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The Wicker Man, Edge of Darkness and Village of the Damned – The “Tricky” Cult Remake: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 29/52

Village of the Damned-John Carpenter-1995-film still 5

Remaking a much-loved and cult classic seems like a tricky path to choose in cinema and to a degree television drama: the film/programme you are making will often have a certain pre-existing recognition factor but that is also a double-edged sword as you are essentially pitting yourself against, well, the love of and for a cult classic.

Along which lines it is also a potentially odd and tricky thing for a director to do to attempt to make a semi “in the spirit of” sequel to his own much-loved cult classic (see The Wicker Tree).

Along which lines, three such films and programmes which have been remade that I have previously written about at A Year In The Country are The Wicker Man, The Village of the Damned and Edge of Darkness.

Now, although I thought it was an odd thing to do, to attempt to remake The Wicker Man, I tried to go into watching the 2006 version with an open mind and without being overly prejudiced against it – as a cultural behemoth the original version of The Wicker Man casts a long and imposing shadow.

It’s a fair while ago since I watched the remake and despite my trepidation in watching it, one of the main things that struck me was rather than thinking it was inherently bad, that it was essentially just another film, almost workmanlike, in contrast to the fantastical/fantasia like multi-layered cultural and aesthetic aspects of the original.

(The original film version of The Wicker Man’s troubled and intriguing production and release history has also come to be fairly inherently intertwined with those cultural aspects – adding a further layering which makes it shadow all the longer and more imposing on any remake.)

All of which brings me to the 2010 film adaptation/remake of Edge of Darkness.

It seems like both a tricky and odd path for a director to remake his own much-loved, not so much cult but widely and critically acclaimed classic but that is what Martin Campbell did (he also directed the 1985 television original).

For myself the original of Edge of Darkness is so rooted in my psyche and also the time, place and historical context of when it was made that I think I am too wary to watch the remake removed from that context and to possibly dispel my appreciation of the original, even out of curiousity about what the remake is like.

Village of the Damned-John Carpenter-1995-film still

Which brings me to John Carpenter’s 1995 adaptation of The Village of the Damned (originally adapted from John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos), here remade as Village of the Damned.

(There was also a British made sequel to The Village of the Damned made in 1964 called Children of the Damned.)

John Carpenter is known for holding British science fiction/fantasy writer Nigel Kneale in high regard (as I have mentioned before, in homage to Nigel Kneales’s Work, his Prince of Darkness film is credited to Martin Quatermass and he commissioned Kneale to work on the script for Halloween III which John Carpenter co-produced and co-scored) and it’s not much of a jump from Nigel Kneale’s intelligent take on British science fiction etc to John Wyndham’s.

Halloween III-John Carpenter-Tommy Lee Wallace-Alan Howarth-Nigel Kneale-1982-5
(Although not directed by the same person, the above still from Village of the Damned shares something of a similarity or two with the below still from Halloween III and both have a somewhat classic John Carpenter-esque “empty/isolated streets” dread.)

The 1995 remake of Village of the Damned is an odd film texturally: it has the look and feel of a made-for-television movie, although it had a budget of $22 million (approximately $36 million today allowing for inflation), which is hardly small change.

That look and feel may be in part due to the period aesthetics of when it was made, related film stock and/or the DVD transfer process.

It could also possibly be a side effect of the way in which when viewed now 1990s and turn of the millennium film and television can have a sense of not yet being old enough to have gained a retro fetishistic aspect, more just still rooted to the period of its production and a little out of step with modern tastes and expectations.

In this remake the story is moved from the English countryside to a smallish Northern Californian American town.

While the village in the 1960 version is peopled largely by the middle classes with terrribly good diction, alongside working class and labourer types, in John Carpenter’s version at the start the town seems to be largely populated by male hunks and styled female blondes.

The film also features a number of lead actors who previously starred in various well-known and market-leading science fiction/fantasy franchises (Mark Hamill – Star Wars, Christopher Reeves – Superman, Kirstie Alley – Star Trek).

Village of the Damned-John Carpenter-1995-film still 2

The government/authorities’ response to essentially the town’s women being impregnated by a possibly alien race seems curiously unofficial/ramshackle – particularly viewed today in an era of heightened security measures.

Here the problem seems to be tackled by say the kind of grungey, underfunded, self-directed groups or organisations that would perhaps be found in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome.

As I have mentioned before sections of John Carpenter’s work, particularly his earlier films in the 1970s and during parts of the 1980s, contained a kind of ragged, tight, almost street energy to them, a possibly more fun, less arthouse parallel to David Cronenberg’s earlier films.

There is still some kind of left-of-centre cinema feel to this version of Village of the Damned and elements of that tighness or energy but it feels less focused or to not have quite the same energy of some of his other work:

“I’m really not passionate about Village of the Damned. I was getting rid of a contractual assignment, although I will say that it has a very good performance from Christopher Reeve, so there’s some value in it.” (John Carpenter in an interview at Vulture website.)

Possibly that lack of a sense of lean example of cinema could also be a result of the translation and remaking of an earlier piece of work and the way in which during that process some of the original energy or “magic”, that indefinable something can sometimes be lost along the way.

However, as I say, it’s a tricky proposition attempting to remake a much loved cult classic and the creators of the new version may well find themselves treading on what some may consider culturally hallowed ground. Taking on such a task could be considered something of a double edged sword in many ways; you have the pre-existing recognition factor and possibly proven appeal of the story etc of the earlier version but then there are also a whole host of expectations and comparing with its forebear to contend with.

Village of the Damned-John Carpenter-1995-film still 4

Elsewhere:
The Wicker Man 1973 / The Wicker Man 2006
Edge of Darkness 1985Edge of Darkness 2010
The Village of the Damned 1960 / Village of the Damned 1995
John Carpenter at the Vulture website

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
1) Day #173/365: “Douglas I’m scared”; celluloid cuckoos and the village as anything but idyll…
2) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 4/52a: Halloween III: Season of the Witch – A Curious Slice of Culture and Collisions with the Past
3) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 22/52: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 1 – The Sleeper Awakens
4) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 23/52: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 2 – “This is not a dream”
5) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 24/52: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 3 – Quatermass-esque Non Bebop Filmmaking
6) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 8/52: In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, Orkney Twilight, GB84 and Edge of Darkness – Hinterland Tales Of Myths, Dark Forces and Hidden Histories Part 2
7) The Wicker Man: well, that would be in a fair few “Elsewhere at A Year In The Country”

 

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The Wicker Man – Notes on a Cultural Behemoth: Chapter 10 Book Images

 The Wickerman-rating

“The Wicker Man… has become something of a towering cult celluloid behemoth. This is particularly the case amongst all things on the flipside of folkloric, as well as within areas of culture that have come to be known as folk horror…

At its heart, The Wicker Man could be viewed as a mystery thriller, although in actuality it is a film which defies categorisation, mixing elements of fantasy, horror and musical.

Within its enclosed rural setting it intertwines folkloric practices, pagan rituals, reimagined and reinterpreted traditional and folk music, unfettered sexuality and an older religious faith in conflict with a more contemporary Christian belief system.

These elements, along with a background of its at-times troubled production and distribution, have come to create a heady mixture, which includes imagery and a soundtrack that have gained iconic status and the creation of an almost myth-like set of stories and reference points which surround it and that have reverberated throughout wider culture.” 

The Wicker Man-Dan Mumford poster-A Year In The Country 

“In 2013 a ’40th Anniversary’ – possibly misleadingly named – Final Cut of the film, running at 91 minutes, was released cinematically as well as on DVD and Blu-ray.

This was not a complete, cinematic quality version of the film but rather an intermediate director-approved version which, as with earlier restored versions, featured segments which had varying levels of reproduction due to original source materials not being available.

In one sense, the sections where the quality varies are appealing; the shift in quality can give these scenes a slightly surreal, almost parallel plains of 3D or cutout look, similar to the effect that viewing a faded set of images through a Viewmaster children’s toy might do.

It would be interesting to see the entire film represented in this manner, to step away from the ongoing quest for a picture perfect representation of the tales of The Wicker Man and to embrace its otherworldliness more overtly with regards to its visual presentation.”

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

Day 16-Willows Songs b-Finders Keepers-A Year In The Country Day 16-Willows Songs back-Finders Keepers-A Year In The Country

The Wickerman-Trading cards-A Year In The Country-9The Wickerman-Unstoppable Trading Cards-Binder-A Year In The Country

The Wickerman-trading card collection 1-A Year In The Country

The Wickerman-RBeckettWickerman-A Year In The Countrynuada-wicker-man-journal-issues

The Wicker Man book collection

“While waiting for an actual final complete version there have been an ever-proliferating number of re-releases of the film and its soundtrack that have been released on video tape, DVD, Blu-ray, CD and vinyl, alongside period and modern associated posters, trading cards, books, zines, magazine articles and so forth.

