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Broken Folk, Is it Clearer? and Akiha Den Den – Audio Undercurrents Part 2: Wanderings 21/52

Part 2 of a round-up of some of the flipside and undercurrents of music released in the last year or so that has caught my ear and eye (visit Part 1 here).

First up is Seatman and Powell’s (featuring Belbury Poly) Broken Folk EP, which contains tracks from Keith Seatman’s last two albums and vocals by Douglas E. Powell, alongside a Belbury Poly remix of the title track.

It includes Boxes with Rhythms In, which features the following lyrics:

I’ve been messaging to send more oxygen… And all your sending is… Boxes with rhythms in.

The track is something of a favourite around these parts and previously at A Year In The Country I wrote the following about it:

This is a Space Oddity for contemporary times. In a very few words set to a buzzing, whooshing, flittering in and out synth background it conjures up a whole world and scenario of its own particular Major Tom… However, whereas Space Oddity seemed quite grounded in a recognisable reality, here, as with the album as a whole, the atmosphere it creates is something more otherly, one that while connected to our own reality also runs along its own separate path… And although this is quite experimental, far from mainstream music, boxes with rhythms in has an underlying pop sensibility, accessibility and an ear for a catchy refrain/chorus.

And is it just me or is there something about the inflection on the vocals on the EP, alongside the gently woozy synthesized instrumentation and a sense that the songs also hint at some other hidden cultural meaning that bring to mind here and there the later recordings of Coil such as The Ape of Naples album?

Vocalist Douglas E. Powell normally works in the folk music genre but the Broken Folk EP, although not overly retro, is reminiscent in part of futurist pop:

This five song 10 inch EP combines the plaintive English voice of Powell placed amongst Germanic analogue organ, synths and sequencers creating the type of dark Cold War soundscapes favoured by the Radiophonic Workshop to the Human League. Floydian incidental music for a late 70s post nuclear meltdown drama.” (Quoted from a review of the EP in Shindig! magazine.)

And there is also something of a melancholic air to the music on the EP, a sense of loss or yearning, which is referred to in accompanying text, alongside the low-key spectral undercurrents of the music:

“Melancholic and subtly psychedelic, these songs are redolent of supernatural short stories and winter afternoons out on English landscapes. They are dark rustic reveries, occupying the overlapping territory between haunted electronica and wyrd folk.

The EP was released by Keith Seatman’s KS Audio label in conjunction with Jim Jupp of Belbury Poly’s Belbury Music label – which he launched in 2018 and that he runs alongside Ghost Box Records. It is rather beautifully packaged, with cover art also by Jim Jupp that recalls the hardback cover of a pastorally inflected novel from maybe the 1940s or 1950s that you might discover quietly nestled away in a second-hand bookshop.

In terms of format it could be considered a 12″ single (or maybe somewhere between that, an EP and a mini-album). Out of the various formats I have bought music on over the years I think 12″ singles have been one of my favourites; more substantial seeming than a 7″, space for a few tracks, remixes and experimentation while avoiding that dreaded 8 or so track album spread over two vinyl discs syndrome that made some vinyl albums back when seem like, well, rather a faff to play and not really like an album.

12″ singles seem to have become fairly infrequently released nowadays, I suppose in part because they don’t actually cost anything less to manufacture than a full length album and so can’t be sold for as temptingly cheap prices as they once were (although I expect a fair few of the £2.99 or so 12″s I bought back in the day were in part released as loss-leader promotional items for forthcoming albums etc).

Visit the Broken Folk EP at Belbury Music here and the digital version at Keith Seatman’s Bandcamp page here.

Next up is Reet Maff’l’s Is it Clearer? on the album That’ll Be.

This is an at times rather unnerving piece of music which consists of ambient electronica accompanied by surreal spoken word vocals and brings to mind satirist Chris Morris’ Blue Jam album released in 2000.

The vocals initially and for quite an extended period appear to be a fairly straightforward recording of an optician carrying out an eye test.

However, after a while the standard “Is it clearer in one or two? How about now?” etc becomes “Are you happier in one or two? Are you happier now? Happier? Does the sadness seem sharper in one or two? One or two? Do you feel any sadder now? Okay, how about now? Any sadder? How about now?” and eventually just becomes a looping and quietly threatening “Now, now, now, now and now, okay and now, now, now and now”.

In the final few seconds the optician returns to a quite normal and perky “And now read the top line”, which breaks the spell somewhat in a way that I’m never sure if I should feel relieved about or not.

That’ll Be is released by Bloxham Tapes, a cassette and digital label which has a rather nice and eye-catching cohesive visual aesthetic:

Visit Is it Clearer? at Bloxham Tapes here.

And then we come to Akiha Den Den which:

“…collects electronic music created for an abandoned space: Akiha Den Den, the crumbling amusement park at the centre of a surreal radio drama.”

This is part of a multilayered, interwoven project that includes darkly ambient, Radiophonic and at times John Carpenter-esque ominous haunted electronica, dilapidated ghost train rides, the musings of a talking thought-mining cockroach and a radio ham picking up the transmissions from Akiha Den Den and has been described as:

“...a fever dream of radio waves and half heard transmissions…” (Quoted from text which accompanies the album.)

Akiha Den Den is what could be described an enigma wrapped in a riddle, one that you can only try and solve as you tumble down the darkening rabbit hole of the world it creates…

The project’s vinyl album, CD, booklet and 7″ have been released by Castles in Space, with artwork by Nick Taylor. I would say it’s a lovely package and set of artifacts, which it is, but lovely does not seem quite appropriate for the unsettled dreamscape of Akiha Den Den.

The music for the project was created by Simon James, who has previously worked as The Simonsound (with Matt Ford) and released the dark-pop and sometimes explorations-of-the-preternatural-in-suburbia Black Channels (with Becky Randall).

Visit Akiha Den Den at Castles in Space’s website here, at Simon James’ Bandcamp page here, more details on the project and the radio drama written and directed by Neil Cargill at the Akiha Den Den site here and the Akiha Den Den theme here.

 

Part 1 of this post focused on releases by Howlround, Woodford Halse, Rowan : Morrison and Grey Frequency. It can be visited here.

 

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The Corn Mother – Audio Visual Archive 20/52

Cover art variation for The Corn Mother album.

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.

 

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.

 

“The sense of dark electronic menace continues through offerings (the term is used advisedly) by The Heartwood Institute, Sproatly Smith and Field Lines Cartographer, while Widow’s Weeds contribute bad trip acid-folk and ‘The Night Harvest’ by A Year In The Country themselves moves into Coil territory. This remarkably cohesive collection is shaping new nightmares from yesterday’s broken dreams.” Ben Graham, Shindig! magazine, issue 86.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Watchers – Preorder

Preorder today 14th May 2019. Released 7th June 2019.

Available in two CD editions: Dawn Light edition £11.95. Nightfall edition £21.95. Also available as a download.
Preorder via our Artifacts Shop and at Bandcamp.

Both CD editions are hand-finished and custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink by A Year In The Country.

Amongst Britain’s trees there are thought to be over 3,000 ancient oaks – those which date back 400 years or more – and of those trees more than 115 are 800 to 1,000 years old or more. They are part of a tree population that also includes ash trees that have lived for hundreds of years and a yew that is estimated to be between 2000-3000 years old or possibly many thousands of years older and that some consider to be the oldest living thing in Europe.

These are living organisms which could be seen to be undertaking a very stately, still form of time travel, to be watchers and observers over the passing of the years, centuries and even millennia.

Some of them have lived through invasions of their island home undertaken by wooden ships, sword and arrow, the final days and passing of the old ways and the times of magic and witchcraft, the coming of the industrial revolution and the dawning of the digital era.

Throughout it all they have stood by and watched the endeavours of humans and the encroaching of their lands as the tales passed through traditional folklore evolved into the sometimes dizzying swathes of today’s cultural landscape, with these “mighty oaks” and their companions now coming to be living amongst the invisible hubbub of modern day wirelessly transmitted communications.

