975 gently post-apocalyptic television series The Changes, and also the abovementioned “The Eeriness of the English Countryside” article by Robert Macfarlane. Below I revisit some of the text and theories from those earlier posts:

Robert Macfarlane suggests in “The Eeriness of the English Countryside” that the current interest in the darker, eerie side of the landscape and pastoralism in culture may well be:

“…an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. The supernatural and paranormal have always been means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression. Contemporary anxieties and dissents are here being reassembled and re-presented as spectres, shadows or monsters: our noun monster, indeed, shares an etymology with our verb to demonstrate, meaning to show or reveal (with a largely lost sense of omen or portent).”

Connected to which, much of the canon of films and television that has come to be touchstones for contemporary hauntological and otherly folk work were made during the 1970s, a period when the UK experienced extended and extensive turmoil – a description which could also be applied to contemporary times.

Along which lines, in The Disruption booklet comparisons are drawn between the mid-1970s and the state of flux which British society was then in, and 2016-2017 when the conversation on The Changes in the booklet took place. It is suggested in it by Becket and Luckhurst that during that period, after the stability of the time when Britain’s Prime Ministers were John Major and Tony Blair – approximately the early 1990s until the current economic crisis began around 2007 – it was hard to predict the future, with Britain appearing to be going through a time of uncertainty.

Because of this they propose that the worries, catastrophes and the England-on-the-edge-of-disaster scenarios found in the likes of television dramas such as The Changes, The Survivors and the final Quatermass series, alongside the spectral, supernatural unearthings of The Stone Tape, as well as loosely-related, unsettling pastoral work, such as the triumvirate of folk horror films that includes Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man, fit our era much better than they might have done 10 years ago:

“It feels like there has been an embrace of catastrophe across the spectrum, alarmist on the left, almost welcoming on the right. I suppose this also makes sense of us wanting to re-watch that whole strand of 1970s apocalyptic films now, and also that the culture seems compelled to remake them.”

An interconnected viewpoint on the reasons for the current interest in the confluence of wyrd folk, otherly pastoralism, hauntology etc could be that it is part of the creation of an imagined parallel world or plane of existence – one which variously allows for a break from the abovementioned “contemporary anxieties and dissents” or just because humans as a species seem to possibly uniquely be fascinated by and have a need to tell stories, spin yarns and create waking dreamscapes.

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Undercurrents: Audio Visual Archive 35/52

Booklet artwork from Undercurrents.

 

Undercurrents was partly inspired by living in the countryside for the first time since I was young, where because of the more exposed nature of rural life I found myself in closer contact with, more overtly affected by and able to directly observe the elements and nature than via life in the city.

This coincided with an interest in and exploration of an otherly take on pastoralism and creating the A Year In The Country project; of coming to know the land as a place of beauty, exploration and escape that you may well drift off into but where there is also a sometimes unsettled undercurrent and layering of history and culture.

I found myself drawn to areas of culture that draw from the landscape, the patterns beneath the plough, the pylons and amongst the edgelands and where they meet with the lost progressive futures, spectral histories and parallel worlds of what has come to be known as hauntology.

Undercurrents is an audio exploration and interweaving of these themes – a wandering amongst nature, electronic soundscapes, field recordings, the flow of water through and across the land and the flipside of bucolic dreams.

(Quoted from text which accompanied the album.)

 

“…the chimes of a music box, the creak of a gate, the rush of the wind, the crackle of static, the turning of pages.  Cathode hiss and transistor hum from the bottom of the lake.” Dave Thompson writing at Spin Cycle / Goldmine.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The A Year in the Country: Straying from the Pathways Book – Release Date 8th October 2019

Hidden Histories, Echoes of the Future’s Past and the Unsettled Landscape

The book is available at:
Amazon UK, US, France, Germany and their various other international sites.
The A Year In The Country Artifacts Shop and our Bandcamp site.
Lulu.com

In keeping with the number of months in a year, A Year In The Country: Straying from the Pathways is split into 12 chapters, which travel from eerie landscapes and folk horror to the dysfunctional utopian visions of Brutalist architects via hazily misremembered cultural memories.

The book explores the wider realm of “otherly pastoralism” and its intertwining with the lost futures and parallel worlds of hauntology. It examines such varied and curiously interconnected topics as the faded modernity and “future ruins” of British road travel; apocalyptic “empty city” films; dark fairy tales; the political undercurrents of the 1980s; idyllic villages gone rogue; photographic countercultural festival archives and experiments in “temporary autonomous zones”.