The resulting releases have become part of a whole not-so-mini industry that could keep industrious collectors busy but there are a few related items of particular interest.

One is Willow’s Songs: an album released in 2009 by unearthers of rare and sometimes previously lost recordings Finders Keepers Records and which aims to showcase the British folk songs that inspired the soundtrack to The Wicker Man…

Its lyrics tell a tale of agricultural dispossession and intriguingly it is not credited to a performer on the album, which in these times of instant knowledge about almost everything via online searches adds a certain appealing mystique that this author is loath to puncture.”

 The Wicker Man OST soundtrack-Jonny Trunk-Trunk Records-A Year In The CountryThe Wickerman Willows Songs Gently Johnny 7 vinyl Record Store Day-Silva Screen International-A Year In The Country 2

“One of the curious things with The Wicker Man soundtrack (and indeed the film itself ) is that this is a case of where something authentic has been created from an inauthentic or commercially-orientated premise.

The soundtrack has come to feel as though it features songs which have belonged to these isles for centuries: ones which are deeply rooted in the land, its folklore and history, when in fact a number of them were written and all were recorded especially for the film.”

 Ritual-David Pinner-First Edition-Finders Keepers Edition

“Finders Keepers Records also reissued Ritual in 2011, which is the 1967 book by David Pinner, the basic idea and structure of which was in part the inspiration for what became The Wicker Man after David Pinner sold the film rights of the book to future Wicker Man cast member Christopher Lee in 1971.

In both, a police officer attempts to investigate reports of a missing child in an enclosed rural area and has to deal with psychological trickery, seduction, ancient religious and ritualistic practices.

The Finders Keepers reissue contains an introduction by writer and musician Bob Stanley called “A Note On Ritual”, which serves as an overview of and background to this very particular slice of literature which deals with pastoral otherlyness, the flipside and undercurrents of bucolia and folklore:

‘…be warned, like The Wicker Man, it is quite likely to test your dreams of leaving the city for a shady nook by a babbling brook.’ (Bob Stanley on Ritual from the introduction.)” 

Inside The Wicker Man-Allan Brown-1st edition and revised edition The Wicker Man book-Allan Brown-A Year In The Country 2Your Face Here-Ali Catterall-Simon Wells-The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man has been extensively written about over the years, both online and in print, including Allan Brown’s entertaining and extensive unearthing and researching of the background and myths that surround the film in his book Inside The Wicker Man: How Not to Make a Cult Classic…

A concise and revealing look at the film is also included in the 2002 book Your Face Here by Ali Catterall and Simon Wells…

There is a rigour to the research in the book without it stepping into the sometimes drier grounds of academia and the text reflects a genuine love for and appreciation of these films…

…the chapter now reflects a sense of the ongoing and growing story of this now quite well harvested in one form or another film, albeit one which through its ongoing appreciation and cultural inspirations/reverberations still occupies apparently quite fertile and not yet completely unearthed or unburied ground.” 

Sight & Sound-2013-The Wickerman-2010-The Films Of Old Weird Britain

Sight & Sound-2013-The Wickerman-2010-The Films Of Old Weird Britain-2

“Of the reams of writing on The Wicker Man, Vic Pratt’s article “Long Arm of the Lore” from the October 2013 issue of the BFI’s Sight & Sound magazine is well worth seeking out…

The article intertwines the cultural and historical context of the film, the romance of analogue recording techniques and the inner and wider myth and folkloric aspects of it…

In it Vic Pratt places The Wicker Man in its period cultural context of changing times and mores, considering how the children of the 1960s had grown up and taken their place in respectable society and sometimes the media, bringing or infiltrating their countercultural interests with them, possibly having lost some of their political fervour while also looking for the more authentic or spiritually fulfilling but not via traditional avenues.

The article describes how accompanying this was a sense of folk custom, witchcraft and the occult no longer being quite such marginalised or extreme interests; they had become the stuff of relatively mainstream film, television, music and publishing and a reflection of this can be seen in the themes of The Wicker Man…

In many ways, both this and the issue of the magazine could be seen as a companion to the August 2010 Sight & Sound issue, which has as its cover strapline “The Films of Old, Weird Britain”, accompanied by a Wicker Man-like, landscape myths and folk horror-esque illustration and features “The Pattern Under the Plough” article by Rob Young as its main feature.

That article delves beneath the topsoil of British cinema to find a rich seam of films and television which take the landscape, rural ways, folklore (of the traditional and reimagined varieties) or ‘the matter of Britain’ as their starting point…”

Winstanley-1975-Kevin Brownlow-Andrew Mollo-A Year In The Country 10Akenfield film 1974sleep furiously-Gideon Koppel-Aphex Twin-A Year In The Country

Derek Jarman-Journey to Avebury-still Patrick Keiller-Robinson in Space-film still Chris Petit-London Orbital-film still

Quatermass and the Pit-Nigel Kneale-bluray cover artPendas Fen-David Rudkin-A Year In The Country 3

“(Rob Young’s The Pattern Under the Plough article) further contextualises The Wicker Man, placing it alongside other such folk horror films as Witchfinder General. It then goes on to consider an interrelated loose grouping of films and television which in part explore those flipside Albionic cracks in the landscape.

These include Winstanley (1975) and its dramatising of historical English Civil War era searching for an earthly paradise, the journey through a rural year of Akenfield (1974), the almost straight documentary that also seems to quietly explore the undercurrents of the land Sleep Furiously (2008)…

It also includes considerations of and connects the above with the art film experiments and psychogeography (a form of explorative wandering) of Derek Jarman’s Journey to Avesbury (1971), Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Space (1997) and Chris Petit’s London Orbital (2002), the atavistic memories of Quatermass and the Pit (1967) and the layered spectral rural history tales of Penda’s Fen (1974).

 The Sneaker Pimps-How Do-Willows Song-Becoming X-Spin Spin Sugar-Kelli Ali-The Wicker Man 

“The Wicker Man has also acted as a wider source of musical inspiration and influence, branching out into more mainstream and even chart music. The band Sneaker Pimps recorded a song called “How Do”, which is a version of “Willow’s Song” from The Wicker Man soundtrack and includes samples from the film…

It was a curious thing for a quite pop orientated band, even if a more left-of-centre one, back then to include a song from The Wicker Man soundtrack. At the time of How Do’s release The Wicker Man was a known film but its extended and ever growing cultdom had not really started to gather pace yet and Trunk Records’ release of the soundtrack was still a couple of years away, so information about the film was probably still relatively thin on the ground.”

 Kelli Ali-Rocking Horse and Butterfly

“In a possible further example of the ongoing influence of the film, in 2008 Kelli Ali, who was the singer with Sneaker Pimps at the time of Becoming X, released a pastoral folk inflected album called Rocking Horse on record label One Little Indian, which was produced by Max Richter…

(On her album) Butterfly there is also another version of Willow’s Song, which takes it back nearer to its purely imagined folkloric roots and although being her own interpretation it is closer to how the song was performed for The Wicker Man’s soundtrack than the Sneaker Pimps version and indeed would not seem all that out of place if heard amongst the other music in the film.”

Pulp-We Love Life-CD-back of cover-2001 Pulp-The Trees-Sunrise-CD singleForge Dam-Sheffield-Pulp-The Wicker Man-1Kill List-Ben Wheatley-A Year In The Country-4

“In a further Wicker Man connection with one time chartbound bands, Pulp included a song called “Wickerman” on their 2001 album, We Love Life.

The song is a multi-layered piece of culture, one that interweaves samples from the original The Wicker Man film soundtrack recording and hence otherly folkloric concerns, alongside a sense of urban exploration, the true life history of the band, spoken word, a certain grandiosity in its production (possibly courtesy of producer Scott Walker), the social history of Sheffield and surrounding areas and a yearning, wistful love story…

…members of Pulp went on an expedition through tunnels beneath Sheffield that were used for sluicing industrial run off… that journey became increasingly dangerous feeling and… it inspired the Pulp song Wickerman…

…what the real life story of the band wandering through those tunnels also brings to mind is the underground tunnel sequence in Ben Wheatley’s 2011 film Kill List, and its related occult vision of folkloric machinations; lines from which could be connected backwards to The Wicker Man and its flipside views, expressions and interpretations of folklore and an unsettled take on pastoralism.”

 The Wicker Man-construction-production photograph The Wicker Man-1973-Production notes The Wickerman-lost scene in hairdressersWillow Umbrella-Christopher Lee-The Wicker Man-1973

“Along with the above books, articles and records which explore and/or draw inspiration from The Wicker Man there are an extensive number of websites and documentaries which focus on the film.

One of the most in depth of such websites is The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia site which on a recent visit had 138 different pages related to the film…

Of particular note are the images of the construction of The Wicker Man structure used in the film and also the numbered on-set and press photographs taken from contact sheets.

Even though they are on a public site these seem to offer a semi-hidden view or a glance behind the curtain of the film.