The numbers of these longstanding inhabitants of this once largely green and unpaved land have dwindled due to the march of progress but a few stalwartly continue their journeys through time. The Watchers reflects on those journeys and these ancient trees’ residing over growing layers of history.

Features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Grey Frequency, Field Lines Cartographer, Widow’s Weeds ft Kitchen Cynics, Depatterning, A Year In The Country, Phonofiction, Pulselovers, Sproatly Smith, Vic Mars, The Heartwood Institute and Howlround.

 

Dawn Light Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £11.95.
Hand-finished white/black CD album in textured recycled fold out sleeve with fold-out insert and badge.



Top of CD and underneath of CD.

Further packaging details:
1) Custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Includes 2.5 cm badge, secured with removable glue on string bound tag.
3) 1 x folded sheet of accompanying notes, hand numbered on back.

 

Nightfall Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £21.95
Hand-finished box-set contains: album on all black CD, 2 x sheets of accompanying notes, 2 x prints, 3 x stickers and 3 x badges.



Top of CD and underneath of CD.

Further packaging details:
1) Cover, notes and prints custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Contained in a matchbox style sliding two-part rigid matt card box with cover print.
3) Fully black CD (black on top, black on playable side).
4) 2 x folded sheets of accompanying notes, printed on textured laid paper – one sheet hand numbered on back.
5) 2 x prints on textured fine art cotton rag paper.
6) 2 x 2.5 cm badge, 1 x 4.5 cm badge.
7) 1 x 5.6 cm sticker, 1 x 3.5 cm sticker, 1 x 12cm sticker.

 

Tracklisting:

1) Grey Frequency – In A Clearing
2) Field Lines Cartographer – A Thousand Autumns
3) Widow’s Weeds ft Kitchen Cynics – The Brave Old Oak
4) Depatterning – Ook/Dair
5) A Year In The Country – Radicle Ether
6) Phonofiction – Xylem Flow
7) Pulselovers – Circles Within Circles
8) Sproatly Smith – Watching You
9) Vic Mars – The Test Of Time
10) The Heartwood Institute – The Trees That Watch The Stones
11) Howlround – The Winter Dream Of Novel’s Oak

 

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Michael Radford’s 1984 Part 2 – Pop Music Controversies and Pastoral Escape/Non-Escape: Wanderings 20/52

Part 2 of a post Michael Radford’s film adaptation of George Orwell’s novel 1984 (visit Part 1 here).

There is a curious musical aesthetic and controversy to Michael Radford’s version of 1984 which has been most widely seen; Virgin Films who financed its production commissioned the at that time commercially successful British rock/pop duo Eurythmics to produce music for the soundtrack. The film’s director objected to Virgin’s insistence on using the Eurythmics more pop-oriented electronic music and rather wanted the traditional orchestral score that was originally intended for the film to be used, which had been composed entirely by Dominic Muldowney a few months earlier.

Virgin Films exercised their right of final cut and replaced much of Muldowney’s music with that of the Eurythmics. Its director subsequently disowned the Virgin Films edit and withdrew the film from consideration at the BAFTA awards in protest at the change in the score. The Eurythmics responded with a statement saying that they had no prior knowledge of agreements between the director, Muldowney and Virgin and they had accepted to compose music for the film in good faith.

The film with the orchestral score as intended by the director were relatively difficult to see until recently; home releases of the film have generally included the combined Eurythmics/Muldowney soundtrack. A limited edition and now sold out Blu-ray release from 2015 by Twilight Time in North America offered the option of listening to either the orchestral score or the combined one, while a North American MGM DVD from 2003 had just the orchestral score (albeit it the desaturated colours were returned to normal) and some of the non-English language releases have contained the original orchestral score.

However in July 2019 The Criterion Collection are releasing new Blu-rays and DVDs which will have two scores that are listed as being “one by Eurythmics and one by composer Dominic Muldowney”, although at the time of writing I’m not sure if they will be Region A/1 discs which are only playable on Canadian/US or multi-region players.

The elements of Dominic Muldowney’s score which remain in the combined version of the soundtrack in part has a quality that brings to mind pastorally inflected classical music and also brings to mind the soundtrack a totalitarian state may have had created in order to glorify the state, raise up the spirits of its subjects and create a disingenuous smokescreen that obscured the realities of their lives.

Virgin Films was part of the Virgin Group which included the Virgin Records record label and they produced a number of films where there was an attempt to create a marketing synchronicity by including pop music in films and sometimes the performers themselves and also releasing the featured music as singles and albums.

Alongside 1984 these films included the computer/human love triangle film Electric Dreams (1984) directed by Steve Barron and Absolute Beginners (1986) which was a musical adaptation of Colin Macinnes 1958 novel set amongst the youth culture and fringes of 1950s London and directed by Julian Temple.

In comparison with 1984 both Electric Dreams and Absolute Beginners are geared towards being more escapist cinema, although there are serious elements to their stories (the nature of sentience and interactions with digital technology and class and race relations respectively).

To a degree sections of them are nearer to being pop music videos than purely cinematic work, something which may have been heightened as their directors had extensive previous experience in creating pop videos.

Because of the above the use of pop music in Electric Dreams and Absolute Beginners seems relatively fitting. However in 1984 it seems a little out-of-place and adds a certain air of escapist levity to a film which deals with serious issues; it is difficult to listen to the music of a band as well-known as the Eurythmics in this context without to a degree its use in the soundtrack connecting it to the atmosphere of pop music promotional videos.

Which is not to denigrate the work of the Eurythmics in this instance; their music for the film has in part a mid-1980s cut-up experimentalism while also retaining its pop sensibilities while their song Julia which plays in its entirety over the closing credits has a beautifully haunting and lamentful quality.

That song has a distinctly pastoral air to it and its lyrics talk of leaves turning from green to brown, autumn shades that come tumbling down, winter leaving branches bare and also of spring rejoicing down the lane. It is effectively a reflection of an imagined call by Winston to his lover Julia and whether their illicit love and indeed themselves will survive amongst the Party’s oppression. It ends with a multiply repeated chorus that plaintively repeats and varies that question in just a few words.

The autumn leaves and shades that come tumbling down in the song also leave behind a carpet where the lovers have laid; this connects to Julia and Winston’s first intimate meeting in the countryside, away from the all-seeing surveillance eye of the telescreens, the Party and Big Brother.

In the film there is a sense in these scenes that the countryside and nature are a still relatively untouched and pure part of the world and they provide an almost brutal contrast with the downbeat nature of life in the city.

However, with a pre-knowledge of the story these sequences have a notably dual and unsettling quality as the door that opens is marked 101; this is the room where the Party utilises and inflicts its detainee’s worse fears on them as part of their brainwashing.

Returning to the lyrics of Julia, in that song after the lyrics talk of a rejoiceful spring arriving there is a mention of a time when everything will be new again. This could be seen as a reference to the cycle of natural renewal, of Winston’s hope for a better future and also a reference to the worn out, make-do nature of the material goods that are available in Airstrip One.


(Three of the principal actors on set during filming.)

The Party’s society is depicted as somewhere woefully short of even basic day-to-day supplies, with Winston and his colleagues constantly looking for and running out of razor blades, while the items and food that are available to all but the highest Party officials are of a low quality.

This is given expression in the film as the shop proprietor that Winston rents the room from runs a second-hand junk shop, the meagre selection of which Winston is shown as browsing and we learn that it is from here that he bought the diary in which he writes his secret rebellious thoughts and there is an implication that such things are not widely available or even prohibited. The shop also sells a number of decorative objects, which Winston does not recognise or appear to have a memory of as the Party’s state appears devoid of such ornamental and beautifying items.

This background to the society in which they live sets the scene for when Julia arrives at their rented room with a few basic good quality foodstuffs such as jam, real coffee and bread; Winston’s surprise and pleasure are palpable as is the sense of shared joy and intimacy which they will provide.

 

Elsewhere:

  1. The trailer for Michael Radford’s adaptation of 1984
  2. The 1984 DVD
  3. The 1984 Premium Collection Blu-ray
  4. George Orwell’s 1984
  5. Eurythmics Julia (in digital audio visual form)
  6. Eurythmics Julia (in “found on latter day shellac at the online second hand shop” form)
  7. Eurythmics 1984: For the Love of Big Brother album (in shiny new(ish) fangled compact disc form)
  8. Electric Dreams trailer (appropriately the “VHS” trailer)
  9. Absolute Beginners trailer (“from the fabulous fifties, the musical for the eighties… from the book that brought the streets to life… Absolute Beginners is an absolute must… the music, the movement, the romance, the passion…”, well that’s me watching it again tonight. Sigh.)
  10. Absolute Beginners: 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray
  11. Electric Dreams Blu-ray
  12. The Criterion Collection release of 1984

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Michael Radford’s 1984 Part 1 – The Privations of an Alternative Past, Present and Future, V for Vendetta and the Last Inch: Wanderings 19/52

 

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The Quietened Mechanisms – Audio Visual Archive 19/52

Print artwork from The Quietened Mechanisms album.

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.

 

“A Year In The Country and a selection of their regular musical contributors here turn their attention to abandoned factories and technology, spending an enraptured hour or so wandering among their ghosts… each track reflects a specific location, combining field recordings, musique concrete and spooked electronica into a strangely transporting whole.” Ben Graham, Shindig! magazine, issue 84

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Quietened Village – Writing, Broadcasts and Traces of Ghosts

A selection of broadcasts, reviews etc of The Quietened Village reissue…

Pulselovers “The Coast In Flux” and Polypores “Playground Ritual” were included in the “You Will Improve Or Disappear” and “Anything, Anyone” episodes of Sunrise Ocean Bender, alongside their other eclectic and intriguing wanderings.

(As an aside the first of those episodes takes its title from Grey Frequency’s Ufology album, which I have written about previously. If “lo-fi drones, dark ambient textures, and cassette-looped field recordings” and an album themed around 20th century UFO folklore pique your interest then the album can be found here.)

The Heartwood Institute’s “Armboth & Wythburn” was on the playlist for episode 400 of Pull The Plug where it can be found in amongst the likes of tracks by Art Of The Memory Palace and sometimes fellow A Year In The Country travellers Listening Centre.

You, the Night & the Music played The Soulless Party’s “Damnatorum”, Cosmic Neighbourhood’s “Bunk Beds”, A Year In The Country’s “47 Days And Fathoms Deep” and The Rowan Amber Mill’s “Separations” on two separate shows originally broadcast on Sine FM, which can be visited here and here.

(As a further aside the gent who hosts that show also works as Pulselovers and has created the Woodford Halse released Undululating Waters compilations which I have also mentioned at A Year In The Country before and which are well worth a visit.)

Cosmic Neighbourhood’s “Bunk Beds” and Sproatly Smith’s “Lost Villages Of Holderness” were included in two episodes of the flipside of folk and spectral hauntological selections of The Unquiet Meadow. Visit the playlists for those here and here and the show’s page at Asheville FM here.

Verity Sharp played A Year In The Country’s “47 Days And Fathoms Deep” on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction – a show which is rather aptly described as involving “Journeys in music, ancient to future. The home for adventurous listeners.”

Visit the episode of the show here.

Cosmic Neighbourhood’s “Bunk Beds” and Sproatly Smith’s “The Lost Villages Of Holderness” were also played on episode 84 of Mind De-Coder:

“Sproatly Smith’s contribution addresses the strange lands lying east of Hull to the North Sea known as Holderness. This area has the fastest eroding coastline in Europe, losing 2 metres every year. The soft cliffs had supported villages and communities that have been swallowed by the tides. Elegiac, but never less than lovely, the track inhabits the slightly mournful quality of the shipping forecast alongside the wyrdfolk otherlysness of all their music.”

Visit the episode’s blog page here and its Mixcloud here, where you are likely to find “the sort of music that has slipped away into the cracks between reality”. Sounds good to me.

Dave Thompson reviewed the album at his Spincycle column, which can be found at Goldmine magazine’s site:

“The collection conjures its own memories – a landlocked version of Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking of the Titanic, perhaps.  Each track unfolds like a snatch of soundtrack to a documentary that ought to be made; each one conveys a sense of the desolation it honors, whether at the moment of its destruction, or at some point on either side.  Even those tracks that reach more for the feel of the theme, as opposed to the mood of a specific place, cannot help but touch the walls, or trace the ghosts, of these forgotten places.  And remind us that maybe they’re not as quiet as people think.”

The Quietened Village is a study of and reflection on lost, disappeared and once were villages and hamlets that have wandered off the maps or that have become shells of their former lives and times.

The album features music and accompanying text on the tracks by The Straw Bear Band, Field Lines Cartographer, The Heartwood Institute, Howlround, The Rowan Amber Mill, Polypores, Pulselovers, The Soulless Party, Time Attendant, A Year In The Country, Sproatly Smith and Cosmic Neighbourhood.

More details on it can be found here.

 

As always a tip of the hat and thanks to all concerned.

 

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Michael Radford’s 1984 Part 1 – The Privations of an Alternative Past, Present and Future, V for Vendetta and the Last Inch: Wanderings 19/52

From what I remember George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 was big news in the year 1984 and was featured in the press etc a fair bit. I think I read it for the first time then – and while I was probably reading it as part of a way of feeling grown up and sophisticated I expect I took it more as a grim piece of science fiction/fantasy rather than as a work of political and social comment.

Originally published in 1949 and set in 1984 it features protagonist Winston Smith who lives in Great Britain, now renamed Airstrip One and which has become a province of a superstate called Oceania. This state is ruled in a totalitarian manner by the “Party”, headed by its possibly imaginary figurehead Big Brother. The Party has created a highly stratified society in which individualism and independent thinking are persecuted, sex may only be used for reproduction, historical revisionism is rife and institutionalised and many of its “citizens” are kept in a state of austere poverty and subject to constant surveillance. Smith appears to be a diligent and skillful worker but he secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion again Big Brother, which he carries out through writing subversive thoughts in a secret diary hidden out of view of the telescreens and entering into a forbidden intimate relationship with a fellow employee Julia.

The book has become iconic and a number of its terms and phrases such as Big Brother (the oppressive all-seeing leader), Room 101 (the place where your worst fears are realised) and Newspeak (a restricted form of language created by the Party in order to limit freedom of thought) have become part of common usage.

Part of the focus on the novel in the year 1984 included the release of a cinema adaptation written and directed by Michael Radford, which is said to have been filmed in and around London at the time in which Orwell imagined the story to be set.

It creates an atemporal parallel world vision of Britain which is in parts a pre-steampunk retro-future and although set in 1984 stylistically it seems to hark back more to an alternate take on the 1930s, possibly the 1940s and also combines elements of the imagery, grandiosity and self-regard of German and Russian design from that period.

In this version of the world society and people’s homes are observed by two-way telescreens, while at Winston’s place of work information is accessed from and written to data systems which are operated via traditional rotary dial phones and delivered by both screen and physically via a pneumatic tube system. There are further elements which show a mixing of different levels of technological development; floating fortresses are mentioned, the state utilises rickety and old-fashioned looking helicopters in its surveillance, rockets are used in conflicts but steam trains are also still in use.

The palette of the film has a desaturated look due to the use by cinematographer Roger Deakin’s use of a film processing technique called bleach bypass, which creates a worn and browbeaten atmosphere to the film. Accompanying which the city in which Winston lives is shown as a crumbling, rubble strewn landscape, which now seems so cinematically familiar that despite the totalitarian strictures of life as a setting it is, at least initially, almost comforting. It is only when he is arrested for subversive activities and thoughts (the “sexcrime” of his relationship with Julia, his “thoughtcrime” via his diary and reading of banned political literature) that the true horror of the society which the Party has created becomes apparent.

(The rubble strewn and run down cityscapes of 1984 could also be connected to contemporary British at the time of the films making in that they could be seen as a reflection of industrial decline and what some have considered to be the Conservative government’s attack on or even destruction of more traditional industries, coal mining etc and their connected communities; something which is also reflected in a possible interpretation of nuclear apocalypse television drama Threads which was released in the same year as 1984.)

Once captured Winston is tortured and brainwashed in a manner which is vividly, brutally and grimly, albeit not exploitatively, realised and which is physically hard to watch and that can stay with and haunts the viewer for weeks afterwards. While earlier in the film it could be watched on a more purely entertainment orientated level, at this point it is apparent that this is film and story which is a far remove from merely escapist cinema. It becomes a depiction of the potential realities of the methods of totalitarian dictatorships and man’s ability to behave inhumanely in pursuit of belief systems.

In the film (and the novel) Winston rents a room above a shop from its seemingly open-minded proprietor and meets his lover Julia there. They have a brief few months of secret liaisons, freedom and physical intimacy before their arrest, torture and brainwashing. The style and utilitarian nature of the room in the film brings to mind austere historical images of 1930s-1950s working class Britain and in this sense along with it being the setting for a love and intimacy which society has deemed forbidden it could be seen as connected to fictional period depictions of hidden and persecuted same-sex lovers such as in Neil Bartlett’s novel Mr Clive and Mr Page (1996) in which a couple must meet behind closed doors due to society’s disapproval and even criminalisation of their actions and feelings.

It could also be connected to the heartbreaking and evocative “Valerie’s Letter” section of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta comic book series (1982-1989) in which, as in 1984, a totalitarian government rules a bleak and austere future Britain which seems to contain elements of both the present, past and future.

(Above: a cover from the DC Comics’ releases which republished/completed V for Vendetta and a merchandise page from it’s original publication in Quality’s Warrior comic anthology – including David J of Bauhaus’ soundtrack, which in 2019 has been rereleased in a new expanded vinyl edition by Glass Modern.)

“Valerie’s Letter” is an autobiographical note which is found by a prisoner of the state in her cell and which tells of an actresses experiences and struggles and the happiness she finds with her same-sex lover Ruth. It goes on to tell about how “after the war” they began to round-up various minority groups, with Ruth being taken and tortured into giving Valerie’s name and signing a statement saying she had seduced Ruth.

In the note Valerie talks of how integrity is the very last inch of us but “within that inch we are free”, that her lover took her own life as she couldn’t live with betraying her and “giving up that last inch”. She goes on to say that she knows she will die during her imprisonment and that every inch of her will perish except this final inch – i.e. her integrity, belief and love.

While Valerie’s letter is fatalistic, its belief in the strength of this last inch leaves the reader with a sense of hope and resistance in the face of oppression. However 1984’s system of control is ultimately shown as bleakly omnipotent in this sense; prior to their capture WInston and Julia talk of how the Party cannot take away their love for one another but when Winston is subjected to a psychological torture based around his worst fear (rats in his case) he betrays her and that final inch is taken away.

In the film’s final scenes Winston is shown sat on his own in a cafe reserved for condemned traitors, where they sit out their final days in a form of aimless leisure time. Behind him on a telescreen plays footage of him denouncing himself and his crimes; he is at a sort of subdued or even sedated peace but he has had his spirit broken by the Party and there is a sense now that he truly loves and supports Big Brother.

Michael Radford’s version of 1984 has a convincing cinematic quality which can sometimes be lacking in British produced non-realist film and television which, as I have mentioned at A Year In The Country before, can sometimes retain a certain clunky Children’s Film Foundation-esque almost amateurism to it, particularly in comparison to other countries’ output (although admittedly that aspect can also be part of its appeal).

1984 is not necessarily an easy viewing experience, although it has in part a certain almost ravishingly beautiful aspect to its imagery and design, which at times curiously seems to reflect and connect to the aesthetics of 1980’s pop music promotional videos…

…more on which in Part 2 (which, depending on when you’re reading this, may still be in “Coming Soon” status).

 

Elsewhere:

  1. The trailer for Michael Radford’s adaptation of 1984
  2. The 1984 DVD
  3. The 1984 Premium Collection Blu-ray
  4. George Orwell’s 1984
  5. Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta
  6. Neil Bartlett’s Mr Clive and Mr Page
  7. David J’s V for Vendetta Grande Edition reissue by Glass Modern

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Michael Radford’s 1984 Part 2 – Pop Music Controversies and Pastoral Escape/Non-Escape: Wanderings 20/52 (which as just mentioned, depending on when you’re reading this, may still be in “Coming Soon” status)

 

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The Shildam Hall Tapes – Audio Visual Archive 18/52

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.

“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.)

 

“Vic Mars contributes a woozy neoclassical dream sequence interspersed with snippets of vintage-style electronica; very lovely and totally in keeping with the album’s theme… The Heartwood Institute provide a foreboding piece of cinematic incidental music, its chilling and haunting atmosphere perfectly illustrating a seance taking part on the grounds of Shildam Hall… an engaging collection of dark, ethereal and psychedelic experimental sounds.” Kim Harten writing at Bliss Aquamarine

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Reflections on Brutalism Part 5 – A Curious Collector’s Piece and a Return to Acts of Enclosure: Wanderings 18/52

Part 5 of a set of posts which explore various aspects and offshoots of Brutalist architecture. (Visit Part 1 herePart 2 herePart 3 here and Part 4 here.)

One of the starting points of this set of posts was Peter Chadwick’s book This Brutal World, which is a collection of the photographs he has taken of Brutalist architecture, with some of the structures it features having an abstract, experimental and otherworldly quality.

The copy of This Brutal World which I read had a clipping from a newspaper in it, that reported on how the Victoria and Albert Museum (a prestigious cultural museum in London) had acquired the interior and exterior of a maisonette from the Brutalist designed Robin Hood Gardens council estate, which was due for demolition. In the article representatives of the Museum speak of both the acquisition’s place in highly experimental British architectural and urban history and also that they would not airbrush out the controversies and problems with the estate, which was notorious for being poorly maintained and ravaged by crime.

The article ends with:

An attempt to have the estate listed in 2009 was knocked back when English Heritage said it ‘fails as a place for human beings to live’”.

While such a view may to some degree be considered subjective, it is also something of a damning indictment on this particular architectural “experiment” and also possibly similar failed social housing projects elsewhere. As referred to in earlier posts, whether that failure is due to poor maintenance, social dysfunction and/or inherent faults with the buildings is debatable but ultimately if they have not functioned correctly and provided its inhabitants with a reasonable quality of life then that debate becomes a moot point.

In the clipping it is also observed how once derided Brutalist housing such as Trellick Tower in London has now become highly desirable and expensive. It is questionable whether their now sought-after nature is due to their design and/or as a result of a shortage of available real estate, alongside the increasing perceived fashionable desirability and interlinked market value of such properties. With societal and property value changes buildings such as Trellick Tower have come to occupy locations which today would be considered too expensive for social housing

Such previously outrightly socially owned housing originated in a time when city centres were not as socially delineated in terms of who could live there and also from a period in time when many of the areas in which it was built were not as appealing to those who were more financially affluent. Indeed at times such areas were considered rough, down-at-heel or lower-class enclaves.

Due to right-to-buy scheme which gained pace in the 1980s, whereby social housing tenants in the UK could buy their homes at discounted rates, a considerable percentage of housing which was created with socially progressive intentions utilising public money has become private property. Which is one aspect of governmental policy which has led to a shortage of housing, particularly social housing, ever-increasing housing costs and the exclusion of certain social and economic strata from city centres.

It has also resulted in the slightly absurd spectacle of people paying £400,000+ for a one bedroom flat in Trellick Tower and formerly social housing being made available on the private rental market for highly inflated rents.

Brutalist architecture has been associated with a hauntological sense of lost progressive futures; the transfer of affordable social housing stock to the private sector within city areas is  a very physical representation of such loss.

Which brings me to modern day acts of enclosure/exclusion from the land and also an earlier starting point for this set of posts – Rob Young’s book Electric Eden:

“(In terms of what Rob Young presents as music and culture of a utopian or visionary nature that draws from the land and folk culture) he has discussed the connection between such areas of work and culture and how there is a connection to historic acts of land enclosure and clearance; the way in which from around 1760 onwards common land was put into private ownership by government Inclosure Acts, forcing agricultural workers towards the newly expanding cities and factories and how this displacement could be one of the roots of the British empathy with the countryside, with relics such as songs or texts from the world before this change having come to be revered as they seem to represent or connect to a pre-industrial “Fall” golden age.

