Zardoz, Phase IV and Beyond the Black Rainbow – Seeking the Future in Secret Rooms from the Past and Psychedelic Cinematic Corners: Chapter 51 Book Images
Zardoz (1974), Phase IV (1974) and Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) could be gathered in a left-of-centre, science fiction and fantasy orientated corner of more exploratory cinematic culture that to varying degrees incorporates and/or draws from psychedelic culture and imagery and associated dreamlike or altered reality states, often in pastoral or nature orientated/connected settings.”
“Zardoz was written, produced and directed by John Boorman.
The plot involves a future Earth ruled by immortal Eternals, an advanced sect of humans who live a luxurious but aimless life in an area known as the Vortex, protected by an invisible barrier from the wasteland of the outside world which is inhabited by Brutals who carry out forced labour farming.
The Eternals have created a false god known as Zardoz, which is represented by a huge flying stone head and is used to control and intimidate the Exterminators, who in turn control the Brutals through the use of force.”
“The secluded paradise of the Eternals is a curious mix of advanced technology, new age-isms and a kind of indulgently folkloric ritualised way of life set in what appears to be an almost village like insular idyll; the Eternals partake in a liberal, democratically decided and also underlyingly conformistly oppressive way of life, with its functioning and continuation only enabled because of the forced labour farming carried out by the Brutals.”
“Watching Zardoz is a dreamlike, at points hallucinatory or psychedelic, stepping through the looking-glass experience, notably so when Zed crosses over into the crystal based Tabernacle which controls the Vortex and when he is absorbing all the Eternals’ knowledge outside of time and the real world.”
“…while undergoing the absorption of knowledge process a projected lightshow of collaged and drifting images representing this knowledge plays over and completely covers his and the Eternals’ faces and unclothed bodies as they float disembodiedly across the frame in what becomes a swirling, speeding up carousel of faces.”
“It is an exploratory, dissonant, challenging blockbuster or spectacle film, one which questions society’s actions, accompanied by references to 20th century cinematic fantastical fairy tales and philosophy, while also being full of ‘I can’t actually believe that this was allowed to come to the big screen’ moments.”
“All of which is complemented by a former James Bond wearing what can only be described as revealing futuristic Mexican fetish-bandit wear. To use a phrase from the film itself, this is one of those times when popular culture goes ‘renegade’.”
“Phase IV is the only film made by renowned designer Saul Bass and as with Zardoz it is a cultural oddity, and Paramount Pictures were probably more than a little surprised when they saw what they had financed.”
“In the film two scientists and one younger woman they rescue are held hostage in a desert research facility by ants which they are meant to be studying but who seem to have gained some form of collective consciousness and higher intelligence due to some unknown cosmic event.”
“…it literally explodes in a psychedelic coming of a new age and order collage of imagery sequence at the end. Well,sort of… There was full-length journey into and through the new world fantasy sequence filmed as an ending but it was not used for the general release. The film that most people have seen ends with a glimpse of this new world but it is merely a brief view.
The full sequence had a limited public cinematic outing when a version of it was found in 2012 at the Academy Film Archive in Hollywood, USA but it has never been included as part of an official release for home viewing.”
“It is… a film that though not all that well-known (and the semi-lost ending hardly at all), seems to have somehow or other reverberated through and influenced culture since its inception.
“In particular, lines of connection can be drawn from Phase IV to Beyond the Black Rainbow which was written and directed by Panos Cosmatos.
The plot of that film centres around the Aboria Institute, a new age research facility founded in the 1960s by Dr Arboria which is set in “award winning gardens” and dedicated to finding a reconciliation between science and spirituality, allowing humans to move into a new age of perpetual happiness.
In the 1980s his work was taken over by his protégé Dr Barry Nyle who despite outward appearances of charm and normality is actually mentally unstable and has thoroughly corrupted the Institute and its aims.”
“The lines of connection and inspiration between Phase IV and Beyond the Black Rainbow are not a direct transference and replication, rather, as also said by the director it is in an ‘abstracted, vaguely recognisable way’…
This sense of non-replication can be linked to the representations of the 1980s when Beyond the Black Rainbow is set, which do not create a detail-perfect simulacra but rather a reflection of that time which in text that accompanies the film’s DVD/Blu-ray release has somewhat aptly and evocatively been described as “a Reagan-era fever dream”.
Although referring to a different time period than the late 1960s to 1970s, which much of hauntological-leaning work tends to, Beyond the Black Rainbow shares with that area of culture a sense of the reimagining or fragmented recall of cultural memories which are explored and used in order to create a parallel world view of previous eras…
Watching it can instill the sense that you are viewing an overlooked David Cronenberg film from that time.”
“Also, in a similar manner to sections of hauntologically-labelled work, Beyond the Black Rainbow has a strong sense of being a rediscovered lost artifact; this is a film which could have tumbled from the further reaches of an early 1980s video shop’s shelves but one from that “fever dream” rather than being passed down directly via historical reality…
…Somewhat appropriately considering the above and despite such things being more or less obsolete and no longer widely manufactured, alongside the DVD and Blu-ray editions it was also released on limited edition VHS videocassette by Mondo, who alongside such things specialise in limited edition posters featuring commissioned artwork reinterpretations of films.”
“If the film could be a rediscovered and refracted Cronenberg project from a parallel world, then its soundtrack could well be a Tangerine Dream-esque soundtrack from that world.
The soundtrack is by Jeremy Schmidt (working as Sinoia Caves), and utilises mellotron choirs, analogue synthesizers and arpeggiators to create a period aesthetic and atmosphere.”
It puts me in mind of the further reaches and undercurrents of what has been loosely labelled new age music, including some of the work that can be found on the compilation I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age in America – 1950-1990 (released in 2013 by Light in the Attic) such as Wilburn Burchette’s “Witch’s Will” which, as with the soundtrack to Beyond the Black Rainbow, creates an atmosphere that is restful, draws you in and yet is also portentous and unsettling.”
“…Beyond the Black Rainbow is not always an easy and often an unsettling film, so if you should seek it out then tread gently but it has a visual beauty, entrancing atmosphere and sense of cinematic and cultural exploration that makes it a somewhat unique film experience.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 51 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.
A selection of reviews, broadcasts and arrivals in records stores of The Corn Mother album:
“You want to see the film as described in the liner notes, and as conjured in the songs on the album, and that’s an incredible trick to pull off… This is hauntology – the genre, rather than the philosophical dystopic – in its finest form, where buried memories of film, TV, music, and life come to the surface, often unverifiable because the hard copy has been lost or was never properly recorded in the first instance.” Alan Boon, Starburst
“Gavino Morretti opens the creep casting ceremony courtesy of the suspense tingling ‘Ritual and Unearthly Fire’. With its slow clock tocking pensive, a sweetly sinister aura descends, dropping from its orbital station, this prowling ethereal spirals with a chill tipped kosmische flashing much recalling Carpenter’s more mellowed lunar recitals as found on ‘Lost Themes’ and with it bathing the landscape with a somewhat, calm before the storm, like lull.” Mark Barton, The Sunday Experience
“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.