However, despite this they do not diminish the mystique or myths of the film, which can sometimes be the case with such photographs or “How We Made the Film” documentaries and DVD extras.

This is possibly because The Wicker Man has such a multi-layered set of myths around it, some of which are intrinsically connected and interwoven with the production of the film itself and related backstories, all of which have become part and parcel of its intriguing nature.”

 The Wicker Man BBC Scotland On Screen 2009 

The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005-b2

The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005

The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005-2

“Further behind the scenes views and discussion can be found in a now quite considerable number of The Wicker Man documentaries, including those on the various DVD/Blu-ray releases of the film and also in documentaries which were originally broadcast on television.

These include:

1) The Wicker Man/BBC Scotland on Screen (2009), in which actor Alan Cumming wanders around the film’s locations, with how they are today segueing into scenes from the film…

This features… the woman who runs the gallery where the sweet shop scene was filmed (who says something along the lines of some visiting tourists thinking that those who live in the area actually are pagans).

2) The Wicker Man episode of the BBC 4 series Cast and Crew (2005), which hosts a round table discussion of the film.

(Which includes) cast members Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt being her delightfully eccentric and expressive self (slightly embarrassing/ awkward for more reserved British sensibilities to know how to cope with this)…

Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI

Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI-Jonny Trunk

(Another Wicker Man related documentary is) Sing Cuckoo: The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Sound track… 

(Which features) the musicians Stephen Cracknell of The Memory Band and Mike Lindsay of Tuung (who have both created and released The Wicker Man-related work) and Jonny Trunk who is variously an archival record researcher, collector, writer and was responsible for the release of the first commercial edition of The Wicker Man’s soundtrack via his label Trunk Records…

There is something very evocative and moving about this particular documentary and it has a certain classiness to it, a sense of a deep respect for the film both by those shown in it and from behind the camera.

Part of that is the way it is divided into titled chapters that connect with the themes of the film and its influence; Creation, Isolation, Resurrection, Inspiration and Resolution…”

 Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI-Stephen Cracknell-Mike Lindsay 

“In terms of some of the reasons for the ongoing and expanding appeal of the film and its soundtrack, Stephen Cracknell makes an incisive point about how the songs have become like folk standards for young indie-folk musicians and says:

“I think it will go on influencing people by giving them this idea of ‘Wow, you can be playful and sexy and daring and scary, not just reverential with old music and make it new and vibrant’. It stands like a beacon for that really.”

 

Online images to accompany Chapter 10 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.

 

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Sing Cuckoo: The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack and Other Partly-Archived Summerisle Discussions: Audio Visual Transmission Guide #51/52a

The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005-2

During this year of A Year In The Country I’ve visited the fictional world of Summerisle / The Wicker Man a number of times…

…and now that the year is drawing to a close, I thought I would visit it once more.

A while ago I came across a bevy of Wicker Man documentaries that I didn’t know about.

I had watched various ones previously, the ones included on the DVD releases etc but then one day I stumbled on more online (the magic of the ever-archiving internet and all that).

Now, I would’ve thought that I would be a bit overloaded with all things Wicker Man-esque but I actually thoroughly enjoyed watching the documentaries or sections of documentaries I found in various ways – it seems that this is the isle that just keeps giving it seems.

The Wicker Man BBC Scotland On Screen 2009

The ones in question were:

One titled online as The Wicker Man BBC Scotland On Screen 2009, in which actor Alan Cumming (with a somewhat artfully arranged fringe) wanders around the locations of The Wicker Man, with how they are today segueing into scenes from the film.

It features him meeting with the likes of the film’s director Robin Hardy, Britt Ekland’s body double, one of the public house musicians who played in the film and the woman who runs the gallery where the sweet shop scene was filmed (who says something along the lines of some visiting tourists thinking that those who live in the area actually are pagans).

Alongside which Allan Brown, author of Inside The Wicker Man, film critic/broadcaster Andrew Collins, novelist Christopher Brookmyre and Edward Woodward all appear and comment on the film and its surrounding myths and intrigues.

The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005-b2

Then I watched The Wicker Man episode of the BBC 4 series Cast and Crew from 2005, which hosts a round table discussion of the film, featuring Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt being her delightfully eccentric and expressive self (slightly embarrassing/awkward for more reserved British sensibilities to know how to cope with that it has always seemed when I have watched such appearances), director Robin Hardy again, art director Seamus Flannery, associate music director Gary Carpenter and again Edward Woodward (who was filmed separately from the other participants).

The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005

One of the pieces of information that stuck in my mind from this documentary was Seamus Flannery saying how the actual Wicker Man sculpture in the film was built from pre-woven panels that were designed to be used as wind baffles in fields for sheep to shelter behind and which they bought very cheaply wholesale for just a few pounds each.

Robin Hardy also briefly mentions the successor to The Wicker Man that he was planning at the time called May Day (which Christopher Lee was set to appear in and is at baritone, strident pains to make clear that it was not a sequel) and which I assume eventually became The Wicker Tree which was released in 2011.

Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI

The one that really caught my eye and mind though was Sing Cuckoo: The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack, which is available to watch on the BFI Player (which I have mentioned a few times previously around these parts) and was recorded around the time of the BFI season Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film in 2014.

This does what it says on the can and again features Robin Hardy and Gary Carpenter, alongside the musicians Stephen Cracknell of The Memory Band and Mike Lindsay of Tuung (who have both created/released Wicker Man related work), all discussing the soundtrack of the film, its influences, inspirations etc.

There is something very evocative and moving about this particular documentary and it has a certain classiness to it, a sense of a deep respect for the film both by those shown in it and from behind the camera.

Part of that is the way it is divided into titled chapters that connect with the themes of the film and its influence; Creation, Isolation, Resurrection, Inspiration and Resolution.

Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI-Jonny Trunk

I don’t know if it was a deliberate but those directly involved in the film – Robin Hardy and Gary Carpenter – are filmed  against a featureless black background, whereas Jonny Trunk, Stephen Cracknell and Mike Lindsay are filmed set against tools of their trades (shelves of vinyl records and banks of modular synthesisers).

There is a touching moment when Jonny Trunk talks about how it is a shame that the soundtrack’s author Paul Giovanni passed away before he could see how it had gone on to gain such an extensive following and possibly even played it live.

Connected to that, there is a poignancy to all these documentaries; as the years have passed few of the principal participants featured are still alive, with Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, Robin Hardy and Edward Woodward all since having passed away.

In terms of some of the reasons for the ongoing and expanding appeal of the film and its soundtrack, Stephen Cracknell makes some interesting points about how the songs have become like folk standards for young indie-folk musicians and says:

“I think it will go on influencing people by giving them this idea of “Wow, you can be playful and sexy and daring and scary, not just reverential with old music and make it new and vibrant”. It stands like a beacon for that really.”

Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI-Stephen Cracknell-Mike Lindsay

(File Post Under: Cathode Ray & Cinematic Explorations, Radiowave Resonations & Audiological Investigations)

Audio Visual Transmission Guide #1:
Sing Cuckoo: The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack at the BFIPlayer

More samizdat transmissions:
The Wicker Man BBC Scotland On Screen 2009
Cast And Crew – The Wicker Man

Local Broadcasts:
Well, that would be a fair few but here’s a starter or two – The Wicker Man Around These Parts

 

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The Wicker Man – Summer Isle Books, Bindings, Pounds, Shillings And Pence: Ether Signposts #46/52a

The Wicker Man book collection

A fair old while ago, back in the first year of A Year In The Country one of the posts included a consideration of various DVD etc editions of The Wicker Man.

In a similar spirit, I thought I would bring together a gathering of some of the various Wicker Man related books that have been published…

…there have now been enough to warrant their own section within a library.

There are other related books and editions out in the world as well as the ones below but that library section could well include:

The Quest For The Wicker Man-Benjamin Franks-bookFirst off there is The Quest For The Wicker Man: History, Folklore And Pagan Perspectives by Benjamin Franks, Stephen Harper, Jonathan Murray and Lesley Stevenson, which is a more academic take on the film.

There is a somewhat rarer book that accompanies this called Constructing The Wickerman, which includes work by some of the same authors and which was published to coincide with the first academic conference on the film in Glasgow in 2003.

Studying The Wicker Man-Andy Murray Lorraine RolstonThen there is Studying The Wicker Man from 2017, which is a shorter academic book by Andy Murray and Lorraine Rolston…
Inside The Wicker Man-Allan Brown-1st edition and revised editionHow Not To Make A Cult Classic – Inside The Wicker Man by Allan Brown, which if memory serves correctly is a good factual and also behind the scenes intrigues view of the film. It was originally published in 2000 (the first book on The Wicker Man?) and reissued in 2010 as a newer revised edition post the US remake.
Ritual-David Pinner-First Edition-Finders Keepers Edition

Ritual by David Pinner, which is seen as a forebear and possible influence on The Wicker Man. Originally published in 1967 as a hardback, in paperback in 1968 by Arrow Books with a more overtly possibly exploitation cover image and text and it was republished in 2011 by Finders Keepers Records.

First editions of the 1967 version now fetch upwards of £400 (blimey etc)… and I like the background info at Finders Keepers site on their new edition and before they republished it how Andy Votel was about to pay a fair few pounds for an original copy and then he thought “I’ll just check the local library catalogue”… and there it was.

Ah, the good old library system.

The Finders Keepers edition also features an interesting introduction by Bob Stanley which in an earlier post at A Year In The Country I said this:

“The introduction opens with a sense of how nature can come to almost dwarf you, how our sense of urban/modern security can easily be dismissed by the ways and whiles of nature.”

(As an aside, although it was released in conjunction with David Pinner and reproduced from his copy, I like the way the Finders Keepers edition is listed by them as being “Finders Keepers Forgery Number One”.)

The Wicker Man-The Complete Piano Songbook-with sheet music

For the 40th anniversary of the film in 2013, alongside the various Bluray/DVD and soundtrack reissues, there was also The Wicker Man – The Complete Piano Songbook published by Summer Isle Songs, with arrangements by Christopher Hussey.

Alongside the sheet music, it also includes an introduction by film’s Associate Musical Directory Gary Carpenter and various stills from the film.

The Wicker Man-1st edition and new edition book-Robin Hardy-Anthony Shaffer-foreword Allan BrownThe Wicker Man novel, which curiously was originally published in 1978, five years after the release of the film (and also slightly curiously was released in the US first).

The novel was written by Robin Hardy, the director of The Wicker Man but is credited as being co-authored by Anthony Shaffer, the writer of the film’s screenplay, as it re-uses much of the screenplay’s dialogue.

It was republished in 2000, the same year as Allan Brown’s Inside The Wicker Man, with this new edition also  featuring a foreword by him.

The Wicker Man-Conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer & Edward Woodward-Stephen ApplebaumAlthough only available as an eBook, The Wicker Man: Conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer & Edward Woodward, published in 2012 collects 46 pages of interviews by Stephen Applebaum…

I’m hoping that at some point it will appear as a physically printed book.

Also of note…
Your Face Here-Ali Catterall-Simon Wells-The Wicker ManYour Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the Sixties by Ali Caterall and Simon Wells from 2001, which is a fine and very readable collection that focuses on various cult films, with one chapter being specifically about The Wicker Man.

I’ve written about this book before at A Year In The Country and said:

“…there is a rigour to the research… the text reflects a genuine love for and appreciation of these films… This isn’t something that is written by rote or which just trots out well visited stories in a cut and paste manner. The authors have put the footwork in, visiting locations, interviewing all kinds of associated folk and bringing forth something of a wealth of new information and connections.”

nuada-wicker-man-journal-issues…and finally there is Nuada, which was a journal/zine about The Wicker Man which had three editions published in 1999-2000 (a busy period for such things it seems).

…so, all in all, there have been a fair few Summer Isle related books and bindings (and as mentioned earlier, the above is not a complete list of books and editions)… something of a measure of just how it’s influence and inspiration has grown over the years…

…and somewhat impressive for a film that took $58,341 in US box office receipts on it’s first release.

Adjusting that for inflation, it would today mean it had taken $321,575.85 or using the exchange rates back in 1973, £137,185.79.

So, no small potatoes (or other appropriate harvest crops).

However as a point of reference, the Top 10 US ranking films back then (The Sting, The Exorcist, American Graffiti, Papilion, The Way We Were, Magnum Force, Last Tango In Paris, Live and Let Die, Robin Hood and Paper Moon) took between $156,000,000 and $30,933,473.

Which, again, adjusted for inflation today would be $859,872,702.70 to $170,505,442.52.

Or £366,825,785.39 to £72,738,432.87 in modern day Blighty pounds, shillings and pence.

Blimey.

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

(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)

Directions and Destinations:
The Quest For The Wicker Man
Studying The Wicker Man
Inside The Wicker Man
Ritual at Finders Keepers
The Wicker Man Song Book
The Wicker Man novel
The Wicker Man: Conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer & Edward Woodward
Your Face Here
Nuada journal

Local Places Of Interest:
Day #237/365: Your Face Here; peering down into the landfill – a now historical perspective on the stories of The Wicker Man
Day #90/365: The Wickerman – the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore
Day #101/365: Gently Johnny, Sproatly Smith, The Woodbine & Ivy band and lilting intentions…
Week #25/52: Fractures Signals #4; A Behemoth Comes Once More A Knocking…
Ether Signposts #24/52a: The Wicker Man / Don’t Look Now Double Bill And Media Disseminations From What Now Seem A Long Long Time Ago
Ether Signposts #25/52a: 138 Layers And Gatherings Of The Wicker Man

 

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The Wicker Man Revisited / Refreshed – The Long Arm Of The Lore: Wanderings #36/52a

Sight & Sound-2013-The Wickerman-2010-The Films Of Old Weird Britain

Now, there has been an ever increasing amount written about The Wicker Man and it could be possible to be a tad oversaturated with more considerations of the film…

…but I recently(ish) read Vic Pratt’s article Long Arm Of The Lore about the film in a 2013 edition of Sight & Sound, at the time of one of the DVD/Bluray brush’n’scrub ups of The Wicker Man…

And actually, it was a refreshingly calm, considered, reflective, contextual piece that made me pause for thought, consider and re-appreciate the film and its own stories and myths once again.

In many ways it and the issue of the magazine could be a companion to the 2010 Sight & Sound with The Films Of Old, Weird Britain cover and The Pattern Under The Plough article Rob Young (and leading on from that, that article could also be seen as a companion to his Electric Eden book).

Both articles explore a sense of an otherly Albion, of the undercurrents and layers of folk tales, customs and histories and their reflections within film, television, culture and music at various points in time.

Sight & Sound-2013-The Wickerman-2010-The Films Of Old Weird Britain-2

Vic Pratt’s article is particularly good at placing The Wicker Man in the context of the early 1970s, the what-happened-next of 1960s utopianism and a yearning to return to more authentic, rooted ways – the interest in variations on folk culture being an aspect of such things.

I particularly liked this sequence, its analogies and the way it intertwines folk, the romance of analogue recording techniques and the myths of The Wicker Man itself:

“The archivists among us surely long to see a fully restored version of the film derived from 35mm elements, and the new Final Cut should almost provide that, bar a few mainland minutes. Yet folklorists must surely enjoy the flawed long version; that old variation in quality, the sudden grainy sequences, are textural scars that remind us of a checkered past. The multigenerational flaws of decades-old transfer technologies are embedded in the images. Forever incomplete, with something added, something removed, like an old folk ditty with lyrics honed and melodies reshaped by time, The Wicker Man remains splendidly imperfect, the perfect folk film artefact.”

The article is available to read online but I must admit I enjoyed being able to stop a moment and read it in its original printed form (although it seems to be one of the more hard to find back issues of Sight & Sound, not unsuprisingly considering the cult status of The Wicker Man).

(File under: Trails and Influences / Year 3 Wanderings)

 

Intertwined wanderings around these parts:
Day #4/365: Electric Eden; a researching, unearthing and drawing of lines between the stories of Britain’s visionary music

Day #80/365: The Films Of Old Weird Britain… celluloid flickerings from an otherly Albion…

Day #90/365: The Wicker Man – the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore

Week #25/52: Fractures Signals #4; A Behemoth Comes Once More A Knocking…

Elsewhere in the ether:
Read the article here (which also includes an interview with director Robin Hardy).

 

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Constructing The Wicker Man: Ether Signposts #26/52a

The Wicker Man-construction-production photograph

I was recently wandering around the  The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia website and posted about its multi-layered archiving of The Wicker Man related material…

The Wicker Man-cherry picker-under construction-2

Some of the images I was particularly struck by were those that showed the literal construction of the film’s Wickerman structure/s.

The Wicker Man-under construction

The Wicker Man-1973-production notes-sketchAnd quite simply I wanted to post some of them online as well, it gives me a chance to peruse them again myself.

Also because as I mentioned in my previous post about the related Wikia site, I don’t find seeing such “behind the scenes” images takes away from the myth and mystique of the film, rather that they more seem like part of the layered myths and stories that surround The Wickerman – of which the production of the film, its intrigues and tales are an intrinsic part.

(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)

Directions and Destinations:
The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia (introduction page)
Behind The Scenes (still pictures)

 

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138 Layers And Gatherings Of The Wicker Man: Ether Signposts #25/52a

The Wicker Man 1973-US press book

I recently went a-wandering to have a look-see if I could fine the original press book for The Wickerman – as I’ve mentioned around these parts before I have something of a softspot for press booklets from back.

As far as I can see there were two main ones back in 1973; one for the US and one for the UK.