The book also discusses film, television and books, including: Requiem, Prince of Darkness, The Prisoner, The Company of Wolves, Detectorists, A Very Peculiar Practice, Edge of Darkness, Day of the Triffids, Penda’s Fen, High-Rise, The Living and the Dead, Night of the Comet, In the Company of Ghosts: The Poetics of the Motorway, The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale, GB84, This Brutal World and The Fountain in the Forest, as well as music that draws from, or interconnects with, hauntological spectres and reimaginings of the past, including hypnagogic pop, synthwave and the work of Ghost Box Records, Adrian Younge, D.A.L.I., Grey Frequency, The Ghost in the MP3, DJ Shadow and Howlround amongst others.

Author: Stephen Prince. 238 pages. Paperback and Ebook. Published by A Year In The Country.

Chapter list:

1. Explorations of an Eerie Landscape: Texte und Töne – The Disruption, The Changes, The Edge is Where the Centre is: David Rudkin and Penda’s Fen: An Archaeology, The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale, The Stink Still Here – the miners’ strike 1984-85 – Robert Macfarlane – Benjamin Myers’ Under the Rock: The Poetry of a Place

2. Fractured Dream Transmissions and a Collapsing into Ghosts: John Carpenter – Prince of Darkness, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Village of the Damned, Christine – Nigel Kneale – Martin Quatermass – John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos

3. Hinterland Tales of Hidden Histories and Unobserved Edgeland Transgressions: Adrian McKinty’s In the Morning I’ll Be Gone – Clare Carson’s Orkney Twilight – David Peace’s GB84 – Tony White’s The Fountain in the Forest

4. Countercultural Archives and Experiments in Temporary Autonomous Zones: Jeremy Sandford and Ron Reid’s Tomorrow’s People – Richard Barnes’ The Sun in the East: Norfolk & Suffolk Fairs – Sam Knee’s Memory of a Free Festival: The Golden Era of the British Underground Festival Scene – Gavin Watson’s Raving ’89 – Molly Macindoe’s Out of Order: The Underground Rave Scene 1997-2006

5. The Village and Seaside Idyll Gone Rogue: Hot Fuzz – The Avengers’ “Murdersville” – The Prisoner – In 
My Mind – Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth Mon Amour

6. Albion in the Overgrowth and Timeslip Echoes: Requiem – The Living and the Dead – Britannia – Detectorists

7. In Cars – Building a Better Future, Peculiarly Subversive Enchantments and Faded Futuristic Glamour:
 In the Company of Ghosts: The Poetics of the Motorway – Joe
 Moran’s On Roads: A Hidden History – Chris Petit’s Radio 
On – Autophoto – Martin Parr’s Abandoned Morris Minors of the West of Ireland – The Friends of Eddie Coyle – Killing Them Softly – Langdon Clay’s Cars: New York City 1974-76

8. Brutalism, Reaching for the Sky and Bugs in Utopia: Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal World – Bladerunner – J.G.
Ballard – Ben Wheatley – High-Rise – Peter Mitchell’s
 Memento Mori – Brick High-Rise

9. Battles with the Old Guard and the Continuing sparking of Vivid Undercurrents: 
A Very Peculiar Practice – Edge of Darkness

10. Lycanthropes, Dark Fairy Tales and the Dangers of Wandering off the Path: 
The Company of Wolves – Danielle Dax – Red Riding Hood – Wolfen – Hansel & Gretel: Witchhunters – The Keep

11. The Empty City Film and Other Visions of the End of Days – Survival and Shopping in the Post-Apocalypse:
 Day of the Triffids – Into the Forest – Night of the Comet –
The Quiet Earth

12. Universe Creation, Spectral Lines in the Cultural Landscape and Reimagined Echoes from the Past:
 Hauntology – Hypnagogic Pop – Synthwave – D.A.L.I.’s
 When Haro Met Sally – Nocturne’s Dark Seed – Beyond the 
Black Rainbow – Mo’ Wax, UNKLE, Tricky, Massive Attack, Portishead, DJ Shadow, Andrea Parker – Ghost Box Records, 
 The Focus Group, Belbury Poly – The Memory Band – The Delaware Road – Rowan : Morrison – Howlround – Mark Fisher – the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – Adrian Younge’s Electronique Void – DJ Food – Grey Frequency – Keith Seatman – Douglas Powell – Akiha Den Den – The Ghost in the MP3 – Black Channels – The Quietened Village – The Corn Mother

The book was edited and typset by Ian Lowey of Bopcap Book Services.

