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Symptoms and Images – Hauntological Begetters, the Uneasy Landscape and Gothic Bucolia: Chapter 33 Book Images


BFI-Flipside-requiem_for_a_village-film stillBeat Girl-BFI Flipside-Christopher Lee-Gillian Hills

“The British Film Institute’s Flipside strand of DVD/Blu-ray releases and cinema events began in 2009.
Its intention is said to chart “the untold history of British film” and it has taken in a wide variety of the fringes of film and cinematic work which for various reasons has fallen outside the critically accepted and/ or acknowledged canon of cinema.

The DVD/Blu-ray releases have included what could be considered subterranean, exotica or mondo cinema, forgotten or lost film, arthouse and odd b-movies and occasional strands of unsettled or otherly pastoralism.

These cinematic outcasts have been sympathetically restored and released with extended extras and notes.”

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“In 2016 the 1974 José Ramón Larraz film Symptoms was released as part of the Flipside strand of films.

As a brief precis of the film’s history and plot, it was produced in 1973, came out in 1974, received a fair amount of critical attention and praise and then largely disappeared for the best part of forty years, apart from via privately circulated bootleg copies.

It is the tale of two young women who go for a break in a large rurally located house, wherein one of their mental states begins to splinter and fracture.”

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“In a Record Collector magazine review from 2016 it was described as “…gothic-bucolic… the sort of thing that begat hauntology and Peter Strickland…”, ending on “…it’s a revelation”.

The phrase gothic-bucolic connects with certain aspects of A Year In The Country wanderings, particularly in terms of views of the landscape that deal with an unsettled flipside or subterranean, darker-hued bucolia.”

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“Peter Strickland does not appear to mention the film in any interviews, nor lists it as one of the films that he noted as having fed into, influenced or were an inspiration for his 2014 film The Duke of Burgundy.

However, in many ways Symptoms appears connected with that film, seeming to be in part an unintended companion or sister piece.

The setting and setup is not all that dissimilar from The Duke of Burgundy; two women living in a relatively isolated rurally-set grand house that is decorated in a slightly faded, possibly slightly aristocratic or upper class, decadent or luxuriant manner and a depiction of the increasing tensions and dysfunctions of their relationship.”

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“While the sense of connection and even sisterhood is increased by Angela Pleasance, who plays the lead in Symptoms and who bears a degree of physiognomic similarity to Chiara D’Anna who plays one of the main characters in The Duke Of Burgundy.”

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“Symptoms also brings to mind the work of fashion photographer Deborah Turbeville and the use in her photographs of crumbling textures, decaying glamour and grandeur, alongside a certain shared languor to its characters and the use in both of edge of rural isolation settings.”

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“…in Symptoms there is an underlying sense of dread, the viewer can at points or to a degree relax, sink into and enjoy its views of nature and escape. Such elements are very much part of the film’s enclosed, self-contained, claustrophobic world which is all overhanging branches and wooded enclosure rather than wide-open spaces.

Here and there light may break through the trees but it seems to only just be breaking through, to be almost battling or momentary.

And while the viewer can appreciate the natural beauty the film contains, it also instills a sense of “never has the British countryside been so quiet and calm and yet so unnourishing.””

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“Symptoms shares a number of similarities with its almost cinematic period contemporary Images, a Robert Altman film from 1972: in both films the main female protagonists undergo extreme mental disturbance with somewhat deadly results, while living in largely isolated rurally based homes.

However, whereas Symptoms has a more subtly fractured dreamlike quality in the way it expresses such things and atmospheres, Images has a more overt, ongoing literal and graphic expression of those disturbances.”

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“As with Symptoms it is a study of the fracturing of a mind in an isolated rural setting, amongst a landscape that should contain bucolic ease, escape and rest but that underlyingly could be seen to represent and capture a sense of 1970s psychic malaise.

In part that may be because despite the rural setting, both films have an understated murky, subdued colour palette, which as previously mentioned, seems to have been prevalent around the time of their making.”

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“Also, within both films the interior scenes of the country houses are claustrophobic, confined, dark spaces, seemingly worlds unto themselves, decorated in what could be described as a gothic, bohemian, Hammer Horror mansion bric-a-brac style.”


Online images to accompany Chapter 33 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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