Despite the cult and collectible nature of the film you can still occasionally find them, although they’re not necessarily cheap; the two I found were priced at/sold for around £26.00 and £325 (ahem!).

Anyways, as I was having a potter around online I found a site called The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia…

…and just when you think you know a fair bit about the film, have read a related book or two and seen a documentary or few etc…

…well, you realise you’re just scratching the surface.

The Wickerman-rating

The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia site has 138 different pages on the film, which may not sound like all that many but some of those have literally dozens of photographs, hundreds of pieces of information etc: maps, autographs, scripts, newspaper articles, behind the scenes photographs by the dozen, location photographs then and now, scripts, production notes, floor plans, reunion photographs, memoirs from cast and crew, images from missing scenes, fanzines, construction plans…

…and that’s to mention just a few of the things that can be found there.

The Wickerman-lost scene in hairdressers

Some of my favourite parts of the site are the Behind The Scenes page, in particular the images of the construction of The Wicker Man itself and also the numbered on-set and press photographs taken from contact sheets.

The Wicker Man-1973-UK press bookThose two parts of the site seem, even though they are on a public site, to offer a semi-hidden view or a glance behind the curtain at it were.

And interestingly, I don’t find that they ruin the mystique or myths of the film for me, which I can do sometimes with such photographs or “How We Made The Film” documentaries and DVD extras.

That’s possibly because The Wicker Man has such a multi-layered set of myths around it, some of which are intrinsically connected and interwoven with the production of the film itself and related backstories.

The Wicker Man-1973-Production notesWillow Umbrella-Christopher Lee-The Wicker Man-1973

The site is a real labour of love that put me in mind of the Kate Bush Clippings site that I wrote about a while ago, on which there are hundreds or more scans of related magazine etc articles.

The two sites may well also be interconnected in that both Kate Bush and The Wickerman seem to have come to represent, have spun or exist within some kind of world and myths all of their own; ones that connect with some kind of sense of arcane, layered stories, history and fantasia from this part of the world.

Because of the vast nature of the site and the way that it is built (and possibly because of my initial sense of “must try and read and see it all”) it can be a bit overwhelming, so I thought a few initial pointers towards starting points and pages that caught my eye might be helpful…

Directions and Destinations:
The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia (introduction page)
All Pages (you may be there a while…)
Behind The Scenes (still pictures)
Negative numbers (for on-set and press photographs)
Images (all images on the site)
Missing Scenes

Kate Bush Clippings Site (and around these parts)

 

(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)

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The Wicker Man / Don’t Look Now Double Bill And Media Disseminations From What Now Seem A Long Long Time Ago: Ether Signposts #24/52a

The Wicker Man-Dont Look Now-double bill-The Guardian and The Observer DVDs

Fairly recently I was in a charity shop and on the counter they had a box full of the DVDs and CDs that used to come free with newspapers…

That time now seems long, long ago, before the advent and popularity of online streaming services for films.

The Wicker Man-Dont Look Now-double bill-The Guardian and The Observer DVDs-2

Anyways, a while after I got home I realised that two of the DVDs I had gotten from the shop were effectively the original double bill cinema release of The Wicker Man and Don’t Look Now.

The version of The Wickerman on the DVD is one of the shorter ones with a runtime of 84 minutes but nonetheless I suppose for Wickerman collectors and completists this would still be something to look out for.

Finding them also made me curious if there had ever been one of those double bill cinema posters for the two films.

They were once quite popular and now seem to often capture previous era’s styles and aesthetics.

The Wicker Man and Dont Look Now-double bill adverts

However, despite quite a search for one of those double bill posters I couldn’t find one, only a couple of newspaper/magazine adverts.

So in lieu of an actual double-bill poster I thought I would repost a double page spread from a copy of Film Review magazine back in 1974, showing The Wicker Man side-by-side with its cinematic partner:

The Wicker Man-Dont Look Now-Film Review Magazine-A Year In The Country-1200

Directions and Destinations:
Day #90/365: The Wickerman – the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore
For Summer Isle completists: The Wickerman and Don’t Look Now

 

(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)

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Day #237/365: Your Face Here; peering down into the landfill – a now historical perspective on the stories of The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man-Your Face Here-Ali Catterall-Simon Wells-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences.
Other Pathways. Case #39/52.

And while we’re talking about semi-lost celluloid (see Day #235/365)…

Although there has been much written about The Wicker Man over the years and across the ether, I tend to be quietly pleased when I come across writing about it on the printed page and in particular in the bound sheafs of books…

Your Face Here is one of my favourite film books. It was published just after the turn of the millennium. I read it a reasonable number of years ago now but it has stuck in my mind and stayed with me since.

It is a book which takes a wander through British cult films since the 1960s and has a good old gander and consider of amongst others Blow Up, If…, Performance, Get Carter, Clockwork Orange, Quadrophenia, Withnail & I and The Wicker Man itself, dedicating a chapter to each.

All fine and/or intriguing films in their own various ways and while that list may seem like a fairly obvious selection of cult films, an almost accepted canon of such things, there are other things at play that make this a thoroughly enjoyable, informative and engrossing read. I can’t quite put my finger on what those things might be but in part I expect it is that there is a rigour to the research without it stepping into the drier grounds of academia and the text reflects a genuine love for and appreciation of these films.

The Wicker Man-Your Face Here-Ali Catterall-Simon Wells-A Year In The CountryThis isn’t something that is written by rote or which just trots out well visited stories in a cut and paste manner. The authors (Ali Caterall and Simon Wells) have put the footwork in, visiting locations, interviewing all kinds of associated folk and bringing forth something of a wealth of new information and connections.

If you don’t feel like or haven’t the time to read a full book on The Wickerman, say one of the versions of Allan Brown’s Inside The Wicker Man, then the chapter here acts as a fine precis of the story of the themes, production, loss and part-refinding of The Wicker Man. That story is vastly entertaining in itself and as I type it brings forth images of a good narrative film romp that could well lend itself to being made…

…plus when re-reading the chapter, it has gained an interesting historical perspective as it was written before the more recent longer versions of the film were made available on various shiny digital discs, the Hollywood remake or the sort of follow-up were sent out into the world. Also the book was published not all that long after Trunk Records made the soundtrack available for the first time and at a point when the films long march towards cultural rehabilitation and inspiration had just started to gather pace.

In that sense, the chapter now reflects a sense of the ongoing and growing story of this still not completely yet unearthed or unburied film (literally so, if the stories of its negatives being used as motorway landfill are historical fact).

The Wickerman-Your Face Here-Ali Catterall & Simon Wells-A Year In The Country

In case you’re wandering the full title of the book in question is Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since The Sixties. It was written by Ali Catterall and documenter of butterflies on wheels Simon Wells.

The book is currently out of print but can be found for but a few pennies. Well worth a look-see and those few pennies.

Future lost artifacts from said story here. Pathways that lead to the soundtrack here.

 

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Day #90/365: The Wicker Man – the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore

The Wicker Man Collage-A Year In The Country-1080File under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways. Case #12/52.

I suppose there was a certain inevitability that The Wicker Man would come knocking at the door of A Year In The Country one morning…

Over the years it seems to have become such a touchstone and point of reference for people and there seems to be an exponentially increasing amount of text, articles, referencing and so on which shows no sign of dwindling even a touch.

Via storage and dissemination through various mediums and artifacts, such celluloid and (once) cathode ray stories could now be considered to be our modern-day folklore or folktales, allowing for a common cultural language in days when people no longer live and share such things with their geographic neighbours to as large a degree as in the past.

The Wicker Man-Hessian Bag Edition-Insert-A Year In The Country-2The title of the page mentions “future lost vessels”. Why you may ask? Well, one day in years to come it is quite likely that some of the physical artifacts, the digital discs and ferrous cassettes, that have been used to pass on our folk tales from the 1970s onwards may well still exist as objects but will the stories that they contain still be readable by all but a few? The current machines for such things will have more than likely returned once more to the ground from whence they originally came. The stories themselves may well have been re-recorded and transferred to other mediums but the original artifacts will quite possibly just have become symbols or ornaments that represent them…

But who knows what may happen in the future and what the future story may be of a tale which is already possibly partly buried beneath passing cars (see here about half way down the page for more details).

Hmmm.

And so, this page is a document of some my favourite (or at least the ones I find the most interesting) of the vessels and artifacts of this particular slice of modern day folklore…

(In memory of possible future lost vessels, only the casing that contains the discs and tapes are shown below, I’ve included a touch of actual vinyl as such things have proved a certain longevity).