“It could be said that Inclosure Acts are not a purely historical practice. In recent years a proportion of the population have found themselves increasingly priced out of certain areas of the country; the cost of putting a roof over your head (in terms of the ever upward path of rental and property prices), of keeping the lights on and the wolves from the door seems to quietly, gradually be removing a certain less material wealth funded or directed way of life out of the cities and in particular the city centres and the capital city of Britain.

“This could be considered to be a form of enclosure: a more subtly enacted mirror image of the earlier 18th century version.

“In recent times this has happened in part through decisions to not take particular actions as well as the ending of acts of Parliamentary regulation (removing or refusing to implement statutory rent control or regulation for example), as opposed to creating new legislation, with the result that the “common people” are being removed from the inner cities rather than forced into them.” (Quoted from the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book.)

As mentioned in Part 1 of these posts, Brutalist architecture often had utopian, socially progressive roots and This Brutal World includes the following quote from journalist Owen Hatherley:

Brutalist architecture was a political aesthetic, an attitude, a weapon, dedicated to the precept that nothing was too good for ordinary people.

Perhaps rather than a sense of “nothing was too good for ordinary people” being focused on purely architectural design, in previous less monetaristic times it also involved more equal and less financial/social strictures in terms of geographical access and the actual physical locations of social and other housing.

 

Elsewhere:

  1. This Brutal World
  2. This Brutal World at Phaidon publishers
  3. Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal House site
  4. Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archaeology
  5. The Electric Eden website
  6. The Electric Eden book

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Reflections on Brutalism Part 1 – This Brutal World and a Study of The Shape of the Futures Past: Wanderings 14/52
  2. Reflections on Brutalism Part 2 – This Brutal World, Industrial Inspirations for Blade Runner, Memories of the Space Age and the Future Takes a Tumble: Wanderings 15/52
  3. Reflections on Brutalism Part 3 – J. G. Ballard and Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise and All Mod Con Dystopias: Wanderings 16/52
  4. Reflections on Brutalism Part 3 – J. G. Ballard and Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise and All Mod Con Dystopias: Wanderings 16/52
  5. Reflections on Brutalism Part 4 – A Return to the Experimentations and Aesthetics of This Brutal World and Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archaeology: Wanderings 17/52
  6. The A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book
  7. Electric Eden – Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music – Folk Vs Pop, Less Harvested Cultural Landscapes and Acts of Enclosure, Old and New: Chapter 1 Book Images
  8. Day #4/365: Electric Eden; a researching, unearthing and drawing of lines between the stories of Britain’s visionary music

 

 

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Audio Albion – Audio Visual Archive 17/52

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.

Audio Albion is 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.)

“…’music and field recording map of Britain’ featuring 15 tracks that incorporate found sounds from rural walks, semi-industrial ‘edgeland’ and liminal spaces between this world and the next… The compositions often suggest unseen images and unrevealed narrative…” Ben Graham in Shindig! magazine, issue 79

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Watchers – Album Preorder and Release Dates

Preorder 14th May 2019. Released 7th June 2019.

Amongst Britain’s trees there are thought to be over 3,000 ancient oaks – those which date back 400 years or more – and of those trees more than 115 are 800 to 1,000 years old or more. They are part of a tree population that also includes ash trees that have lived for hundreds of years and a yew that is estimated to be between 2000-3000 years old or possibly many thousands of years older and that some consider to be the oldest living thing in Europe.

These are living organisms which could be seen to be undertaking a very stately, still form of time travel, to be watchers and observers over the passing of the years, centuries and even millennia.

Some of them have lived through invasions of their island home undertaken by wooden ships, sword and arrow, the final days and passing of the old ways and the times of magic and witchcraft, the coming of the industrial revolution and the dawning of the digital era.

Throughout it all they have stood by and watched the endeavours of humans and the encroaching of their lands as the tales passed through traditional folklore evolved into the sometimes dizzying swathes of today’s cultural landscape, with these “mighty oaks” and their companions now coming to be living amongst the invisible hubbub of modern day wirelessly transmitted communications.

The numbers of these longstanding inhabitants of this once largely green and unpaved land have dwindled due to the march of progress but a few stalwartly continue their journeys through time. The Watchers reflects on those journeys and these ancient trees’ residing over growing layers of history.

 

Features music and accompanying text on the tracks by:
Grey Frequency
Field Lines Cartographer
Widow’s Weeds ft Kitchen Cynics (The Hare And The Moon)
Depatterning
A Year In The Country
Phonofiction (Dom Cooper / The Straw Bear Band / David Hood)
Pulselovers
Sproatly Smith
Vic Mars
The Heartwood Institute
Howlround

 

Will be available at our Artifacts Shop and Bandcamp page.

 

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Reflections on Brutalism Part 4 – A Return to the Experimentations and Aesthetics of This Brutal World and Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archaeology: Wanderings 17/52

Part 4 of a set of posts which explore various aspects and offshoots of Brutalist architecture. (Visit Part 1 herePart 2 here and Part 3 here.)

In this post I return to one of their starting points; Peter Chadwick’s book This Brutal World, which is a collection of the photographs he has taken of Brutalist architecture.

The variety and experimentation of much of the architecture in This Brutal World indicates the degree to which the use of concrete as a building structure allows for freedom and expression in terms of architectural shape and form. It could be compared to the use of rubber as a fabric with which to make clothes; there have been a number of fantastical outfits created using rubber but while they may be structurally explorative and very striking as extreme club/fashion wear and/or as futuristic/outlandish costume in film and television, for day-to-day use it is more than a little impractical.

Along which lines I once visited an undergraduate degree show and viewed the scale models for buildings designed by architecture students. A number of their models were so intricate, experimental and avant-garde in design that they could only be viably created via contemporary digital 3D printing techniques – something which is analogous with the malleability of concrete as a building material. The designs for buildings were often intriguing and beautiful but as with the images in This Brutal World they often appeared closer to abstract art projects than places to live and work.

Connected to which the structures pictured in This Brutal World, while they may have been quite practical in real world terms, the non-conventional and at times almost science fiction-esque aspects of their design sometimes imparts a similar sense of seeming nearer to projects that have allowed for the creative expression of their architects rather than having day-to-day human needs in mind, something which is indirectly referred to in the following quote which is featured in the book:

“It’s an incredibly muscular use of concrete. It’s not built, it’s cast. You can’t have something more like sculpture in architecture than [the Hayward Gallery].” Anthony Gormley.

This aspect of the structures is heightened in the book by the considerable number of quotes which accompany the photographs and which often talk about an appreciation of Brutalist architecture in an abstract sense and from philosophical, creative and aesthetic viewpoints.

Although possibly not intended as a negative viewpoint, the sense of a remove from human needs and the more abstract, utopian aspects of Brutalist architecture is also (possibly unintentionally) implied in the following quote by architect and writer Jack Self, which is also featured in This Brutal World:

“The Brutalist citizen has to be understood as an abstract egalitarian ideal, not as an individual lost in a microscopic concrete cave of some gargantuan building.”

In this sense This Brutal World and similar appreciations of Brutalist architecture could also be considered to be at times akin to Paul Virilio’s photographs of abandoned concrete Second World War military bunkers in his book Bunker Archaeology (1976); there is at times a form of harsh beauty present in such images but it is at a remove from the realities of the structures.

Elsewhere:

  1. This Brutal World
  2. This Brutal World at Phaidon publishers
  3. Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal House site
  4. Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archaeology

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Reflections on Brutalism Part 1 – This Brutal World and a Study of The Shape of the Futures Past: Wanderings 14/52
  2. Reflections on Brutalism Part 2 – This Brutal World, Industrial Inspirations for Blade Runner, Memories of the Space Age and the Future Takes a Tumble: Wanderings 15/52
  3. Reflections on Brutalism Part 3 – J. G. Ballard and Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise and All Mod Con Dystopias: Wanderings 16/52
  4. Reflections on Brutalism Part 3 – J. G. Ballard and Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise and All Mod Con Dystopias: Wanderings 16/52
  5. The Quietened Bunker, Waiting for the End of the World, Subterranea Britannica, Bunker Archaeology and The Delaware Road – Ghosts, Havens and Curious Repurposings Beneath our Feet: Chapter 17 Book Images
  6. Week #33/52: Bunker Archives #4; Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archaeology and accidental utilitarian art

 

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All The Merry Year Round – Audio Visual Archive 16/52

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.

However, just as with their forebears there is a ritualistic nature to these modern-day reveries whereby communal or solitary seances are undertaken when stepping into such tales via flickering darkened rooms lit by screens, although their enclosed nature is in contrast to more public traditional folklore rituals.

Accompanying which with the passing of time some televisual and cinematic stories continue or begin to resonate as they gain new layers of meaning and myth; cultural folklore that has come to express and explore an otherly Albion, becoming a flipside to traditional folklore tales and sharing with them a rootwork that is deeply embedded in the land.

In amongst All The Merry Year Round can be found wanderings down such interwoven pathways, travelling alongside straw bear and cathode ray summonings alike.

(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).

“All the Merry Year Round creates an atmosphere for wandering and wondering. The set succeeds through counter intuition, its alternative calendar creating such a ruckus that it causes all calendars to blow away in the wind, leaving us only with the eternal, visceral now.”  Richard Allen writing at A Closer Listen.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Reflections on Brutalism Part 3 – J. G. Ballard and Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise and All Mod Con Dystopias: Wanderings 16/52

Part 3 of a set of posts which explore various aspects and offshoots of Brutalist architecture. (Visit Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

In Part 2 of these posts I discussed some of the potential problems and reasons for them that have been related to Brutalist architecture, particularly in relation to its use in housing design; connected to which I mentioned the work of writer J. G. Ballard.

His novel High-Rise (1975) is an iconic fictional account of extreme dysfunction that occurs in a modern tower block.

In the book there is a vertical division of class within a tower block, with inhabitants who live on floors 1-9 being members of the “proletariat” and those who generally work in the support and service aspects of work/the creative industries. Above them is a commercial level and then higher up the middle classes, with the top five floors being reserved for the upper class which consists of “a discreet oligarchy of minor tycoons and entrepreneurs, television actresses and career academics”.

(As an aside the covers at the top of this post are left-right; the original edition of High Rise, an issue of Italian science fiction magazine Urania which featured High Rise and the 1985 British edition of the book; the artwork for this issue of Urania has alongside the use of Brutalist architecture forms, also the curious “the shape of the future’s past” retro-futurism look to it which science fiction and fantasy cover art from previous decades now seems to often have. The above cover of the 1985 edition, which is shown next to those for The Unlimited Dream Company and Concrete Island, was part of a series of reissues of J. G. Ballard’s book which shared cover art with similar aesthetics. Fittingly for the era I think they were probably created using airbrush art techniques and have a pleasing period look to them that could well be a flipside take on the posters which would have been found in the retail poster shop chain Athena, which had an extensive network of high street shops in the UK around that time.)

Returning to the story told in the novel; in it the eponymous high-rise becomes a self-enclosed community where the normal rules and restraints of society break down, leading to internecine territorial conflict and chaos, which could be considered not dissimilar to an urban take on William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies (1954) in which a group of schoolboys stranded on an island descend into violence and tribalism; both books explore the push and pull between human impulses towards civilisation and social organisation and more basic, primal instincts.

In the novel of High-Rise social class and divisions play an increasing part but it is possible to consider it not as a comment or reflection on wider society but rather a fictional flight of fancy.Ben Wheatley’s 2014 film adaptation largely reflects this, although at the end of the film in a slightly tacked-on manner a speech by right-wing former British Prime Minister from the 1970s is heard. This connects the story more overtly to both the social unrest/conflict in 1970s British society at the time the novel was written (essentially between those who looked more towards a progressive state orientated welfare based society and a new more individualistic monetarist right) and also to the utopian impulses which lay behind some of Brutalist architecture:

“There is only one economic system in this world, and it is capitalism. Where there is state capitalism, there will never be political freedom.” Margaret Thatcher speech, as featured in Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise.

In their use of a central triangular design the above set of above film posters for High Rise explicitly references the poster design for Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, with both films and books sharing views of dystopian futures where pleasure-seeking tips over into a reprehensible and unfettered decadence and loss of conventional morality.

The above poster for High Rise on the left I think was released in the film’s pre-production period and at a time when I first became aware of the film after seeing it posted along with Ben Wheatley’s comments which went along the lines of “I can’t believe this is happening” – I assume after being given the go ahead from the folks with the money.

The design of the tower block references the Brutalist architecture of the period when the novel was first published in 1975 and also appears to be a nod towards that period’s left-of-centre exploratory science fiction cover art, which was also referred to earlier in the post.

To end this post on a note that is not all heavy cultural reference points etc, the other two posters are Lego toy construction brick recreations of the film’s posters by somebody working as Lego Loki. Although there now appear to be on the internet Lego recreations of nearly everything under the sun, due to Lego’s origin as a child’s toy, I was still a little surprised to find ones which took as their source material something as experimentally transgressive as High-Rise.

 

Elsewhere:

  1. The High-Rise novel at Wikipedia
  2. The High-Rise novel
  3. The High-Rise trailer
  4. The High Rise home release
  5. Lego Loki’s Brick High-Rise

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Reflections on Brutalism Part 1 – This Brutal World and a Study of The Shape of the Futures Past: Wanderings 14/52
  2. Reflections on Brutalism Part 2 – This Brutal World, Industrial Inspirations for Blade Runner, Memories of the Space Age and the Future Takes a Tumble: Wanderings 15/52

 

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The Quietened Cosmologists – Audio Visual Archive 15/52

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.

“The ruins of Britain’s own contribution to the Space Race—especially those like the abandoned launch-pad at High Down on the Isle of Wight—are all the more poignant for the gulf between their past ambition and present state of decay.” John Coulthart writing about the album and related themes at his feuilletion site.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Reflections on Brutalism Part 2 – This Brutal World, Industrial Inspirations for Blade Runner, Memories of the Space Age and the Future Takes a Tumble: Wanderings 15/52

Part 2 of a set of posts which explore various aspects and offshoots of Brutalist architecture. (Visit Part 1 here.)

In Part 1 of this post I wrote about Peter Chadwick’s book This Brutal World, which is a collection of the photographs he has taken of Brutalist architecture.

As written about in the book’s introduction Peter Chadwick’s introduction to and passion for Brutalist architecture was initially inspired when at a young age he saw a concrete built “industrial monolith” blast furnace, which he says was the first concrete building that made a lasting impression on him. Also in his youth he would visit an ICI owned large-scale chemical plant in Wilton, an area in the North-East of England, of which he says:

“By night… it became a different world altogether, transforming itself into a shimmering, industrial flame-lit Las Vegas. This view inspired others, including film director Ridley Scott, also a native of the North-East, who based the flaring chimneys in the opening scenes of Blade Runner on the ICI plant in Wilton.”

In the opening scenes of that 1982 film the city skyline, its endless lights and plumes of flame are strikingly beautiful and modern when seen from above and at night but the reality of that particular future at ground level are considerably more layered, worn and challenging, intermingling elements of futurism with a harsh, unnatural urban way of life and crumbling design from the past.

That sense of a tarnished retro-futurism in relation to Brutalism is indirectly given expression in lyrics from Saint Etienne’s song “When I Was Seventeen” which are quoted in This Brutal World and which in a robotic voice namechecks a number of Brutalist orientated architects:

“Lubetkin, Corbussier, van der Rohe, Mendelssohn. Future, future, the future is clean and modern.”

In practice the future as expressed by Brutalist architecture did not always turn out to be quite as shiningly “clean” or bright as may have been intended.

Brutalist architecture is generally associated with concrete as a building material, which it could be suggested is a less natural, warm or human seeming building material than say bricks or stone. Although why that is the case is hard to quite fully define in the case of bricks vs concrete as both are created via “unnatural” manufacturing processes.