“The Heartwood Institute arrive with the terrific wonky eerie electro of ‘Corn Dolly’… ‘The Keeper’s Dilemma’ by Depatterning (has) the feel of isolation, with a clanging bell that feels like it’s just reacting to wind… Sproatly Smith are ‘Caught in the Coppice’ (that) flutters and coo’s along to a ghostly tune… Let us hope for a good harvest next year.” Andrew Young, Terrascope
“Unsettling sonics are achieved with woozy synth pads and simple piano lines by Gavino Morretti’s ‘Ritual And Unearthly Fire”… Field Lines Cartographer end proceedings with a suitably chilling and swirling vortex of darkness.” Electronic Sound magazine, issue 48
“Halloween may be over but its spell for me always lingers… and albums such as this are especially suited to chill days, early twilights and long, dark nights.” John Coulthart, feuilleton
“United Bible Studies, who on this recording comprise band founder David Colohan alongside Dominic Cooper of The Owl Service and Alison O’Donnell of Mellow Candle and Flibbertigibbet, provide a chilling piece of incidental music in which otherworldly murmurs are interwoven with unsettling soundscaping… Depatterning combine found sounds with surreal electronics, the piece’s various sections drifting in and out in the manner of a dream… Widow’s Weeds includes former members of The Hare and the Moon; they contribute an exceptional dark folk track setting truly beautiful vocals to a chilling mix of woozy electronics and intense neoclassical film music… An engaging album in which the apparently disparate genres of folk music and experimental electronica sit perfectly well together as different expressions of the same basic idea.” Kim Harten, Bliss Aquamarine
And so on to some of the radio etc broadcasts…
The Keeper’s Dilemma by Depatterning was on episode 248 of More Than Human, alongside the likes of Pendulum, Leyland Kirby and Sone Institute. Originally broadcast on CiTR FM, the show is archived here.
The Heartwood Insitute’s Corn Dolly was on the There’s a Moment of Arrival episode of record label Sunrise Ocean Bender’s radio show, accompanied by amongst others Wooden Shjips, Jagjaguwar and the soundtrack to Beyond the Black Rainbow. Originally on WRIR FM, the show is archived here.
Field Lines Cartographer’s Procession at Dusk was included on Pete Wiggs’ and James Papademetrie’s phantom seaside radio show The Séance, in an episode that also included work by Michael Nyman, Sabres of Paradise, and Dave & Toni Arthur (y’kno’, from television show Play Away). Originally broadcast via Radio Reverb and Sine FM, the show is archived here.
In a rounding-the-circle manner Corn Dolly by The Heartwood Institute, Procession at Dusk by Field Lines Cartographer and Ritual And Unearthly Fire by Gavino Morretti were on the 9th December 2018 episode of the You, the Night & the Music radio show, which is hosted by Mat Handley of Pulselovers, whose track Beat Her Down appears on the album. Originally broadcast on Sine FM, the show is archived here.
Pulselovers Beat Her Down was included on Wyrd Daze/The Ephemeral Man’s Samhain Séance Seven: Aftermath, accompanied by Keith Seatman, Jean Michael Jarre, Sone Institute and Dead Can Dance. The episode is archived here.
Widow’s Weeds’ The Corn Mother was played amongst the flipside of folk and hauntological explorations of The Unquiet Meadow, on an episode which also included Goblin, Raymond Scott and John Carpenter. Originally broadcast on Asheville FM, the show’s playlist is here.
And then on to The Corn Mother’s appearance in online and bricks and mortar record stores:
The album is available instore and online at Manchester’s Piccadilly Records (nice to see with all the hours a certain member of A Year In The Country’s “staff” has spent in there over the years). Visit the album at Piccadilly Records here.
And The Corn Mother is available at Juno Records (and ditto the above about the number of hours a certain member of A Year In The Country’s “staff” has spent there over the years). Visit the album at Juno Records here.
The Corn Mother can also be found amongst the vastly eclectic stock and unearthings of Warp Records offshot Bleep. Visit it at Bleep here.
And finally it can also be found at Norman Records, who have given sterling support to the A Year In The Country releases over the years:
“Understated, pastorally inclined A Year in the Country release another charming collection in characteristic monochrome. Today’s folkloric ruminations concern the mysterious 1970s screenplay for a made-but-never-released horror film called The Corn Mother. Destroyed or squirrelled away somewhere, the film is, in effect, lost to the ages. It endures by its whispered reputation alone; enough to inspire eerie contributions from the likes of Gavino Moretti, Widow’s Weeds and Sproatly Smith.”
A tip of the hat to everybody concerned, much appreciated.
The Corn Mother: Reflections on an imaginary film;
“In the early 1970s a folk horror-esque screenplay made the rounds of the film industry but remained unmade until 1982… The film was completed but was never released and knowledge of the whereabouts of the footage became lost, though subsequent rumours suggest that it may even have been deliberately destroyed…”
The album features music by Gavino Morretti, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute, United Bible Studies (David Colohan, Dominic Cooper of The Owl Service, Alison O’Donnell of Mellow Candle), A Year In The Country, Widow’s Weeds (featuring former members of/collaborators with The Hare And The Moon), Depatterning, Sproatly Smith and Field Lines Cartographer. The album’s design and layout is by Ian Lowey.
Margaret Elliot’s The Corn Dolly and an Otherly Layering as the Years Pass: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 51/52
The Corn Dolly is a book by Margaret Elliot, which was originally published in 1976.
If it was published today it would probably be called a Young Adult novel – i.e. aimed at a younger teenage audience.
There is very little information about the book online and not all that many copies for sale but it could be loosely connected to folk horror or the spectral, preter/supernatural likes of Alan Garner’s The Owl Service and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen in its themes.
The story of the book involves a form of sympathetic magic and the mystical powers and actions of a corn dolly, which is found by a young brother and sister, in protecting the harvest:
“Susie retrieved the Corn dolly from the river-bank where she was being attacked by a group of crows. With the help of her brother, Jack, she fished the doll out and took her back to Granny Cuddon’s house. Their Gran told them that the doll had been a good luck charm who ensured a successful harvest for her owner – and she mentioned that farmer Barham had once had a very similar doll. Farmer Barham had employed the children’s father but bad luck had struck his farm and he was almost bankrupt now.
“It seemed to Susie, and even to Jack, that ever since they had found the doll they had been followed by the attacking crows. And both children felt obscurely threatening forces closing in on them. In fact, finding the Corn dolly was to catapult them into a sinister adventure, connected with the evil powers that were trying to destroy Farmer Barham’s Highfield. But they discovered the Corn dolly, too, had powers – powers for good, which were tested to the utmost when the enemy struck.