Here goes…

I think one of my favourite of such things is the hessian bag release of the DVD… it just seems to fit…

The Wicker Man-Hessian Bag Edition-A Year In The Country 2 The Wicker Man-Hessian Bag Edition-DVD-A Year In The Country

One of the Dan Mumford poster designs for the 40th Anniversary re-issue of the film…
The Wicker Man-Dan Mumford poster-A Year In The Country
…and some variations on the poster via Dark City Gallery
The Wicker Man-Dan Mumford poster detail-A Year In The Country
Below on the left is what seems to be one of the rarer DVD issues of the film, featuring part of a still that seems to be something of a favourite out in the world (and which has been used by contemporary pastoral-psych-folk band Sproatly Smith, who also released a 7″ single of Gently Johnny)…

Nice rarer paperback cover on the right below… well, when I saw nice, it’s in the context of somebody being thrown onto the altar so that people can grow some mildly exotic apples…
The Wicker Man-The Cult Classic Film Series-A Year In The Country The Wicker Man-Pocker Fiction paperback-A Year In The Country

 

Ah, the days of VHS (was this ever released on Betamax? Video 2000?)…
The Wicker Man-1973 1972-VHS Thorn EMI-Pick Of The Flicks-A Year In The Country copy
Now, I should really love the hinged wooden box edition of the film but there’s something just slightly off or maybe unloved about it…
The Wicker Man-Wooden Box Edition-DVD-A Year In The Country
Something which may well have been responsible for some of the increase in interest over the last decade or so… The Trunk Records vinyl release of the soundtrack album, the first time it had been commercially available…
The Wicker Man OST soundtrack-Jonny Trunk-Trunk Records-A Year In The Country
If you should wish to read about how film cults came about in part because of the siren call of ladies in metal bath tubs to the cigar chomping folk behind the scenes…
The Wicker Man book-Allan Brown-A Year In The CountryThe Wicker Man book-Allan Brown-A Year In The Country 2
…and a return to VHS, this time with a slightly more sober cover (and more giving away of the plot)…The Wicker Man-VHS video cover-A Year In The Country
Now this seems to be one of the rarer artifacts out in the world… the 2012 Record Store Day 7″ single release of Willow’s Song/Gently Johnny…
The Wickerman Willows Songs Gently Johnny 7 vinyl Record Store Day-Silva Screen International-A Year In The Country 2The Wickerman Willows Songs Gently Johnny 7 vinyl Record Store Day-Silva Screen International-A Year In The Country
…and (almost) finally, Richard Beckett’s poster for the 40th Anniversary (as seen on t-shirts, the aforementioned posters and a new differently edited version of the soundtrack)…

…plus one of the lesser seen DVD releases. I like the simplicity of this one.
The Wicker Man-Richard Beckett poster-silver hair variant-A Year In The Country

The Wicker Man-Studio Canal DVD-A Year In The Country

So, 12 artifacts to accompany A Year In The Country seems quite an appropriate number.

I know what, let’s make it a baker’s dozen as I quite like the story behind that phrase…

A double page spread from a copy of Film Review magazine back in 1974, showing The Wicker Man side-by-side with its cinematic partner Don’t Look Now:

The Wicker Man-Dont Look Now-Film Review Magazine-A Year In The Country-1200

(In case you’re curious the cover of that issue featured Sid James, Babs Windsor, Margaret Nolan and Valerie Leon in Carry On Girls… something of a favourite in the Carry On cannon round these parts, a point when the films began to change and reflect a country “gone to the dogs” but before the films just became seedy shams. Anyway, I digress…).

As an (actual) final note: don’t watch The Wicker Man with an older relative, suggesting a viewing as your mind seems to have momentarily selectively remembered it as a bit of a knockabout light-hearted folkloric musical…

Ah, we live and learn.

A few trails and pathways: The appeal for lost Wicker Man materials here and at The Art Shelf here. Corn(flake) rigs via Johnny Trunk at Feuilleton, at Fuel and at Mr Trunk’s home in the electronic ether. A whole slew of Wicker soundtracks here. Richey Beckett’s hand of glory here. An interesting “behind-the-scenes” on the creation of the artwork for the 2012 Record Store Day Willow’s Song/Gently Johnny 7″ here and here. Sproatly Smith and the Woodbine & Ivy band split version of Gently Johnny (something of a favourite) at purveyor of vinyl artifacts Picadilly Records and Static Caravan.

A baker’s or devil’s dozen here.

 

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Summerisle In (Sort Of) Pop #1 – Pulp’s Wickerman: Audio Visual Transmission Guide #31/52a

Forge Dam-Sheffield-Pulp-The Wicker Man-1

A while ago I read Freak Out The Squares, which is former Pulp member Russel Senior’s autobiography of his time with the band.

In it there is a section where he talks about a time where pre their fame he and former members of Pulp went on an expedition through underground tunnels beneath Sheffield that were used for sluicing industrial run off, how that journey became increasingly dangerous feeling and that it inspired the Pulp song Wickerman (which was recorded after he left).

I most probably listened to the song when We Love Life, the album it was on, came out but hadn’t remembered it until then.

Listening to it now it struck me as a curious piece of culture, one that interweaves samples from the original The Wicker Man film soundtrack recording and hence otherly folkloric concerns, alongside a sense of urban exploration, the true history of the band, spoken word, a certain grandiosity in its production (courtesy of producer Scott Walker?), the social history of Sheffield and surrounding areas and a yearning, wistful love story.

Here are a selection of the lyrics:

Just behind the station, before you reach the traffic island, a river runs through a concrete channel. 
I took you there once; I think it was after the Leadmill. 
The water was dirty & smelt of industrialisation
Little mesters coughing their lungs up & globules the colour of tomato ketchup. 
But it flows…
Underneath the city through dirty brickwork conduits
Connecting white witches on the Moor with pre-Raphaelites down in Broomhall. 
Beneath the old Trebor factory that burnt down in the early seventies…
And the river flows on…
And it finally comes above ground again at Forge Dam: the place where we first met.

DIGITAL IMAGE

Jarvis Cocker, who I assume wrote the lyrics, said that he used to live on The Wicker which is a street in Sheffield and so I guess that’s where the title in part comes from.

In a further connection with otherly folklore, what the real life story of the band wandering through these tunnels also put me in mind of was the underground tunnel sequence in Ben Wheatley’s The Kill List.

But I won’t talk too much of that as I want to sleep tonight.

Pulp-The Trees-Sunrise-CD singleThe album We Love Life seems to have been a mixture of classic Pulp-like kitchen sink-esque observation and an interest/attempt to connect with the basics of a more natural life, particularly so in related artwork and on songs such as Trees and Sunrise, alongside which the band played a series of concerts in forests to support its release.

(File Post Under: Cathode Ray & Cinematic Explorations, Radiowave Resonations & Audiological Investigations)

Audio Visual Transmission Guide: Pulp’s Wickerman

 

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Day #69/365: Charles Fréger’s Wilder Mann and rituals away from the shores of albion

Charles Freger-Wilder Mann-Dewi Lewis Publishing-A Year In The CountryFile under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways. Case #8/52.

Well, as I seem to say here and there, while we’re talking about Charles Frégers Wilder Mann (see Day #65/365), here is his document of folk rituals and costume from other shores.

And well, if you want to look for an underlying unsettledness to a bucolic pastoralism, look no further.

Although it’s probably not all that underlying.

I’m curious as to whether it’s just the exoticness of not having seen them before; that their tropes, designs and roots are not deeply buried in my subconscious which makes these seem so much more dramatic, odd, film like and possibly accomplished or even professional in appearance compared to those found in English folk rites…

Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country…and why sometimes do I think of the march and advancement of the simians upon homo sapien in The Planet Of The Apes / The Monkey Planet (circa 1960s and 70s, not later mind)? Or even strangely surreal Stan Lee superheroes and villains?

With these photographs there is often something unsettling and genuinely scary to some part of me that still feels ten; they strike a chord with that younger me and can genuinely give me the heebie jeebies… these images could well have tumbled from distant lands into high fever childhood Wicker nightmares.

In one photograph somebody is having a ciggie, which should break the spell but it doesn’t; there’s something about that, his costume, stance and the way he’s staring at the camera that makes it wander off into some very odd almost slasher film territory and more childhood nightmares. These are Sesame Street monsters which have crawled from under the bed and out of the cupboards…

Hmmm.

I think this is one of those posts or days where I shall stop now and let the images speak for themselves.

Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

Peruse the Wilder Mann here. Marvel at the price of the now sold out English text edition here. Fortunately you can still find German and other language editions here. Dewi Lewis, the original publishers of the UK edition here.

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The Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd Books – Exploring Hidden Narratives from Between the Forgotten Cracks: Wanderings 28/52

Just recently published are the books Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd – 1: Spirits of Time and Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd – 2: Spirits of Place.

These two volumes are flipside companions to the other often more overtly rural and folk orientated Folk Horror Revival non-fiction books which contain work by multiple authors, with these new books focusing on the uncanny, unsettling and, as the titles suggest, the wyrd in urban settings. They take their initial inspiration from the urban wyrd concept and phrase created by author Adam Scovell, author of Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange, and describe urban wyrd as being:

A sense of otherness within the narrative, experience or feeling concerning a densely human-constructed area or the inbetween spaces bordering the bucolic and the built-up or surrounding modern technology with regard to another energy at play or in control; be it supernatural spiritual, historical, nostalgic or psychological. Possibly sinister but always somehow unnerving or unnatural.” (Quoted from Spirits of Time.)