 

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The Quiet Earth – Loneliness and Redemption in the Empty City Film: Wanderings 35/52

The Quiet Earth is a 1985 science fiction post-apocalyptic film directed by Geoff Murphy and made in New Zealand.

In the film a scientist awakens to find himself as apparently the only person left alive in the world after an experiment he had been working on malfunctioned and it depicts how he discovers, adjusts and for a while is driven mad by this new empty world and his interactions with two other survivors that he meets.

The experiment he was working on as a part of a research group was called Project Flashlight and involved the creation of an energy grid which was intended to surround the earth and from which aeroplanes and other devices could draw power so that they would never need to land. The point at which the project malfunctioned and all life on Earth appears to have disappeared comes to be referred to as “The Effect”.

It is loosely based on the 1981 science fiction novel of the same name written by Craig Harrison and has been called an unofficial remake of the 1959 film The World, the Flesh and the Devil and also has in some ways a similar set-up to the film Z for Zachariah (2015), based on Robert C. O’Brien’s book, also of the same name. All three films depict the tensions, conflicts and difficulties of a love triangle in a largely empty post-apocalyptic world between a white male, a white female and a black male.

The Quiet Earth and The World, the Flesh and the Devil are at times quite overt in considering the effects of racial conflict and difference, whereas in Z for Zachariah the conflicts between the characters is in part more expressed via their differing faiths in religion or science and logic.

Although fairly nominally a science fiction genre film, The Quiet Earth is not a spectacle, action and special effects filled film, nor does it have a blockbuster-like pace, while it is also not slowly paced or overly arthouse-like and has a notable conventional accessibility, albeit couple with an independent film making spirit and a certain non-conventional ambiguity in terms of what has actually happened in the film and its ending.

As a whole the film is also ambiguous about whether the trio are the only survivors or have they possibly died and entered a different reality to the rest of the world:

“I get the feeling that we’re either dead or in a different universe… The Effect happened at the exact moment of death and that’s why we survived.”

It is also at a remove from a number of 1980s post-apocalyptic films such as Mad Max (1979) which are nearer to action films and often depicted warriors battling their way through an arid wasteland or desert; in The Quiet Earth the main character is not a handsome, muscled hero or anti-hero but rather something of an everyman placed in extraordinary circumstances. Reflecting this on the morning when he wakes up in a now empty world he is initially shown driving to work in a conservative suit and tie.

Along with Thom Eberhardt’s Night of the Comet (1984) it could be connected with a wider genre that is known as the “Empty City” film, although in The Quiet Earth it is the whole world which is empty and the events of the film are not purely based in urban areas.

As in Night of the Comet the post-apocalypse is largely shown as not being all that unpleasant as a world to live in, as material goods and even to a degree civilisation’s infrastructure and utilities – power etc – remain at least for a while largely undamaged and still functioning in both films. Also, in both films there are not masses of the deceased shown; in Night of the Comet the disappeared population seems to have been turned into red dust and in The Quiet Earth they have simply disappeared.

However in contrast to Night of the Comet when Zac Hobson, the main character in The Quiet Earth, realises that he can do whatever he likes in this new empty world, his resulting actions are not presented so much as purely joyful fun at the mall but rather eventually as the breakdown and dysfunction that have resulted from his loneliness and also the guilt and acceptance of his own culpability in regards to what has happened the world. There is a sense that initially it is fun to be able to “play” with all the machinery etc left behind in the world (he drives a real train as though it is a toy train etc) but ultimately such activities prove empty and the film appears to question if you will lose your sanity if there is nobody else to affirm it.

Consequently he is shown playing the saxophone down a city road at night, still dressed in his suit now coupled with a police hat, seemingly oblivious to the pouring rain. He also shoots out the television in his luxury hotel room when he becomes frustrated and annoyed by a television recording of a government official talking about the duty to carry out technological advance.

He declares “I’m taking over” and dressed in a woman’s negligee he sets up a PA to broadcast to the hotel’s grounds, which he has filled with cardboard cutouts of leaders and cultural icons (as an aside, although it looks like he’s living of a life of luxury, I did find myself wandering the likes of “What happens when he needs to change his sheets and/or all the clean ones have been used or gone mildewy?”).

Standing on the balcony overlooking the cutouts he makes a speech about dedicating his scientific knowledge to developing projects which could be used for evil purposes:

“For the common good they said… How easy to believe in the common good, when that belief is rewarded with wealth, status and power.”

And goes on to talk about how hard it is to believe in the common good when the awesome forces he has helped to create have been put in the hands of mad men (at which point the electricity supply closes down):

“I’ve been condemned to live.”.

After this and carrying out a rampage born of his frustrations and possibly self-loathing, he finally regains his balance after realising he has driven heavy industrial machinery over a child’s pushchair and even though it is empty after this he appears to find some form of redemption.

Connected to his possible redemption there are number of different possible readings of the film; the story could be read in a fairly straightforwardly if ambiguous manner or alternatively it could be that the events in the film are a nightmare that a cracked Zac has conjured or that he is in his own form of hell after attempting to take his own life, possibly due to the guilt he feels about his role in the Project Flashlight experiment and the corruption of his scientific ideals. This hell may be part of a form of atoning or punishment for the damage caused by the project he created. It is not a conventional brimstone and fire one but rather represented by an empty world where after being tormented by his loneliness he finally meets somebody who may be able to provide him with companionship and even physical comfort but she is taken from him when she is swept up by another man and he takes his life one more time.

This possible act of self-immolation in the film happens when he sacrifices his own life by driving a lorry full of explosives into a research lab, which is part of the still functioning energy grid that is creating a world threatening instability, in order to hopefully secure a future for the world and the other two people he has met, who have bonded and formed a couple. He appears to destroy the lab just as The Effect happens once again.

In the final scene he is shown as waking from this alone in another reality and an alien landscape; this could be considered a new form of hell, one in which he is likely to be forever without companionship or even the material comforts of the consumer goods left behind after the apocalypse on earth. This ending also leaves the film ambiguous about the fate of his two companions on earth and it does not tell if they have been saved to become a new Adam and Eve or will be consumed by the Earth’s rapidly growing instability.

Elsewhere:

  1. The Quiet Earth trailer
  2. The World, the Flesh and the Devil trailer
  3. Mad Max (1979) trailer
  4. Night of the Comet trailer
  5. Z for Zachariah (2015) trailer
  6. The Quiet Earth – Arrow Blu-ray release
  7. The World, the Flesh and the Devil DVD

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Night of the Comet – Shopping and Respect in “Empty Cities” at the End of the World – Part 1: Wanderings 4/52
  2. Night of the Comet – Post-Apocalyptic Positivity in “Empty Cities” at the End of the World – Part 2: Wanderings 6/52
  3. Z For Zachariah: Audio Visual Transmission Guide #45/52a

 

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From The Furthest Signals: Audio Visual Archive 34/52

From The Furthest Signals booklet artwork.

The album takes as its initial reference points films, television and radio programs that have been in part or completely lost or wiped during a period in history before archiving and replication of such work had gained today’s technological and practical ease.

Curiously, such television and radio broadcasts may not be fully lost to the wider universe as they can travel or leak out into space and so may actually still exist far from their original points of transmission and places of creation, possibly in degraded, fractured form and/or mixed amongst other stellar noises and signals.

The explorations of From The Furthest Signals are soundtracks imagined and filtered through the white noise of space and time; reflections on those lost tales and the way they can become reimagined via hazy memories and history, of the myths that begin to surround such discarded, lost to view or vanished cultural artefacts.

(Quoted from the text which accompanies the album.)

Includes work by Circle/Temple, David Colohan, Sharron Kraus, A Year In The Country, Time Attendant, Depatterning, Field Lines Cartographer, Grey Frequency, Keith Seatman, Polypores, The Hare And The Moon, Pulselovers and Listening Center.

“Sproatly Smith’s The Thistle Doll is superb dark psychedelic folk evoking a bygone age, and juxtaposing innocence and scariness in the manner of a fairy tale. Its inventive arrangement combines such instruments as flamenco guitar, toy piano, theremin and violin to maximum effect. Keith Seatman’s Curious Noises and Distant Voices is perfectly named, its machine-like clunks, whirrs and bleeps and faint snippets of background speech evoking the sounds one may overhear if wandering through some imaginary factory… The Hare and the Moon contribute a beautifully dark and atmospheric adaptation of the anonymous poem Man of Double Deed. They have set the words to a medieval-inspired, almost Middle Eastern melody, accompanying the song with an evocative soundscape… Listening Center close the album with an ambient piece that is almost otherworldly and evokes fond yet distant memories of something long lost.” Kim Harten writing at Bliss Aquamarine

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country: