Posted on Leave a comment

Rounding the Circle – Phase IV’s Lost Psychedelic Ending Returns, Fenella’s Fehérlófia Rescoring of Ancient Folklore, The Midwich Cuckoos via a 1970s Filter, Wandering Through a Real World Dreamscape with On the Trail of The Prisoner and Other Findings: Wanderings 26/26

As seems to be becoming something of an (occasional) A Year In The Country tradition, I shall end the year on a round up of some “findings” that have worked their way onto the shelves around these parts…

Saul Bass’ 1974 film Phase IV had been released on Blu-ray before but only in a Region A version released by Olive films in the US, which didn’t have the original “out there” psychedelic ending. In 2020 it had limited and non-limited UK Blu-ray releases by 101 films and in 2019 a 45th anniversary digital release, both of which included the lost ending as an extra, which was good to see. Next up, hopefully, a version of the film as originally intended. We can but hope.

Phase IV is an intriguing and odd film which has been something of a recurring reference point for A Year In The Country, and of which I have previously written:

“[It] is a beautiful and beautifully shot film. A strange beauty but beauty nonetheless. It is not all 1970s grit and grime as was sometimes the case with cinema from this period, and there is some kind of utopian undercurrent to what occurs and how it is portrayed… This is enhanced by the insect sequences shot by wildlife photographer Ken Middleham and their vivid, rich colours… These sequences, although they record the actions of real ants, create a fantastical sense of them evolving into another, higher state beyond that of humans. It is also a film that though not all that well known… seems to have somehow or other reverberated through and influenced culture since its inception.” (Quoted from A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields, 2018.)

Those “reverberations” include Panos Cosmatos saying that it was a major influence on his 2010 film Beyond the Black Rainbow that he said could be placed in a particular sub-genre of film that he called “trance film”, of which he has said the following, that could equally apply to Phase IV:

“There is a sub-genre of what I call ‘trance film’ and I really wanted [Beyond the Black Rainbow] to fall into the trance or dream genre without it being specifically a dream. I wanted it to feel like a lucid dream state. The whole time you are probing forward, deeper and deeper into an unknown world.” (Quoted from A Year In The Country…, as above.)

Above is the CD promo of Jane Weaver’s ensemble Fenella’s 2019 album Fehérlófia, which was inspired by Marcell Jankovics’ 1981 animated fantasy epic of the same name, aka Son of the White Mare:

“Released in 1981, Fehérlófia is a remarkable animation based in ancient folklore with a narrative culled from mythical tales of the Scythans, Huns and Avars… ” (Quoted from the Fehérlófia album press release and Bandcamp page.)

A 4K restoration of the film was released by Aberlos on Blu-ray in 2021:

“Fehérlófia is one of the great psychedelic masterpieces of world animation. Son of the White Mare is a swirling, color-mad maelstrom of mythic monsters and Scythian heroes, [part epic Middle Ages poem] Nibelungenlied, part-Yellow Submarine, lit by jagged bolts of lightning and drenched in rivers of blue, red, gold and green. A massive cosmic oak stands at the gates of the Underworld, holding seventy-seven dragons in its roots; to combat these monsters, a dazzling white mare goddess gives birth to three heroes – Treeshaker and his brothers – who embark on an epic journey to save the universe.” (Quoted from text which accompanied the digital release of Aberlos’ 4K restoration of Fehérlófia.)

Conceptually Fenella’s Fehérlófia album could be considered to be linked to Jane Weaver Septième Soeur’s The Fallen by Watch Bird “cosmic aquatic folklore” concept album that was in part inspired by another example of visually distinctive Eastern European cinema, the 1976 Czech New Wave film Malá Morská Víla, which is an adaptation of the Little Mermaid.

The Fehérlófia album was only commercially released on vinyl but the promotional copies were issued as CDs in simple card wallets, which made me think of the early 2000s when second hand record shops often had boxes of such promos for sale, often for quite cheap prices, and they could be an interesting “lucky dip” way of discovering music that you didn’t previously know.

And then a charity shop find… a 1976 “Knockouts” edition of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, which has been another ongoing reference point for A Year In The Country, in part due to its story’s setting of a bucolic village that becomes host to eldritch and otherworldly events.

This is an abridged edition which was intended to be for younger readers, and the “Knockouts” series of books were created for “reluctant adolescent readers”

Presumedly to encourage those “reluctant readers”, this edition has some additions to the standard text: an introductory “The curious habits of the cuckoo” section which explains about the interloping behaviour of cuckoo birds and their connection to the story; illustrated “Characters in the story” pages, which include brief explanations of character’s roles ; and a “Map of Midwich”. The series title of “Knockouts” was also presumably meant to imply that reading can be “fun” and exciting.

The cover is wonderfully evocative of a particular time and era, and brings to mind a grungier version of the Penguin Modern Poets book covers. It could also be a lo-fi forerunner of Julian House of Ghost Box Records design work for the label (who in turn has been influenced by the Penguin Modern Poets book covers), and in it a bucolic scene of trees, plants and a church off in the distance seem to have had a 1970s downbeat filter applied to them.

Another 1976 charity shop find… a copy of the Max Bygraves with the Grimethorpe Colliery Band “Do it the safety way” 7″ single, which is a curious and almost surreal mining safety orientated record released by the National Coal Board, on which the lead song is delivered in a 1970s Saturday night television variety show manner.

I found this in the same charity shop as the “Knockouts” edition of The Midwich Cuckoos and, also somewhat curiously, there were a few near mint copies of it in the shop – perhaps somebody who had worked in education and/or health and safety in some manner back when had donated them?

The song had stuck in my mind somewhat after its appearance on Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records OST radio show:

“[A guest on one episode of OST was] Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle and sometimes Ghost Box Records, whose appearance was accompanied by a good deal of knitting and ‘doing’ the actions to a mining safety song by once highly popular light entertainer and singer Max Bygraves.” (Quoted from A Year In The Country…, as above.)

The accompanying text from the back of the single writes of how “The special sing-along style of Max Bygraves gives the whole arrangement hit parade appeal”. Imagine if it had been a hit, it would have been great to see Max Bygraves “doing the actions” on Top of the Pops.

Above is a 2002 book written by Andrew Bolton and published by the V&A museum called The Supermodern Wardrobe, which focuses, largely, on 1990s and turn of the millennium fashion, such as that created by Vexed Generation, which mixes urban utilitarian design with a stylised futuristic aesthetic that at times incorporates digital technology devices and control panels.

Viewed today the fashion in the book very much seems like “the shape of the future’s past” and to be part of an imagined science fiction-esque parallel world future where the general populace wears a particular type of functional but highly stylised fashion.

(Above: the city as imagined Bladerunner-esque dreamscape –  images from Liam Wong’s TO:KY:OO book.)

Imagined ideas of future fashion have often, for a long time, looked like the images in this book, as though we can’t quite seem to imagine (or maybe don’t want to imagine) a future that doesn’t look like Blade Runner meets Aeon Flux by way of the cyberpunk-esque images in Liam Wong’s TO:KY:OO photography book and Space 1999. It’s almost as if the collective idea of the future is stuck on and haunted by the idea of a more “futuristic” seeming future, a sort of fashion/aesthetic/design orientated version of a hauntological “cancelled future”.

In reality elements of such fashion have found their way into day-to-day clothing and much of the population today do actually carry around miniature computers/video phones (i.e. mobile phones) but it’s in a much less showy or just more mundane manner (and quite possibly more wearable) than the ongoing Blade Runner-etc-esque imagined idea of the future, and the miniature computers generally are made to be slipped into any pocket etc, rather than being an inherent part of specially designed clothing.

And then finally, and to end the year, a virtual walking visit around the set of The Prisoner courtesy of Catherine Németh Frumerman’s On the Trail of The Prisoner: A Walking Guide to Portmeirion’s Prisoner Sites.

Of places I have visited, Portmeirion, which is a stylised tourist village in Wales and one of the locations where the 1960s cult television series The Prisoner was recorded, has probably the most “porous” blending of reality and imagination. When wandering around it, it can be at times difficult to separate memories of the series, documentaries and stills of it and the actual place you are presently in. Looking through On the Trail of The Prisoner can be a little similar, as many of the contemporary photographs in it show how the Portmeirion locations used in the series have often stayed very similar to how they were when the series was made and their distinctive design lends them a film set meets dreamscape quality.

And with that I bid you and this year a fond farewell. Be seeing you.



Elsewhere at A Year In The Country (which is a fair few “elsewheres):


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.