“Margaret Elliot has written an unusual adventure story based on the folk lore of the English countryside.”
(From the inside cover text of the book.)
Margaret Elliot wrote four books between 1976-1981 – The Corn Dolly, When the Night Crow Flies, Witch’s Gold and To Trick a Witch, all of which seem to be aimed at a similar audience and feature not dissimilar battles between mystical powers of good and evil (or white and black witches and their covens).
All four of the books feature illustrations by Colin Dunbar, on whom information also seems scarce.
If published today they might well be filed alongside the vast array of other, not dissimilarly themed Young Adult orientated books.
However with the passing of time older, previously fairly normal or mainstream culture can gain extra layers of interest/a patina of intrigue and character and that is the case with The Corn Dolly.
Viewed now and with the current interest in flipside Albion-esque and “wyrd” culture it seems like a curious, intriguing, semi-lost cultural artifact and also a signifier of some of the interests and background of its time of publication; post The Wicker Man and the canonic trio of folk horror films from the early 1970s, a relatively mainstream interest in the supernatural and the occult back then and a related yearning for and interest in rural and folkloric escape and culture at the time.
The book also connects further with The Wicker Man in that its focus is around the rituals and faith involved in protecting and hoping for a bountiful harvest and when viewed with an awareness of the above mentioned contemporary interest in the “wyrd” and eerie aspects of folklore etc the traditional verse below, which is included at the start of the book, seems to have gained a subtle “otherly” aspect:
“‘Tis but a thing of straw,” they say,
Yet even straw can sturdy be
Plainted into doll like me.
And in the days of long ago
To help the seeds once more to grow
I was an offering to the gods.
A very simple way indeed
Of asking them to intercede
That barn and granary o’erflow
At Harvest time, with fruit and corn
To fill again Amalthea’s horn.”
(Almathea’s Horn refers to Greek mythology, where a goat called Almathea’s broken horn was blessed by the god Zeus so that its owner would find everything they desired in it and which became a symbol of cornucopia and eternal abundance.)
Margaret Elliot at Good Reads
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
1) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 1/52: Hazel’s Kaboodles Corn Husk Doll Kit – Opening a Time Capsule from Back When and Faceless Folkloric Precedents
2) Chapter 7 Book Images: 1973 – A Time of Schism and a Dybbuk’s Dozen of Fractures
Strawberry Fields and Wreckers – The Countryside and Coastal Hinterland as Emotional Edgeland: Chapter 50 Book Images
“The plot of Frances Lea’s 2012 film Strawberry Fields involves a young-ish postwoman who is possibly running away from the loss of her mother and her over demanding, somewhat unsettled sister. She seeks escape in seasonal strawberry picking work in a rural coastal area and within this temporary community the film becomes a compressed microcosm of lives, loves, family and friendships, all of which seem to fracture, stumble and tumble in a brief moment of time.”
“The setting feels like an isolated, separate world unto itself; it comprises mostly of just the picking fields, ramshackle semi-derelict buildings, temporary accommodation, deserted beaches, neglected barns and equipment, the concrete brutalism and shabby infrastructure of the local railway station and monolithic overhead roadways (a spaghetti junction relocated amongst the fields and flatlands).”
“This is a world curiously free of controlling older adult influences and there is possibly only one such person whose face is seen.
The result of these circumstances seems to have created an unregulated temporary autonomous zone, one that allows for unfettered and sometimes-destructive human actions, behaviour and responses; the inhabitants are adults but their behaviour appears nearer to that of rampaging unsupervised children.”
“As an aside, there is a lovely soundtrack to Strawberry Fields, largely by Bryony Afferson and her band Troubadour Rose, which is all slightly dusty Americana tinged folk songs, drones and snatches of ghostly vocals that lodge in the mind for days.”
“Wreckers (2011), directed by D. R. Hood, focuses on a young couple who have moved from the city to a small rural community.
Their lives are unsettled when one of their siblings, who is a combat veteran on whom his experiences in conflict have taken a considerable toll, unexpectedly arrives and brings with him an unearthing of hidden, painful secrets from the family’s past.
In contrast to times when the British village is depicted in cinema as an orderly country idyll, here this is gently flipped on its side; at one point in the film a tour around the locale leads not to “Oh, that’s a pretty church” comments and the like but rather to a cataloguing of who did what traumatic thing where and the emotional relationships and rules depicted in the film feel like they have reverted back to some earlier unregulated medieval time.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 50 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.
A Small Archive of the Oddly Pastoral and an Experience Centre Time Machine by Way of the Museum of Obsolete Media: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 50/52
This post would appear to be part of A Year In The Country which, to quote author, artist, musician and curator Kristen Gallerneaux is:
“…planted permanently somewhere between the history of the first transistor, the paranormal, and nature-driven worlds of the folkloric…”
Things I found when I went a-wandering:
Above is a small selection of oddly pastoral 1970s covers for the BFI’s Sight & Sound magazine…
I have looked up which film the images were from but I prefer to let my imagine wander and create its own narratives…
A while ago I stumbled upon the Museum of Obsolete Media and I was surprised to see just how many formats have come and gone over the years, one of which was the Cartrivision video cassette system, which in 1972-1973 was the first consumer video-recorder available in the US:
“I offer you and your family immediate access to TV programs, your choice of feature-length films, educational and cultural materials, and your own home movies. You can see and hear them in the privacy of your living room any time you desire, without driving anywhere, without fighting crowds, without commercials or other interruptions. I can do this because I’m a time machine, a very special sort of time machine.”
(Promotional text for the Cartrivision system.)
Cartrivision were pioneers not only in terms of the video-recorders but also because, considerably in advance of other such services, it offered rental by post of films on its cassettes.
The system employed its own version of rights management – rental tapes could only be rewound using special equipment at retailers (pictured above), meaning tapes could only be watched once.
This brings to mind other now quite bizarre seeming rights management systems, such as the DIVX/Digital Video Express system from 1998-1999, whereby you could pay to watch a DVD-like disc but only via a dedicated player and which 48 hours after playing the disc would nolonger be watchable and needed discarding unless you paid again (the system “phoned home” to a central server system to check the disc’s status).
Or the even more bizarre and wasteful Flexplay DVD-compatible discs that were available from 2003-2009; this was intended as a means for the rental of films without the need to return the discs.
Well, there wasn’t really any use in returning them as they were supplied in a vacuum-sealed package; after opening the bonding resin holding the inner and outer layers together reacted to oxygen and turned black, making the discs unplayable.
Catrivision failed for a number of reasons: the recorders were often sold as part of units which also contained a colour television and cost the modern-day equivalent of $9000 (approximately £6450 at the time of writing).
Plus being built into television units meant that for example on the shop floor it was not all that visible and separate from standard televisions.
Also apparently it was complicated to use and, in a further forebearing of digital storage techniques, it had its own form of analogue compression as it only recorded every third frame, which meant that the picture was fuzzy.
By 1975 Sony began shipping the less expensive Betamax video-recorders and the following year JVC began shipping VHS units and the rest, as they say, was history (one which had its own epic format war but that’s another story).
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 13/52: Jeffrey Siedler’s Logic Formations – Hybrid Spectres of the Spectron Video Synthesizer
From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, Wintersongs, Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails – Lullabies for the Land and Gently Darkened Undercurrents: Chapter 49 Book Images
“Virginia Astley’s 1983 album From Gardens Where We Feel Secure is the very definition of bucolic and is an album which summates England’s pastoral, Edenic dreams, albeit with subtly melancholic and unsettled undercurrents.
It is a largely piano and woodwind-led melodic record, which is accompanied throughout by the sounds of the countryside and blissful repose: birdsong, lambs, church bells and rowing on the river.”
“It features in Rob Young’s Electric Eden, the final “Poly Albion” section, in the chapter “Towards the Unknown Region”, where he considers the more outerlying areas of the music and culture which has sprung forth from the likes of hauntology and an otherly, spectral take on pastoralism.
In this section when describing From Gardens Where We Feel Secure he begins by saying that it “does not go anywhere”, in presumably an attempt to show the album’s ambient, non-formal song structure.”
“It is an interesting choice of phrase as it also suggests how the English can sometimes hanker after unchanged, unending idylls where the gates can be locked, allowing rest, slumber and dreaming, with the rambunctious march of progress safely held at bay even if just for a moment. Although the album is largely a suite of music which invokes such an Albionic Arcadia, conjuring up lives spent in timeless English villages, it is not merely a chocolate box or twee reverie, as it also contains a sense that there is a flipside to those dreams: that the nightmare may well intrude on the secure Eden.”
“The record distantly wanders some of the same fields as the outer regions of an alternative landscape which can be found in say the film The Wicker Man (1973) or some psych/acid folk music but here while the sense of an idyllic rural Eden has an otherly quality it is not overt: more it is a form of wistful nostalgia or reverie, even where such aspects are most present on When the Fields Were on Fire.”
“Such views of the landscape which are both bucolic but also quietly, subtly travel through its flipside can be found on the 1999 album Wintersongs by Plinth, which was made by Michael Tanner with Steven Dacosta, accompanied by Nicholas Palmer and Julian Poidevin…
In a similar manner to From Gardens Where We Feel Secure it creates a soundtrack for the landscape: one that is in parts gently melancholic but also gently magical and on a track like “Bracken” it almost feels like a walking companion for Virginia Astley’s album in its melodic, looping and minimal exploration of a bucolic atmosphere.
However, as with From Gardens Where We Feel Secure this is not a twee trip through the land; while at times it may be a journey amongst a certain kind of pastoral reverie there is also something else going on amongst the hills and trees.
There is heartbreak in the pathways of its songs at points and the quiet melody and refrain of “Hearth” makes the mind wander towards losses along the byways of life.”
“Walking and exploring amongst similar territories is Sharron Kraus’ 2013 album Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails.
In the text that she wrote to accompany it there is a sense of her discovering and rediscovering the land as she had begun to live in or visit the Welsh countryside, exploring her surroundings and unlocking some kind of underlying magic or enchantment to the landscape…”
“A phrase which springs to mind when listening to Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Tales and its bonus disc Night Mare was “these are lullabies for the land” and in many ways they do literally feel similar to or have a lullaby-like effect, as they contain a dreamlike quality that is rooted in the land but is also a journey through its hidden undercurrents and tales.
This is music which also literally soundtracks the landscape where it was made, utilising field recordings captured along the way; the sound of birds, streams, waterfalls, animals, the wind and jet planes which were recorded on Sharron Kraus’ explorations.”
“Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails is beautifully packaged; it was released in a very limited edition by Second Language Music and designed by Martin Masai Andersen/Andersen M Studio and it feels like a precious artifact: one which you want to pick up carefully and gently.
The album was presented as a small book-sized gatefold, with the packaging and the gently transformed nature and landscape photography (which in its textural qualities recalls the 23 Envelope work of Vaughan Oliver and Nigel Grierson for 4AD records), capturing the beauty and grace of the land through which Sharron Kraus travelled and in which she worked.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 49 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.
Dawn Rising edition – factory pressed CD in matt 4-panel gatefold sleeve.
Features music by Gavino Morretti, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute, United Bible Studies (David Colohan, Dominic Cooper of The Owl Service, Alison O’Donnell of Mellow Candle), A Year In The Country, Widow’s Weeds (featuring former members of/collaborators with The Hare And The Moon), Depatterning, Sproatly Smith and Field Lines Cartographer.
Reflections on an Imaginary Film:
In the early 1970s a folk horror-esque screenplay made the rounds of the film industry but remained unmade until 1982.
The story is set in the late 19th century in a rural British village and revolves around the folklore of the “corn mother” – where the last row of the corn harvest is beaten to the ground by the reapers as they shout “There she is! Knock her into the ground, don’t let her get away!”, 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 occured earlier in the village’s history, lead to burgeoning irrational fears and a search for a scapegoat to salve those fears.
A local woman is seen wandering amongst the crops alone late at night and word spreads that she was attempting to curse the harvest and to unseat and take the place of the corn mother, thereby controlling the village and its sustenance.
These anxieties and rumours result in her persecution – although the plot does not make it clear if they merely drive her from the village or undertake more sinister measures that result in her literally residing within the land.
Suffering from guilt and remorse at their actions, the villagers become plagued by dreams and nightmares in which this woman returns to them to exact her revenge, and this becomes known as “the visiting of the corn mother”.
As the community’s psyche becomes ever more fractured by the corn mother’s nocturnal visits, the elders and leaders of the village attempt to both calm the local populace and to discover the cause of these visiting night wraiths; 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, though subsequent rumours suggest that it may even have been deliberately destroyed.
Those involved in its making have seemed reticent to talk about the film, appearing often to have an aversion to resurrecting the whole affair and claiming that they would rather put it all behind them. But it is also suggested that there are legal binds – which arose as a result of the disagreements surrounding the film after its completion and non-release – which restrict those involved from discussing the production in public.
Various versions of the screenplay do still exist, many of which are reportedly so radically different in tone and approach to the themes of the eventual film, that there is ongoing debate and conjecture as to just which version of it went into production. It is also 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.
As the years have passed a Chinese whispers aspect to the film has evolved, with stories springing into existence that tell of somebody meeting somebody who knew a collector who had met someone else who had seen or owned a copy of the film – although such reports have never been verified or the rumoured copies proven to exist.
Through related second, third and more-hand reports and interpretations of the different versions of the screenplay, it has been suggested on the one hand that The Corn Mother was a typical direct-to-video piece of exploitation fare designed to take advantage of a rapidly-expanding home video market, and on the other that while the film does indeed contain elements of such things, it is actually nearer to a folkloric fever dream and closer in spirit to arthouse experimentalism than B-movie schlock.