This aspect of the “unnatural” nature of Brutalist architecture is also heightened by the large-scale of many such structures, which often dwarf human inhabitants and the manner in which multi-storied Brutalist buildings often stacked their inhabitants on top of one another, taking some of them high above the earth. It also brings to mind author J.G. Ballard’s stance on space travel and his observations that essentially space is an unnatural place for us to be:

“Ballard’s melancholy… take is that humanity’s urge to enter the cosmos is an expression of an almost child-like hubris – which is bound to end badly!” Andrew Smith writing at Goodreads on J.G. Ballards book Memories of the Space Age (1988) – a collection of short stories set in a future when the space program has ceased and civilisation appears to be on the wane.

Related to this in contemporary times real world space exploration plans have been largely either curtailed or at least considerably scaled back in terms of ambition, which connects to Brutalist architecture as both forms of endeavour to a degree contained elements of futurism and when considered today both can invoke a certain sense of melancholia and lost imagined future pathways.

(This is a subject which was explored in the album The Quietened Cosmologists which was released by A Year In The Country in 2017 and which took as its theme: “…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.”)

As with space travel, due to the exploratory and large-scale nature of Brutalist architecture, related problems and disasters may also likely to be on a grand scale; which unfortunately more than once has proved to be the case.

The failures and catastrophes related to such buildings, particularly in relation to their use as social and/or state funded housing, may have been in part and at times due to a lack of correct maintenance or the political will to correct the social imbalance which often seemed to become part and parcel of say Brutalist housing estates but may also be partly a reflection of the sometimes over-reaching hubris which inspired them.

It is difficult to fully separate whether it is the intrinsic aspects of for example large-scale multi-storied architecture which cause such disfunction and/or that lack of correct maintenance and political will etc. As is often the case in many aspects of life it is probably a synthesis of these and other factors, although the close proximity of the inhabitants of such buildings also brings to mind laboratory experiments where rats live together relatively peaceably when given a reasonable amount of living space but begin to fight and enter into conflict when that space is reduced below a certain level.

In terms of such failures and catastrophes it could be as simple as philosopher and theorist Paul Virilio’s comments about sea ships:

“The invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck.”

Prior to the creation of such large scale buildings related disasters on the scale and in the form they allow for were just not possible as, well, the buildings etc did not exist.

Another layered and multi-faceted aspect of large-scale Brutalist (and other) architecture relates to how it effects light and viewpoints within cities; it is thought that viewing the horizon for extended periods of time can release endorphins (naturally occurring “feel good” chemicals) in humans. This could be an argument for the “unnatural” state of living in densely populated cities, where the horizon is often obscured by buildings. Conversely the viewpoint from the higher floors of high-rise, taller scale buildings may enable the viewing of the horizon again – although equally obversely those lower down may have their view more obscured by the presence of other similar surrounding buildings.

 

Elsewhere:

  1. This Brutal World
  2. This Brutal World at Phaidon publishers
  3. Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal House site
  4. The Blade Runner intro sequence
  5. Blade Runner – 30th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition  (one of the few ways still left to watch the version released in UK cinemas)
  6. Saint Etienne’s “When I Was Seventeen”
  7. Saint Etienne’s Words and Music album (featuring “When I Was Seventeen”)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Reflections on Brutalism Part 1 – This Brutal World and a Study of The Shape of the Futures Past: Wanderings 14/52
  2. Peter Mitchell’s Memento Mori and Bugs in Utopia: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 35/52
  3. Artifact Report #40/52a: The Quietened Cosmologists – Released

 

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Undercurrents – Audio Visual Archive 14/52

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 countryside is often over romanticised, ususally by those who don’t live there. A Year In The Country has dug a little deeper and hit on something much more profound to end up, if you’ll excuse the pun, in a field of his own.” Ben Willmott writing in Electronic Sound magazine.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Reflections on Brutalism Part 1 – This Brutal World and a Study of The Shape of the Future’s Past: Wanderings 14/52

First off to loosely define Brutalist architecture:

“Brutalism is an architectural style of the 1950s to approximately the mid-1970s which descended from the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century. It is characterised by simple, often innovative block-like forms and utilised raw concrete as its primary material. Brutalist buildings often reveal the means of their construction through unfinished surfaces that bear the imprints of the moulds that shaped them. The name for the style is most commonly attributed to Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier , who specified béton brut (concrete that is raw or unfinished) in his Unité d’Habitation apartment buildings, the first of which was completed in Marseille in 1952. Architecture critic Reyner Banham spread the term more broadly through his writings on the work of British architects Alison and Peter Smithson, whose work focused on raw materiality and an industrial aesthetic.”

In his article “The New Brutalism” which architecture critic Reyner Banham wrote for The Architectural Review in 1955 he warned that “The New Brutalism eludes precise description” but listed three qualities which have come to be a starting reference for Brutalist objects and architecture:

  1. Memorability as an Image
  2. Clear exhibition of structure
  3. Valuation of materials for their inherent qualities “as found”.

(The above is loosely paraphrased and quoted from the Brutalist DC, Tate.org and Wikipedia websites.)

At first glance it might seem a little strange that Brutalist architecture seems to sit easily amongst “otherly pastoral” cultural interests; a point of conjunction is that both share a sense of “Fall” from an imagined or lost golden age.

With the appreciation for Brutalism this could be seen as a hauntological yearning for lost progressive futures, which relates to the architectural form’s connection to and some of its roots being in utopian socially progressive thought; in terms of post-war British social housing the intentions behind it were at times an attempt to create a solution which could provide modern high quality housing for the general populace.

In terms of folk culture this utopian aspect connects to what author Rob Young described in his book Electric Eden as folk/visionary pastoral culture’s yearning for “folk memories of an unsullied rural state of mind which now appears like a golden age” and the way in which relics from a world before an industrial “Fall” are revered, with old buildings, texts, songs etc becoming “talismans to be treasured, as a connective chain to the past”.

Brutalist orientated social-housing in Britain could in part be seen as a well-minded grand social experiment. Unfortunately as mentioned before at A Year In The Country when writing about Peter Mitchell’s book Memento Mori (which focused on the controversial and now demolished Quarry Hill Flats which were built in the 1930s with a progressive intent to house people in a modern manner as part of “a great social experiment” and which could be seen as an antecedent to later Brutalist estates) there often appeared to be “bugs in utopia” in terms of related housing projects. In particular, where despite the progressive intentions of those who championed and worked to create such projects, in practice a number of instances the resulting buildings it failed to provide fit homes. To a degree there seemed to be a divide or remove between “a romantic outsiders’ intellectual sense of the importance of building communities within and via large-scale, flat orientated modernist social housing projects” and the human needs and realities of those who would live there.

Some of that philosophical remove is reflected at points in an ever-growing library of books and publications, proliferation of websites, social media accounts etc which focus on an appreciation of Brutalist architecture more in an aesthetic sense and/or directly or indirectly in terms of how it represents lost progressive futures and alternative pathways society may have taken rather than its real world failures.

The observations in this piece on that sense of remove are not necessarily a criticism. Alongside a purely aesthetic appreciation there is often a sense within Peter Chadwick’s book This Brutal World (2016), which I discuss below, Jan Kempemaers’ images of Cold War Spomenik memorials which are collected in his 2010 book of the same name and Christopher Herwig’s 2015 book Soviet Bus Stops, of recording and honouring the remaining and caught in time but slowly fading away monuments and relics of a former age’s lost future. Many of the structures featured in such books are visually striking physical examples of relatively recent history’s striving and aspirations and taken as a whole there is space within such work for both aesthetic and more socially rooted appreciations and studies.

This Brutal World collects the author’s photographs on this subject which, along with his accompanying introduction, reflects his passion for and longstanding commitment to the subject. It is a handsomely produced and curated book in which Chadwick’s images portray the striking nature of many of these structures in a visually graceful and well observed manner.

It is resolutely not a study of the social disfunction and neglected aspects of some Brutalist designed social housing but rather a celebration of its aesthetic explorations. Brutalist architectural housing and residential structures are an aspect of This Brutal World, it does not focus on such projects when they have “failed” and are in a state of neglect, abandonment etc. Residential structures are also only one area amongst structures built for a multitude of purposes that are featured in the book, which take in amongst many others places of worship, water and satellite towers, monuments, a music study centre, municipal buildings etc.

Text in the book talks of the “awe-inspiring” and “once heroic, visionary” nature of such architecture and the buildings and structures are photographed and presented in a way which captures what some may consider to be their beauty; even when the skies are overcast the structures appear well lit and few of the buildings are shown marked by rain or decay. Also the photographs are all monochrome, which in this instance tends to remove the more oppressively grey aspects of concrete buildings.

As a collection This Brutal World is more orientated to being an appreciation of the aesthetic and philosophical design aspects of Brutalist architecture rather than its in part socially progressive history; related utopian aspects are acknowledged in the introductory text but the author’s writing and quotes by others which are featured in the book, alongside the aforementioned visual grace of the photographs, are more an expression of his appreciation for Brutalist buildings, monuments etc as abstract creative structures rather than as architecture which had both aesthetic and utilitarian worth. Hence he mourns the demolition of buildings which were unpopular, unsuited to their environment and poorly maintained.

Viewed today many of the structures featured in This Brutal World could be seen as a form of retro-futurism (which is a sometimes defining aspect of hauntological aesthetics and interest); they are a literal physical representation of the shape of the future’s past.

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

 

Elsewhere:

  1. This Brutal World
  2. This Brutal World at Phaidon publishers
  3. Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal House site
  4. Jan Kempemaers Spomenik
  5. Soviet Bus Stops
  6. Christopher Herwig’s Soviet Bus Stops at FUEL publishers
  7. The Electric Eden website
  8. The Electric Eden book
  9. Peter Mitchell’s Memento Mori at RRB PhotoBooks

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Peter Mitchell’s Memento Mori and Bugs in Utopia: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 35/52
  2. Day #229/365: A Bear’s Ghosts…
  3. Week #9/52: Christopher Herwig’s Soviet Bus Stops, echoes of reaching for the cosmos, folkloric breakfast adornment and other artfully pragmatic curio collectings, encasings and bindings…
  4. The Quietened Bunker, Waiting for the End of the World, Subterranea Britannica, Bunker Archaeology and The Delaware Road – Ghosts, Havens and Curious Repurposings Beneath our Feet: Chapter 17 Book Images
  5. A Bear’s Ghosts – Soviet Dreams and Lost Futures: Chapter 12 Book Images
  6. Electric Eden – Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music – Folk Vs Pop, Less Harvested Cultural Landscapes and Acts of Enclosure, Old and New: Chapter 1 Book Images
  7. Day #4/365: Electric Eden; a researching, unearthing and drawing of lines between the stories of Britain’s visionary music

 

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From The Furthest Signals: Audio Visual Archive 13/52

From The Furthest Signals 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.

Above is the review of the album in Electronic Sound magazine.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Hot Fuzz aka Rural Weapon Part 2 – The Village Gone Rogue: Wanderings 13/52

This is Part 2 of a post on Edgar Wright’s film Hot Fuzz. Part 1 can be visited here.

In Part 1 of this post I wrote about how Hot Fuzz referenced and was an affectionate home to American action buddy copy films such as Point Break, the Bad Boys and Lethal Weapon series of films (and also mentioned how Wright says that he originally pitched it as Rural Weapon).

Alongside it referencing such films, there is a strong nod towards what has come to be known as folk horror, in particular The Wicker Man (1973); in both films a priggish outsider policeman attempts to solve a mystery in a rural community where something untowards may be afoot and is lead on a merry dance by its inhabitants. This connection is made more implicit by the presence of Edward Woodward in Hot Fuzz, in his second to last cinema role.

In The Wicker Man Woodward played the priggish policeman Sergeant Howie who was investigating the rural folk on the side of the law and (to his mind) societal decency. This is stood on its head in Hot Fuzz as he is involved in the murderous conspiracy and is eventually shown as the last living rogue villager when near the film’s end he bursts into the police station and attempts to shoot Angel. He is foiled but accidentally activates a sea mine which Angel had earlier confiscated along with an arms cache from a villager. He is killed and the station is destroyed in a manner that in seems to bring to an end or close the circle of a story cycle in British cinema.

The film also has nods towards 1970s British horror, in particular that era’s portmanteau films and interest in witchcraft and the occult; ultimately the murderous conspiracy is shown to be the result of the actions of an essentially morally corrupt/very misguided village organisation (the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance or NWA – a humorous reference to and contrasting with the American urban gangster rap group). When Angel visits a secret NWA meeting they appear to be nearer to a coven or cult as they have gathered at night in black shawls and hoods around a stone table in a castle. However they still retain a curious friendly neighbourhood committee air as they discuss their dastardly deeds, which is mined for comic effect.

In a further connection to 1970s horror the death/murder of a journalist who is planning on revealing information about goings on in the village by falling church masonry also seems to reference such things in The Omen (1976), wherein a priest who is attempting to reveal secrets is killed by a lightning rod thrown from a church roof during a storm. While the film also references Hammer Horror-esque gothic films when Angel flees the NWA and falls into a catacombs filled with the bones and dead of those they have killed.

(Notably these murders have taken place due to relatively minor infractions which threatened to infringe on the village’s bucolic “ye-olde world” atmosphere, such as a metallic painted living statue mime artist who is found by Angel still holding his mime pose despite his deceased nature.)

Although to my knowledge not openly referenced by Hot Fuzz’s director or co-writers the film also shares some territory with an episode of the remake of television series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) which was broadcast on British television in 2000-2001. In particular the episode Man of Substance which also tells of a sleepy country idyll gone bad and is rather folk-horror like in its plot which tells that its population have been trapped in between life and death, unable to leave the village since the days that a pestilence had caused the demise of a considerable percentage of the English population a number of centuries previously.

As with Hot Fuzz this episode (and others in the series) is in part an affectionate homage to previous era’s horror and genre cinema, particularly in relation to folk/rural aspects of such work.

At the NWA meeting the head of the local police Inspector Frank Butterman, Danny’s father in the film who is played by Jim Broadbent, is shown as being one of the instigators of the conspiracy in a thoroughly misguided attempt to honour his wife’s memory and her wish to keep the Village of the Year title.

In contrast to Nicholas Angel his uniform appears to be nearer to that of an earlier era. This subtly unsettles expectations and norms as in a rural setting such a figure summons a sense of an avuncular “good old British bobby” and a previous gentler way of life rather than the mayhem over which he has presided.

As in The Murdersville episode of television series The Avengers, which I have written about at A Year In The Country previously and also The Wicker Man, Hot Fuzz flips the chocolate box idyll of the British village and rural communities on its head and shows them to be the “unknown” or other; a threatening and deceitful group closed and separate to the outsider or city dweller, with ways, morals and motivations that appear foreign and at a far remove from mainstream and urban society’s mores.

Hot Fuzz’s reversing of expectations and settings is further heightened when in a climactic scene Angel pursues and fights another of the conspiracy’s prime instigators ocal supermarket manager Simon Skinner, played by former James Bond Timothy Dalton, who is the film’s resident arrogant bad guy.

This scene takes part in a symbol of gentle Britishness – a miniature model village – with Angel and Skinner towering over the buildings and seeming nearer at points to giant battling monsters that might be found in science fiction/fantasy films. As with similar sequences in such films their fight leads to the literal destruction of whole structures, although here they are the small-scale replicas of the model village rather than say actual city skyscrapers.

After his first defeat and mirroring many such multiple returns of the bad guy in American genre film Skinner rises back up and attempts to attack Angel with a small plastic handled box-cutting knife rather than say a machete or similar weapon that might be seen in its overseas equivalent. The use of this prosaic and relatively small weapon along with the general wrongness of the setting of a pitched violent battle in a model village heighten the sense of the out-of-place nature of such actions amongst a bucolic idyll.

Before being defeated Skinner shouts:

“Get out of my village.”

To which Angel replies:

“It’s not your village anymore.”

Which would seem an apt point on which to end this post.

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country: