“Gone to Earth is a film from 1950 directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, based on the 1917 novel by Mary Webb. It is also known as The Wild Heart in a considerably re-edited version created at the instigation of producer David O. Selznick after a disagreement and subsequent court case between the directors and him.”
“In the film Hazel Woodus, played by Jennifer Jones, is a beautiful but innocent young woman who lives in the Shropshire countryside in 1897 and is very steeped in an older more rural way of life and lore. She loves and understands wild animals and whenever she has problems, she turns to the book of spells and charms left to her by her gypsy mother.”
In some ways it is a caddish melodrama, with the untamed main female character marrying the local priest (the “good man”) but being lead astray by the archetypal baddie, the local squire.
However, while containing elements of more mainstream cinematic fare of the time it also contains a non-populist or exploratory nature presented within a populist framework.
As you watch the film you can feel it straining at its period restrictions in terms of sexuality, desire, faithfulness and respectability, accompanied by expressions and considerations of sin, acceptance, redemption and retribution…
As a film it also appears to be a forebear of later culture which would travel amongst the layered, hidden histories of the land and folklore, showing a world where faiths old and new are part of and/or mingle amongst folkloric beliefs and practices. Accompanying which, in the world of Gone to Earth (and it is most definitely its own world) the British landscape is not presented in a realist manner.”
“The film’s elements of older folkloric ways and its visual aspects combine to create a subtle magic realism in the film and the world and lives it shows, conjures and presents.
It also creates a bucolic dream of the countryside, particularly during the “Harps in Heaven” song and sequence.
In this section Hazel Woodus is pictured singing on the crest of a hill in her Sunday best dress and bonnet, accompanied on a full size harp by her father…
The song itself is reminscent of “O Willow Waly” from the 1961 film The Innocents in that it has a similar haunting quality and a purity of voice that stops and captures you in your tracks.”
“In some ways the air of not-quite-real-ness that can be found in Gone to Earth makes it seem like a forerunner to the more adult fairy tale side of the Czech New Wave (especially Valerie and her Week of Wonders from 1970 and possibly Malá Morská Víla/The Little Mermaid from 1976 and also of the style, character and imagery of a younger Kate Bush, of a free spirit cast out upon and amongst the moors.
“The connection between Kate Bush and Gone to Earth is also further entwined in that her 1993 album Red Shoes takes its title from and was inspired by Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 film of the same name, which was also an influence on her 1993 film which accompanied the album The Line, the Cross & the Curve.”
“In a further interconnecting of later music, David Sylvian’s Gone to Earth album from 1986 took its name from Powell and Pressburger’s film and it is possible to trace a line from my interest in Sylvian’s work and what grew into A Year In The Country.
Towards the later 1980s I was somewhat enamoured and intrigued by his 1987 album Secrets of the Beehive and the textured, layered nature based imagery of the cover by Vaughan Oliver and Nigel Grierson working as 23 Envelope, alongside being drawn to his 1986 single taken from the Gone to Earth album, A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil. Both of these seemed to sidestep the sometimes-brash mainstream bustle of culture and attempt to create some kind of respite or repose…”
“…along which lines his and Kate Bush’s work are also linked in amongst related cultural and literal landscapes by Rob Young in his Electric Eden book from 2011, in a section also titled “Gone to Earth” which in part could also be connected back to some of the themes of Powell and Pressburger’s film:
“In the changed, materialistic Britain of the 1980s, the ideas about myth and magic, memorial landscapes and nostalgia for a lost golden age were banished to internal exile, but scattered links of the silver chain glinted in the output of certain unconventional pop musicians of the time, most notably Kate Bush, Julian Cope, David Sylvian and Talk Talk.””
Online images to accompany Chapter 22 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.