This album is an exploration and reflection 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.
1. Ritual And Unearthly Fire – Gavino Morretti
2. Beat Her Down – Pulselovers
3. Corn Dolly – The Heartwood Institute
4. From Thee Last Sheaf On The Braes – United Bible Studies
5. The Night Harvest – A Year In The Country
6. The Keeper’s Dilemma – Depatterning
7. The Corn Mother – Widow’s Weeds
8. Caught In Thee Coppice – Sproatly Smith
9. Procession At Dusk – Field Lines Cartographer
Original artwork: A Year In The Country
Design and layout: Ian Lowey
Dawn Rising Edition
Library Reference Number: A015TCMDR
“You want to see the film as described in the liner notes, and as conjured in the songs on the album, and that’s an incredible trick to pull off.” Alan Boon, Starburst
“This remarkably cohesive collection is shaping new nightmares from yesterday’s broken dreams.” Ben Graham, Shindig!
“Understated, pastorally inclined A Year in the Country release another charming collection in characteristic monochrome. Today’s folkloric ruminations concern the mysterious 1970s screenplay for a made-but-never-released horror film called The Corn Mother. Destroyed or squirrelled away somewhere, the film is, in effect, lost to the ages. It endures by its whispered reputation alone; enough to inspire eerie contributions from the likes of Gavino Morretti, Widow’s Weeds and Sproatly Smith.” Norman Records
The Dawning of a New Cinematic Age of Surveillance Part 3 – Artifacts and Curios from The Conversation, The Parallax View, 3 Days of the Condor and The Anderson Tapes: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 49/52
In Part 1 and Part 2 of this post I wrote about a number of 1970s American films which are variously imbued with a sense of paranoia, unease and surveillance and which reflected the domestic turbulence of the background in which they were made.
Part 1 focused on The Anderson Tapes (1971), Part 2 on Three Days of the Condor (1975) and I also mentioned The Parallax View (1974) and The Conversation (1974) as being two of the other notable examples of such films.
There have been a huge variety of physical artifacts created which are connected to these films: posters, other promotional literature, different editions and formats of home releases of the these films etc, both period and contemporary items, some of which I collect in this post.
Above and at the top of this post is the 16mm trailer for Three Days of the Condor.
Such trailers I have something of a softspot for, partly for their compact physicality and also because as they were only produced in small quantities and intended for use within the industry, they tend to be particularly rare and so have a sense of being quite precious cinema artifacts.
Along which lines, above is the 16mm trailer for the Parallax View.
I’m also rather taken by the above left Super 8 for-home-projection version of The Anderson Tapes and its simplified illustrated artwork, which sort of looks like Sean Connery.
Was it cheaper to have the artwork redrawn than license the original or is this from an alternate original cinema poster?
Before home video recorders and laser disc players were affordable and/or widely used/available, these condensed, heavily edited versions were one of the only ways in which films could be watched at home and often featured for example a 2 hour film condensed into an eight minute running time, sometimes without sound.
(Connected to which, the one on the left mentions that it is part of the “Columbia Pictures The Condensed Features Collection”.)
The 17 minute Super 8 version of The Anderson Tapes is also included as an extra on the Powehouse Films Indicator Series Blu-ray release of the film – which could be watched as both a curio and y’kno’, for when you’ve only got just over quarter of an hour in which to watch the film (!).
The above Polish and former Soviet Union posters travel from (left-right) an almost playful illustrated take on The Anderson Tapes, a frankly deranged and more than a little unsettling interpretation of The Conversation, a quite surreal and also in parts very literal take on Three Days of the Condor and an almost boozy illustration for The Parallax View.
I’m particularly taken by this poster for The Parallax View which seems to be channelling the further reaches of psych-like 1970s science fiction novel covers and could well be, for example, a poster for a contemporary cinematic conjuring and reimagining of a previous era along the lines of the manner in which Panos Cosmatos Beyond the Black Rainbow created a “Reagan era fever dream” of the 1980s.
I shall (almost) end with some of the recent Blu-ray and DVD covers of the The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View and The Anderson Tapes; the Region A only version of The Conversation has a nice polish to it and a design that puts me in mind of Berberian Sound Studio and its use of the physicality of period recording equipment.
As a final note and in a “should you wish to read more”: Adam Scovell, the author of Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange, wrote an article called The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (a phrase used for a memoir by Henry Miller) for the November 2017 issue of the BFI’s Sight & Sound magazine, which focused on some similar areas of cinema as the three parts of this post and more specifically what has become known as director Alan J. Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy” – Klute, The Parallax View and All the President’s Men.
At the time of writing that article can only be read in the magazine itself and is not online, the link for which is below.
Adam Scovell on Alan J. Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy”
The Anderson Tapes limited edition reissue at Powerhouse/Indicator
The Anderson Tapes trailer
Three Days of the Condor at Eureka!/Masters of CInema
Three Days of the Condor trailer
The Parallax View trailer and that scene
The Conversation trailer
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
Audio Visual Transmission Guide #9/52a: Beyond The Black Rainbow and Phase IV
Audio Visual Transmission Guide #10/52a: Beyond The Black Rainbow Soundtrack Clips
1) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 47/52: The Dawning of a New Cinematic Age of Surveillance Part 1 – The Anderson Tapes
2) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 48/52: The Dawning of a New Cinematic Age of Surveillance Part 2 – Three Days of the Condor
It has recently been brought to our attention that Richard Moult, one of the music contributors to the A Year In The Country releases, had previous associations with an apparently small fringe organisation that holds and promotes extreme right views and that to some degree despite saying that he was no longer connected with the organisation he may have possible and alleged ongoing connections with it.
There is no space or place within A Year In The Country for such views; we find them abhorrent, repugnant and fundamentally reject them.
When we released music featuring his work we had no knowledge of his association with such a group nor of any related extreme former or possible ongoing political or other beliefs held by him nor of any related activities. At that time his solo and collaborative work had been released by literally dozens of record labels, none of which to our knowledge held or espoused such or similar extreme views and therefore we accepted the work in good faith.
While we are not able to corroborate the facts relating to this matter we do not wish in any way to be associated with such extreme views and therefore we have removed work by him from A Year In The Country and related sites. We have also applied to have any work by him released by A Year In The Country removed from any wider music downloading and streaming sites – although the completion of this removal process once submitted can take up to 30 days.
We have not released music containing work by him since March 2017 and will not be releasing any further work by him.
We also do not wish to give the ongoing air of publicity to such extreme views and therefore beyond this statement we will not be entering into further public or private debate about this matter.
A Year In The Country
29th November 2018
The Moon and the Sledgehammer and Sleep Furiously – Visions Of Parallel and Fading Lives: Chapter 48 Book Images
“The Moon and the Sledgehammer is a 1971 documentary film directed by Philip Trevelayn that shows a snapshot of a family (a father, two sons and two daughters) who live in an isolated woodland English house.”