While in his Introduction to Spirits of Time Adam Scovell says:

So, what essentially can be described as the Urban Wyrd ?… The Urban Wyrd is a form that taps into the undercurrent of the city. In a similar way to psychogeography, it can find new narratives hidden below the top-layer; of dark skulduggery and strangeness beyond the reasonable confines of what we consider part of city life.

(Above left: image by Grey Malkin from Spirits of Time.)

In a similar manner to hauntology or what is sometimes called wyrd folk, urban wyrd is not a strictly defined and delineated area of work or genre. In some ways it is more a loosely gathered common feeling, atmosphere or spirit. This sense of the looseness of what constitutes urban wyrd is acknowledged in Spirits of Time’s Foreword and also its Introduction, in which Adam Scovell describes urban wyrd as being more like a mode, i.e. nearer to a general sense of how something is expressed, rather than a genre or specifically defined category. It is connected in this sense to other loosely gathered grouped cultural areas including folk horror, hauntology, psychogeography etc and Spirit of Time contains a sense of caution with regards to narrowly overly defining such concepts:

Folk Horror does not quite work like a genre and, therefore, should be considered a mode instead. There are many such modes with interlinking material – terms often bandied about such as Hauntology, Psychogeography et al. – that fit within some schemata of a mode. They have enough shared material to understand why they are discussed in the same breath but enough difference to accept that amalgamating everything under one descriptive banner homogenises material, undermines much of its thematic nuance and can be too general… Like all of these terms [Urban Wyrd] is just another context, another way of seeing material grouped together. It is not designed to dissect them and remove their dark hearts.” (Quoted from Spirit of Time’s Introduction.)

As discussed in the Introduction, urban wyrd, can be seen as a way of remythologising cities, as much of hauntology and folk horror does for sometimes interlinked subjects and/or types of areas. It can also be seen as an expression or attempt to add a hidden, not fully explained, sometimes near mystical layering to contemporary life and is in contrast to the modern-day prevalence of focusing on the rational, scientific, that which is fully explained and so on. Urban wyrd in part could be considered as a way of adding mystery and what was once known as magic to urban environments and in this way could also be thought of as being loosely connected to similar attempts and urges in past and current religion and spirituality.

As with hauntology, work which could (loosely) be labelled urban wyrd often utilises known and recognisable locations but then adds a sense of the unnerving, unsettling, the uncanny to this. As Adam Scovell also says in his Introduction in reference to this and Quatermass and the Pit: “In the tunnel where you get the tube, there could be a devilish Martian craft under the brickwork”. An equivalent in folk horror, hauntology etc could be considered the beauty and nourishment provided by nature and rural landscapes, which become something much more unsettling in The Wicker Man; the pleasant rural village in The Midwich Cuckoos which becomes a site for an in some ways subtly enacted alien invasion; previous eras’ TV station idents becoming spectral totems which are imbued with an underlying “otherlyness” and so on.

These things all curiously interlink, which is something I discuss in the chapter “Spectral Echoes: Hauntology’s Recurring Themes and Unsettled Landscapes”, which I contributed to Spirits of Time:

“Hauntological orientated work is often, although again not exclusively, urban orientated and at times conjures a landscape where Brutalist architecture and post-war new towns become part of a parallel world hinterland of the imagination in which all is not quite what it seems and that can contain a subtly off-kilter dystopic or unsettled atmosphere. Although not obvious bedfellows it has also curiously come to share territory and intertwine with the further reaches of folk culture and what could be loosely called wyrd folk, an otherly pastoralism or eerie landscapism. 

“On the surface such more rural flipside of folkloric and hauntological cultural forms are very disparate and yet both have come to explore and share similar landscapes. What may be one of the underlying linking points with both wyrd folk etc and hauntology is a yearning for lost utopias; in more otherly folkloric orientated culture this is possibly related to a yearning for lost Arcadian idylls, in hauntological culture it may be connected to a yearning for lost progressive post-war futures and a past that was never quite reached.

“Particular points of interconnection could be seen to be the sometimes focusing in related work on abandoned or decommissioned Cold War infrastructure including once secret bunkers and also electricity pylons and broadcast towers. Such bunkers etc. although often rural in location also often share a Brutalist architectural aesthetic with the likes of concrete built urban schools, government buildings, tower blocks etc. from previous decades.

“Despite their utilitarian day-to-day nature rural and urban located electricity pylons and broadcast towers in hauntological and otherly pastoral orientated work, as with abandoned bunkers and Brutalist architecture, have become symbols and signifiers of an eerily layered landscape.”

The two Folk Horror: Urban Wyrd books jointly contain nearly 1000 (!) pages and have literally dozens of chapters by also literally dozens of authors. Below is just a slight taster:

Quatermass and the Pit: Unearthing Archetypes at Hobb’s End by Grey Malkin 

The Haunted Generation: An Interview with Bob Fischer 

A Tandem Effect: Ghostwatch by Jim Moon 

Voices of the Ether: Stone Tapes, Electronic Voices and Other Ghosts by James Riley 

An Interview with Richard Littler – Mayor of Scarfolk. 

“We Want You to Believe In Us, But Not Too Much”: UFOs and Folklore by S J Lyall 

“This isn’t for Your Eyes” – The Watchers by Richard Hing 

City in Aspic: Don’t Look Now by Andy Paciorek 

Review: Concretism – For Concrete and Country by Chris Lambert

Phantoms and Thresholds of the Unreal City by John Coulthart

Iain Sinclair: Spirit Guide to the Urban Wyrd – Interviewed by John Pilgrim

The City That Was Not There: ‘Absent’ Cityscapes in Classic British Ghost Stories by Anastasia Lipinskaya

High Weirdness: A Day-trip to Hookland by Andy Paciorek 

The Voice of Electronic Wonder: The Music of Urban Wyrd by Jim Peters 

 

Find out more about the books via the links below…

Links: 

 

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:

 

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Hot Fuzz aka Rural Weapon Part 1 – Flash and Spectacle Amongst the Bucolia: Wanderings 12/52

Hot Fuzz is a British made buddy cop action comedy film released in 2007, directed by Edgar Wright and co-written by him and its lead actor Simon Pegg.

In the film over achieving London police officer Nicholas Angel, played by Pegg, who takes his work very seriously, is relocated to Sandford, a place which initially appears to be a typical sleepy quaint British village.

However things are not as they seem and Angel and his colleagues are soon embroiled in a murderous conspiracy by prominent members of the village who are intent that no matter what Sandford will continue to win Village of the Year; cue fellow villagers and visitors who may get in the way of that being sent to their demise via the likes of large-scale explosions, tumbling masonry, and decapitation in a car accident.

In Sandford Angel is presented as somebody who is somewhat out-of-place after the hustle and grittier experiences of city policing, something which is heightened by his wearing of modern protective police wear and equipment despite him being likely to need it in the general peace and calm of his new surroundings. This is also in contrast to his new police duty partner Danny Butterworth, played by Nick Frost, who at least until the later action sequences, is more likely to be seen wearing a woolen policeman’s jumper and in both character and appearance is possibly nearer to the idealised image of the classic friendly British country policeman.

Butterworth is portrayed as a quite sweet, gentle, good-hearted soul but also as somebody who, in a similar manner to the film itself, is enthralled to the classic American buddy cop action film, the glamour of the shoot out and the chase etc and also more than slightly in awe of this “big city” newcomer and his metropolitan experiences.

Edgar Wright has said that he wanted to make a cop action film because unlike much of the rest of the world at the time Britain did not particularly have a tradition of such cinema – although to a degree it did on television via the likes of gritty police drama The Sweeney (1975-1978).

(As an aside in Hot Fuzz the two police detectives, both of whom are called Andy Wainwright and are played by Paddy Considine and Rafe Spall, seem to be channelling similar characters from some earlier decade in terms of their belligerent swaggering attitude, top lip moustaches and vaguely period clothing – sort of The Sweeney via 1980s police timeslip series Ashes to Ashes which was broadcast in 2009 to 2010.)

There have been a long line of American buddy cop action films such as Point Break, the Bad Boys and Lethal Weapon series of films etc (the first two of which are explicitly referenced in Wright’s film and he has said that he originally pitched the film as Rural Weapon) and as with many of such films at the heart of Hot Fuzz is the relationship between the contrasting characters of two “buddy” police officers, in this Angel and Butterworth.

Hot Fuzz transfers Hollywood action and cop movie aesthetics to a British rural setting and makes direct and indirect references to such American films in an often humorous manner but it is not so much a parody, spoof or satire of them but rather an affectionate homage and seems to hold its source material in high esteem.

Despite the relatively high production values, special effects and so forth, in some indefinable manner that is separate to its setting and characters Hot Fuzz retains a sense of being British drama – there is a subtle awkwardness to it that seems to reflect a film industry that has never fully embraced the flash and spectacle of Hollywood style cinema.

Connected to which there is a curious disconnect when watching an at times all out action film of this type set in a British village, its local supermarket etc and on seeing American style action, heroics and gunplay undertaken by British policemen, with much of the film’s humour and character being derived from the appearance and use of the trappings of wider cinema’s action cop films, such as chases, fight scenes, automatic weapons and explosions etc in the unexpected setting of a rural British village.

In this sense it shares some territory with Malcolm Pryce’s book Aberystwyth Mon Amour, which depicts a modern-day parallel world version of the Welsh seaside town Aberystwyth but which is run by druids who are essentially to all intents and purposes actually “gangsters in mistletoe”.

Alongside referencing American buddy cop action comedy films Hot Fuzz also makes a more than cursory nod towards other genres including Westerns and previous British horror and folk horror films, in particular The Wicker Man, The Omen, gothic Hammer Horror and even giant monsters on the rampage in the city films.

More on which in Part 2…

(Exploring similar territory to the current trend for alternative movie poster reinterpreting of films; the finding an old mine and arms cache scene in Hot Fuzz depicted in Lego construction bricks.)

 

Elsewhere:

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Changes / The Disruption – Notes on a Flipside of the Pastoral Conversation – Part 1: Wanderings 1/52 (And the Start of a New Yearly Cycle)

Well, the start of a new yearly cycle of A Year In The Country (and good cheer to you all!)…

…in order to draw a line between previously visited pastures and new harvestings, I thought to begin with The Disruption, a publication that focuses on the 1975 television series The Changes…

As I have referred to before at A Year In The Country one of the interesting things with the relatively quite small and compact area of 1970s folk horror and related otherly pastoral/hauntological television and film is that points of cultural interest in regards to them are now often not purely the actual programmes etc themselves but also includes work they have influenced and inspired people to make.

Which brings me to the just mentioned The Disruption, which is a booklet published by Texte und Töne that contains a conversation between the authors and academics Andy Beckett and Roger Luckhurst on the also just mentioned television series The Changes.

In the series a strange sound inhabits the brains of the inhabitants of Britain and drives them to destroy and fear any modern technology, leading to societal collapse and a return to medievalism. The story is told via a schoolgirl who has become separated from her parents and who sets off on a quest across the countryside to reunite with them and ultimately solve the mystery of what has caused these extreme disruptions. During the series England is shown to have become a place of authoritarian medieval hierarchy, roving gangs and witch hunts.

Along the way it takes in her finding a temporary surrogate home away from the city with a group of wandering Sikhs and she is accused of sorcery by a witch-finder. Ultimately it is discovered that The Changes are due to the awakening of a sentient lode-stone which had once given magical powers to Merlin and which is now trying to take England back to a better time, before the Industrial Revolution, when people were more at one with nature and each other.

Below are presented some of the main themes and topics discussed in The Disruption – essentially in part a selective precis, alongside comments on some of their conversation on The Changes. Unless otherwise stated sections in italics are direct quotes from the publication:

“It travels to the same dark and anti-pastoral territory as David Rudkin/Alan Clarke’s Penda’s Fen (1974) and the Nigel Kneale scripted Murrain (1975).”

While taking the series as its initial starting point, in part booklet is a discussion about the general social, cultural and political background in which the programme was made and broadcast, in particular in relation to the counter-culture in Britain from the 1960s and 1970s in terms of hippies and alternative ways of life and how that continued in some ways into the 1990s (re crusties, travellers, the Peace Convoy etc).

“The appearance of Merlin at the end of The Changes is another… older element, a return to an English mystical tradition that’s trying to find something underneath modernity.” 

Although expressed via an apocalyptic occurrence in society, in part The Changes could be seen as a reflection of an early 1970s yearning to return to the land and simpler more wholesome times and ways, of rediscovering the pastoral, folk music and culture.

In the series the characters have had to flee for their lives from the cities and they find themselves in a landscape that is in some ways a pleasant rural idyll, the apocalypse it presents seems almost gentle and society seems to largely fairly easily move back to:

“…it’s quite nice out there where they’ve taken refuge: high summer, archetypal English landscapes – the sort of rural loveliness a lot of counter-cultural people wanted in the 1970s, and which made them leave the cities, to try to find more mellow and fulfilled lives in Gloucestershire or Wales.”

In their conversation Beckett and Luckhurst consider how the attack on technology in The Changes echoes the attacks made on the new automated looms and the resultant crisis in mill labour in the 1810s and the ways in which such things connect with and reflect the turmoil of the 1970s in the West:

“…all of this evokes the end of the long postwar boom… the oil crisis and a sense of impending disaster, and it appears in popular culture in strange places… those anxieties billow out into popular culture, but it’s clearly there in children’s literature and TV too.”

They draw comparisons between the mid-1970s and the state of flux which British society is in and today where after the stability of the Major and Blair years – approximately the early 1990s until the current economic crisis began around 2007 –  it is now hard to predict the future and we are living in a time of uncertainty.

Because of this they propose that the worries, catastrophes and England on the edge of disaster of the likes of The Changes, The Survivors (1975-1977) and the final Quatermass series (1979), alongside the spectral, supernatural unearthings of The Stone Tape (1972) and also loosely related unsettled pastoral work, such as the triumvirate of folk horror films that includes Witchfinder General (1968), Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and The Wicker Man (1973), fit our era much better than they might have done ten years ago:

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

In this sense their theories connect with author and academic Robert Macfarlane’s comment in his article “The Eeriness of the English Countryside” that the current interest in the darker, eerie side of the landscape and pastoralism in culture may well be:

“..an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. The supernatural and paranormal have always been means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression. Contemporary anxieties and dissents are here being reassembled and re-presented as spectres, shadows or monsters…”

The interconnected nature of such work, both the original programmes and films and more contemporary writing, publications etc which have been inspired by them, is also reflected by the above observation by Robert Macfarlane  being quoted by Texte und Töne editor Sukhdev Sandhu in his introductory text for an edition of The Edge is Where The Centre Is, a publication also released by Texte und Töne which focused on the preternatural pastoral television drama Penda’s Fen (1974.)

Continued in Part 2 of this post (which depending on when you’re reading this post may not yet be viewable).

 

Elsewhere:

  1. Texte und Töne’s site.
  2. The Changes at the BFI.
  3. The Changes DVD release.

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Day #15/365. The Twilight Language Of Nigel Kneale
  2. Penda’s Fen and The Edge Is Where The Centre Is – Explorations of the Occult, Otherly and Hidden Landscape: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 2/52
  3. David Peace, Texte und Töne, The Stink Still Here and Spectres from Transitional Times – Part 1: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 16/52
  4. David Peace, Texte und Töne, The Stink Still Here and Spectres from Transitional Times – Part 2: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 17/52
  5. Robin Redbreast, The Ash Tree, Sky, The Changes, Penda’s Fen, Red Shift and The Owl Service – Wanderings Through Spectral Television Landscapes: Chapter 11 Book Images
  6. The Changes / The Disruption – Notes on a Flipside of the Pastoral Conversation – Part 2: Wanderings 5/52
    (Please note: depending on when you’re reading this post, Part 2 may not yet be viewable.)

 

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Margaret Elliot’s The Corn Dolly and an Otherly Layering as the Years Pass: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 51/52

The Corn Dolly-Margaret Elliot-Colin Dunbar-book-1976-folklore

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.)

The Corn Dolly-Margaret Elliot-Colin Dunbar-book-1976-folklore-3 copy

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 Corn Dolly-Margaret Elliot-Colin Dunbar-book-1976-folklore-2

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:

“Corn Dolly:
“‘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.)

 

Elsewhere:
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

 

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From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, Wintersongs, Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails – Lullabies for the Land and Gently Darkened Undercurrents: Chapter 49 Book Images

Virgina-Astley-From-Gardens-Where-We-Feel-Secure-vinyl-Rough-Trade-A-Year-In-The-Country-2b-CD front and back

“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.”

Rob Young-Electric Eden-book covers-1st edition-2nd edition-US edition

“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.”

Virgina Astley-From Gardens Where We Feel Secure-vinyl-Rough Trade-A Year In The Country 4

“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.”

Virgina Astley-From Gardens Where We Feel Secure-vinyl-Rough Trade-A Year In The Country

“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.”

Plinth-Wintersongs

“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.”

Sharron Kraus-Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails-Second Language Music-A Year In The Country Sharron Kraus-Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails-Second Language Music-A Year In The Country 4

“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…”

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“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.”

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“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.

 

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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

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“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.”

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“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.”

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“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).”

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“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).”

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“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.”

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“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.”