“Their lives and ways of living have a sense of drawing from the past while living in the present; water is drawn by bucket from a well, if there is any mains electricity it is not to be seen, they run and hand build old steam engines, the men dress like working class labourers from earlier in the 20th century (all suit jackets and hats for hard manual and engineering work) and the family play hand-pumped organs and pianos out in the open.
This way of life does not appear to have come about in any modern dropping off the grid, overly conscious manner but rather to have happened or continued to happen naturally over the years.”
“The only time the film shows them leaving their own land and home is during a police-escorted trip down country lanes on a black-smoke puffing steam engine amongst the Morris Minor etc. cars of the period.”
“In part, it is a fitting travelling companion with the 1974 film Akenfield, which is more a recreated/partially dramatised but based on the stories of rural living example of filmmaking (it draws from Ronald Blythe’s oral history 1969 book Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village) than documentary representation but which also seems to represent some kind of earlier 1970s interest in, and attempt to, capture or recapture a disappearing world and pastoral idyll.”
“However, The Moon and the Sledgehammer is possibly nearer to Ben Rivers’ Two Years at Sea film from 2011, which focuses on the life of a man who lives alone in an isolated rural environment, in that it is a picturesque but also unadorned document of lives that have stepped to one side of normal life, with both being filmmaking which records and presents its subjects lives largely without narration.”
“The Moon and the Sledgehammer, along with Two Years at Sea is connected to a small genre of British filmmaking that is in part landscape/pastoral based documentary but which to varying degrees is non-conventional and/or may include elements of art or expressive film.”
“Along with which, we could include Gideon Koppel’s 2008 film Sleep Furiously.
This film is a view of a small village community that is slowly fading away as the population and local amenities decline. Parts of it are nearer to stills than film; contemplative views of the landscape, sometimes time-lapsed, sometimes with just one tiny figure or vehicle traversing the land.”
“It shares a sense of an almost painterly or photographer’s eye for such things with the 2009 film General Orders No. 9 and reminds me of art-photography views of the landscape such as Paul Hill’s Dark Peak, White Peak photography book from 1990; work which combines that just-mentioned expressive view alongside a documentary recording of the landscape.”
“In contrast to General Orders No. 9, Sleep Furiously is not an overtly otherly view of the countryside and pastoralism but it is more than just a straight documentary in some manner which is hard to define; there is an understated gentle magic to it.
And gentle is an apposite word as in many ways this is a gentle film; gently soporific and largely gently soundtracked, a gentle possibly muted visual colour palette and gently visualised.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 48 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
The Dawning of a New Cinematic Age of Surveillance Part 2 – Three Days of the Condor: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 48/52
In Part 1 of this post I began to write about a section of 1970s American film that is variously imbued with a sense of paranoia, unease and surveillance and which reflected the domestic turbulence of the background in which they were made, commenting that along these lines could be included, amongst others, the films The Anderson Tapes (1971), Three Days of the Condor (1975), The Parallax View (1974) and The Conversation (1974).
Three Days of the Condor was directed by Sydney Pollack and based on the novel Six Days of the Condor by James Grady.
In it a desk bound American intelligence agent, code named Condor, works in a research department whose job it is to read books, newspapers and magazines from around the world looking for hidden meanings, possible connections to real world plots and also to draw from fiction possible new techniques for use by the intelligence services.
While he is out at lunch one day his entire department is assassinated and when he realises that he does not know who he can trust in the intelligence services he goes on the run and attempts to work out the reasons for the assassinations, hiding out in the city with an at first unwilling female accomplice.
The film presents a sense of a vast, heavily funded and technologically advanced intelligence agency infrastructure and headquarters, accompanied by an almost workmanlike efficiency and procedures which seems a cold remove from the reality of lives being lost and people getting their hands dirty in the field.
Both The Anderson Tapes and Three Days of the Condor use credit card/cheque fonts in their title sequences, which at the time suggested computerisation and an associated sense of the use of new technology.
Connected to which both films are in part a reflection of advances in surveillance and related technology – whether equipment used and adapted to observe and record subjects or period computers.
An inherent part of the films mentioned in this post is their use of then modern recording equipment and sometimes computer based technology, something which at the time of their making had a bulky, often imposing physical presence.
As with the typefaces used in the credits, the flashing lights, teletype printer and constantly moving reel-to-reel data tapes of the computers featured are prominent signifiers of a particular period and stage of development in digital technology.
Sydney Pollack’s film shares not having a “happy” ending with The Anderson Tapes; in Three Days of the Condor the plot is left particularly ambiguous as the Condor turns his back on the intelligence agency and goes to the press with details of the conspiracy he has uncovered.
However, the film ends with him not knowing if his story will be printed and having been told by an intelligence agent that he is “about to become a very lonely man”.
In many ways the story is one of an individual who is initially just going to work and doing his job in a day-to-day manner, without possessing or being driven by a great need to serve his country etc, nor seeming to even particularly be aware of the wider, real world ramifications of the research he is doing.
(This attitude shares some territory with the just mentioned efficient, workmanlike infrastructure of the wider intelligence agency and the sense in the film of it being in part at a remove from the realities of field work.)
As the film progresses he becomes not dissimilar to a lone noir-ish knight in shining armour private detective as he attempts to understand and later expose the conspiracy he has uncovered and in common with say author Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, he displays a variously resourceful, determined, stubborn and almost pig-headed determination in doing what he considers right.
Although with Marlowe there is a sense that his morality is an inherent part of him and ever present, while within the Condor it is portrayed as possibly always having been a part of his character but it was subsumed under a wish for an easy, routine life, with him only being morally radicalised by his experiences.
Three Days of the Condor has had numerous DVD and Blu-ray releases, most recently in the UK by Eureka!/Masters of Cinema, in an edition which, as with Powerhouse’s release of The Anderson Tapes, has a high-level of attention to detail, extended booklet, extras etc.
James Grady’s novel on which the film is based is also worth seeking out – it is a short first novel that has stood up well to the passing of time and is a gripping, quick and easy read which also reflects the author’s extensive research into the intelligence agencies, communities and methods of operation.
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
Week #39/52: An elegy to elegies for the IBM 1401 / notes on a curious intertwining
Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 47/52: The Dawning of a New Cinematic Age of Surveillance Part 1 – The Anderson Tapes
Weirdlore, Folk Police Recordings, Sproatly Smith and Seasons They Change – Notes from the Folk Underground, Legendary Lost Focal Points and Privately Pressed Folk: Chapter 47 Book Images
“Once Upon a Time in 2012 there was an event called Weirdlore, which could well in future years have come to be known and referred to as a focal point for a new wave of what has variously been called acid, psych, underground or wyrd folk.”
“The phrase weirdlore was coined by Ian Anderson of fRoots magazine,
who organised this event, as a name for the one-day gathering and also as a possible genre title for such things.
There have been quite a few different genre titles attached to this area of music but none has ever really fully stuck or come to fully define or delineate a loose grouping of music that draws from various strands of folk music, culture and traditions, while also often being exploratory and/or underground in nature and audience.
Unfortunately said event was cancelled. Apparently there was a lot of enthusiasm for it but this did not translate into actual ticket sales.”
“However, an accompanying compilation album called Weirdlore was still released in 2012 by the no longer-operating Folk Police Recordings. Folk Police Recordings was a Manchester-based record label that was active from 2010-2013 and was a home for work that took folk music as its starting point but which wandered off down its own paths (while still generally keeping an eye cast towards its roots).”
“Their releases included work by amongst others Sproatly Smith, The Woodbine & Ivy Band, The Owl Service, Harp and a Monkey and Lisa Knapp as well as an album by Frugal Puritan which was alleged to have been a recording of lost Christian acid folk (please note the “allegedly” as this may in fact have been a project created and imagined in contemporary times).”
“Folk Police Records could be seen to be one of a number of record labels and music orientated projects which to various degrees have worked in and released left-of-centre, exploratory folk and related work and/or work related to the flipsides and undercurrents of pastoralism and the land.
Along which lines are included amongst others Deserted Village, Was Ist Das?, Hood Faire, Patterned Air Recordings, Front & Follow, Caught By The River’s Rivertones, Stone Tape Records, Clay Pipe Music, The Geography Trip, Folklore Tapes, Rif Mountain and A Year In The Country itself.”
“The Weirdlore album is, as was the intended event, a snapshot of things musically weirdloric and includes tracks by performers whose work was released separately by Folk Police Recordings and others and included songs by Telling The Bees, Emily Portman, Rapunzel & Sedayne, Nancy Wallace, Pamela Wyn Shannon, Katie Rose, The False Beards, Foxpockets, Boxcar Aldous Huxley, The Straw Bear Band, Starless & Bible Black, Alasdair Roberts, Corncrow, Rosalind Brady, The Witches with Kate Denny, Harp and a Monkey and Wyrdstone.
Aside from the music the album is also well worth a peruse in part for the accompanying text by Ian Anderson, written with Weirdlore still a month away and not yet cancelled. In it he rather presciently describes the album as “celebrating a day which has yet to happen and a genre that quite conceivably doesn’t exist.”
A particular standout track is Sproatly Smith’s version of traditional folk song “Rosebud in June”, which was described by website The Gaping Silence as being:
‘…like something from The Wicker Man, if The Wicker Man had been a 1960s children’s TV series about time travel.’
Which sums up the song and the atmosphere it creates rather well; otherworldly, transportative, dreamscape acid or psych folk.”
“Sproatly Smith were described by fRoots magazine as “the mystery flagship band of the new wave of weirdlore” and in keeping with that sense of mystery, for a while there did not seem to be any photographs of them online.
On the Folk Police Recordings released Minstrels Grave album from 2012 by Sproatly Smith two songs in particular stand out: “Blackthorn Winter” which manages to be shimmeringly stark, dark and beautiful all at once and “The Blue Flame”, which while gentler conjures visions of a land rolling away just out of sight of the mind’s eye.”
“Another recording of Sproatly Smith’s which is particularly appealing is a split seven-inch single with fellow Folk Police Recordings released performers The Woodbine & Ivy band on Static Caravan, released in 2012. On this release they both covered the traditional and evocatively erotic and unblushing song “Gently Johnny” which was reinterpreted by Paul Giovanni for The Wicker Man’s soundtrack in 1973…
Sproatly Smith’s version has a lilting gentleness to it that does not belie its salaciousness, while The Woodbine & Ivy Band’s has a graceful delicateness that is all English Rose and soft wantonness with just a hint and twang of dustbowls across the sea here and there.
Music such as this builds visions of pastoral otherliness, taking the roots of folk and late 1960s and early 1970s acid or psych folk music and quietly wandering somewhere new.”
“Within Weirdlore’s album packaging there is an extended piece of writing by Jeanette Leech who is the author of the book Seasons They Change: The Story of Acid and Psychedelic Folk (2010), which to quote the back cover “tells the story of the birth, death, and resurrection of acid and psychedelic folk”. Which it does indeed do, dropping a trail of breadcrumbs largely chronologically through that particular story…”
“Seasons They Change is one of only a small handful of books that focus on such or interconnected areas, which includes Rob Young’s Electric Eden (2011), Shindig magazine’s Witches Hats and Painted Chariots (2013), The Electric Muse: The Story of Folk into Rock (1975) and Dave Thompson’s Seance at Syd’s (2015) which loosely groups contemporary acid folk with, amongst other areas of music, psych and space rock.”
“Seasons They Change draws connecting lines of history between everything from 1960s psychedelic folk to the 2000s arrival of freak folk such as Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom via the apocalyptic underground folk of Current 93 and the world of privately pressed folk music.”
“Some of those featured appear on the compilation Early Morning Hush: Notes From the Folk Underground 1969-76, released in 2006 and compiled by musician and writer Bob Stanley, which included privately pressed folk amongst its tracks.
Along with its companion album Gather in the Mushrooms from 20042 it presented folk music that was a far sweeter and stranger set of concoctions than anything that springs to mind under the label of folk before, which is a description that could well be applied to much of privately pressed folk from the later 1960s and 1970s.”
“The Early Morning Hush album features songs that were originally released via private pressing by Stone Angel on their eponymous album from 1975 and Shide & Acorn from their 1971 album Under the Tree, of which just 99 copies were pressed.
The album also includes a track by Midwinter (who later evolved into Stone Angel) that was part of a set of recordings from 1973 that were not released until 1994.”
“Other privately pressed folk from the time includes the eponymously titled Caedmon album from 1978 and the album A Midsummer Night’s Dream from 1971 by Oberon, which as with Under the Tree was originally pressed in an edition of just 99 copies.
There is a mixture of the lost and found, the strange and familiar to such music which is possibly a result of it springing from earlier traditional music while progressing and exploring elsewhere.”
“When John Coulthart was discussing at his Feuilleton website the A Year In The Country-released themed compilation album The Forest/The Wald from 2016, which in part contained music that could be seen as a continuum of the experimentations of the acid or psych folk found on such private pressings, he said that it is:
“…a response to British folk traditions that acknowledges the history without seeming beholden to it.”
Which could also be a way to describe both the likes of Midwinter and Shide & Acorn or the contemporary visitings and revisitings of traditional folksongs and acid or psych folk by Sproatly Smith (whose work is featured on The Forest/The Wald).”
Online images to accompany Chapter 47 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
The Dawning of a New Cinematic Age of Surveillance Part 1 – The Anderson Tapes: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 47/52
There is a section of 1970s American film that is variously imbued with a sense of paranoia, unease and surveillance which reflects the domestic turbulence of the background in which they were made.
Amongst others, of particular note along these lines could be included the films The Anderson Tapes (1971), Three Days of the Condor (1975), The Parallax View (1974) and The Conversation (1975).
The Anderson Tapes is based on a 1970 book by Lawrence Sanders, which was written in an unusual style, being made up of surveillance, police reports etc rather than being written in a conventional manner.
The film adaptation by Sidney Lumet is narratively fairly conventional and depicts the planning and carrying out of a burgarly of on entire upscale New York apartment building by a gang of ex-convicts, who are unaware that from the start they are under surveillance by various agencies and individuals, including government taxation investigation and law enforcement agencies and a private detective.
Re-examining the plot again, what in part it reveals is a form of intensive, multi-layered and almost total surveillance, which mirrors and forebears elements of contemporary society and technology.
However, possibly due to way that in a pre-digital age there was a lack of ease in which information could be exchanged and pooled, all of these groups and individuals are working separately and are unable to “connect the dots” and anticipate the robbery.
Despite this, In keeping with much of 1970s cinema, the film does not have a happy, wander off into the sunset ending for the gang of robbers, who are in part foiled by an amateur radio enthusiast in the building who manages to alert fellow radio enthusiasts to what is happening, in a manner that suggests both plucky publicly spirited resourcefulness and also seems to suggest and possibly even anticipate forms of technological submission, use, reliance, snitchery and self-surveillance.
The Anderson Tapes also could be seen as dry-run or earlier experiment in some of its themes and atmospheres of conspiracy, paranoia and new uses of technology that would be later explored in Network, which Sidney Lumet directed in 1976.
Accompanying The Anderson Tapes is a soundtrack by Quincy Jones, which features striking, jarring, synthesized stabs of music and noise which both reflect the use and introduction of new technological surveillance techniques and equipment and also are an intriguing contrast with this otherwise in some ways quite traditionally presented film.
In 2017 The Anderson Tapes had a reissue on limited edition Blu-ray by Powerhouse/Indicator, whose release catalogue is shaping up rather well.
Their releases generally have a high level of attention to detail and extensive accompanying booklets and extras, which often, as in the case of The Anderson Tapes, appear to give or return a certain level of respect and appreciation for sometimes slightly overlooked or underrated examples of cinema.
Detectorists, Bagpuss, The Wombles and The Good Life – Views from a Gentler Landscape: Chapter 46 Book Images
“There is an interconnected strand of often comic, gentle and uncynical work within British television which variously revolves around the landscape, self-sufficiency and recycling.
The Good Life is one thread of such things.
This was a BBC sitcom broadcast from 1975-1978; a chap who lives in suburbia decides he has had enough of the rat race, quits his job and along with his wife tries to live self-sufficiently via growing their own food, keeping livestock etc.
However this is not self-sufficiency on a smallholding out in the countryside.
Rather this is self-sufficiency attempted in a normal house in middle class suburbia, next to their more conventional affluent neighbours.
Although some of the ideas presented within the series are quite radical and much of the comedy is derived from the conflict between the self-sufficient lifestyles of Tom and Barbara and their attempts at this way of life next door to conventional ways of life, this is still gentle uncynical comedy – a form of bucolia in suburbia.”
“Initially slightly preceding The Good Life, an interconnected strand of television is The Wombles, an animated series originally broadcast in the UK in 1973-1975.
The series features fictional pointy-nosed furry creatures that were created by author Elisabeth Beresford and appeared in a series of children’s novels by her which began to be published in 1968.
The Wombles lived in burrows and could be found internationally, although the series focuses on those who live below Wimbledon Common in London.
As with The Good Life it was ahead of its time in the way that it dealt with themes of recycling, waste and helping the environment, which were the main activities of The Wombles.”
There were also a number of hit records by The Wombles, which were sung, written and produced by Mike Batt, who in 1975 would go on to produce folk rock band Steeleye Span’s top 5 single ‘All Around My Hat’.”
“1970s British television seemed to be notably populated by such gentle, whimsical programmes with one particular highlight being the also animated series Bagpuss, first broadcast on the BBC in 1974.”
“Set around the end of the 19th century in the Victorian era, it featured the goings on of a set of normally inanimate toy creatures in a shop for found things. They come to life when the shop’s owner, a young girl called Emily, brings in a new object and they debate and explore what the new thing can possibly be…
Made by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate through their company Smallfilms it contains a sweetness, a uniqueness and gentle melancholia that arguably has never been repeated or equalled.”
“Firmin and Postgate also created such other exemplary and distinctive work as the softly psychedelic and just a touch pop-art space age animation The Clangers (1969-74) and Ivor the Engine (1975-77)…
Theirs was work that did not feel that it had been created as part of an assembly line and targeted at a well-defined cultural demographic and marketplace. It was more personal and precious feeling and seems nearer to examples of a form of folk art.”
“Which makes it somewhat appropriate that Trunk Records archival record label head Jonny Trunk was responsible for the retrospective The Art of Smallfilms book published in 2014 and via his label he has released the soundtrack albums to The Clangers and Ivor the Engine.
“Some of the voices and all the music in Bagpuss were played and in part written by Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner who, according to Rob Young’s Electric Eden book from 2011, had been former alumni and apprentices with Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s The Critics Group.
This was a kind of master class for young singers performing traditional songs or who were writing songs using traditional and folk music structures…
“The soundtrack for Bagpuss is rather lovely, taking in various strands of folk and traditional music and is able to stand on its own merits aside from the connections to the series.
A favourite is still “The Miller’s Song”, which is a lilting, life affirming and yet also curiously quietly melancholic song about the cyclical nature of farming and rural life, the growing of crops and the passage of those crops to the mill and eventually via the baker to become loaves of bread…
The sequence goes on to include what seems like a curiously out-of-place and anachronistic modern combine harvester alongside a combustion engine tractor and delivery truck, while also showing more traditional milling methods.”
“A more recent series which could be placed amongst these strands of gentle uncynical television is Detectorists.
First broadcast in 2014 by the BBC it revolves around the lives of a pair of metal detectorists and their passion for their hobby of exploring the landscape with metal detectors and hoping to find lost artifacts.”
The series is written and directed by Mackenzie Crook, who also appears as one of the main detectorists, alongside sometime By Our Selves straw bear companion and Berberian Sound Studio engineer Toby Jones.”
“Detectorists is part of a lineage, which stretches back to the likes of Fawlty Towers; one of those times when mainstream entertainment and comedy somehow manages to escape into the world without being neutered. It undertakes astute observations of the ways and wiles of people, a love of the land and country and there is a sadness portrayed in its characters’ lives.”
“That main title song, also called ‘Detectorists’, is by Johnny Flynn and in its lyrics and modern-day take on traditional folk music reflects the gentle roaming of the series somewhat perfectly.
As with “The Miller’s Song” from Bagpuss, lilting would seem to be a somewhat apposite word and it also contains within it a sense of yearning and loss, themes which seem to recur throughout much of these particular strands of television.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 46 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter: