…talking of rural places/buildings where activities/rituals can develop or take place without easy escape to or influence from the outside/normality (see Day #312/365)…
Tam Lin (aka The Devil’s Widow).
Now this is a curious thing. It is a celluloid story sent forth into the world at the end turn of the 1960s, stars a Hollywood legend, was directed by a sometime advanced simian and is a loose modern adaptation of the folkloric tale The Ballad Of Tam Lin, relocated to the country home of an almost mythologically wealthy woman, peopled by various late 60s hipsters, hunks and prepossessing gals of the time (Madeline Smith, Joanna Lumley, Jenny Hanley) and soundtracked by The Pentangle.
(The advanced simian? That would be sometime Planet Of The Apes Caesar Roddy McDowell, apparently the only time he directed – which is something of a shame as upon watching this his work in such areas holds promise.)
“What very forgettable ruins this town will make” (Ava Gardner’s character as they drive through the office blocks of a yellow tinted London).
This is one of the cultural artifacts that is set at the very tipping point of a transitional/liminal period – one where the psychedelic/hippy utopianism/free-living of the 1960s is about to turn inwards and curdle.
In that sense (and others, that I will come to in a moment), it reminds me of Queens Of Evil/Le Regine/Il Delitto del Diavolo (see Day #181/365), which it shares a birth year with – all high baroque dandyism and decadence turning towards something somewhat darker. There is a sense of playful opulence and a mod/post-mod sharpness to the style – compare and contrast that with say the murk, grime and tattyness of Psychomania (see Day #289/365) from just a few years later – but a few years but worlds apart.
(In some ways, films like Tam Lin and Queens of Evil feel not dissimilar to Psychedelic Folkloristic -see Day #36/365 – come to life; that brief point when fashionability turned towards folk/folklore.)
So to the plot; immensely rich older lady – Ava Gardner gathers up hip young things to come and live/play with/amuse her in her country mansion (it seems like a scooping up or pied piper-esque following as she leads a convoy of cars through roads walled by pylons into her country lair); cue child like games (how can a game of frisbee seem so… hmmm… odd), partying, pleasing of the senses, imbibing and living. She has a particular soft spot for one young gent named Tom Lyn – played by a then somewhat winning and dapper Ian McShane – taking him into her bed (and possibly) cold heart. However he falls for an innocent from outside their bubble world – the vicar’s daughter – and tries to escape from the clutches of Ms Gardner, which displeases her somewhat and his life and freedom become somewhat fraught…
And this is a bubble world…
“She is immensely rich. She can afford to live in her dreams and she takes us into them for company.”
…which brings me to other ways in which it reminds me of Queens Of Evil: both have an almost adult fairy tale in the woods quality and both have at their centre point a young attractive male taken in, held in that world and pampered like a well-kept pet.
In both films there is more than a touch of Hansel and Gretelism’s about the way their victims (?) are treated and kept in these remote country/woodland settings… pampered yes but also possibly fattened for the pot…
“I shall waste you and waste you and waste you…”
…and both have a sense of “Do they or they don’t they?” about the female protagonists possession or not of powers beyond the norm. Manipulative or something more (the young hipsters are referred to as “covens” in the credits)? It seems almost that she weaves a spell of possession around her playthings…
Queens Of Evil probably feels more overtly ethereal and unreal in that sense – Tam Lin seems quite rooted in the real world and is in some ways quite a “normal” film but it is a world and celluloid story that is just askew in ways that are hard to quite put your finger on – magical realism is a phrase that wouldn’t be out-of-place.
I think this normality askew is one of the things that makes this a curious tale: it is a heady mix of mainstream talent and decidedly mainstream/non-mainstream film making… and no, the film bears little relation to the tone of its various posters.
In Tam Lin that is heightened by the presence of a Hollywood goddess/legend in the main female role; Ava Gardner here has some kind of innate star/other quality that makes her seem separate, above and from beyond the mere humans that she surrounds herself with.
And they are terribly disposable, these young pretty things, they are their but at her bidding and can be sent away just as easily…
“I want a party for all your special friends. I want a whole new world.”
(As an aside, Stephanie Beecham, who plays the innocent – the vicar’s daughter – seems to be almost the same person as she will be in that other tale of beyond natural and swingers, Dracula AD 1972 but a few years after Tam Lin went forth.)
Returning to the end of an era, Tam Lin seems like a documentation of the end of its point in history’s utopian dream – this is made more implicit when the sacraments of that era, psychedelic substances, are used as a form of weapon, hounding and destruction and also when the freedom loving hipsters become a hunting mass-mind pack.
(I would suggest skipping the next paragraph or two if you should not wish to know more details of the plot.)
Oh and then there’s the high water mark of folk rock connection: the returning music refrain throughout the film is The Ballad Of Tam Lin performed by The Pentangle – which also infuses and intermingles with the more traditional music score… and if you step back and revisit the film you can see just how much the story follows that of its traditional folk song forebear; in both the film and the song a young maiden is drawn to a rake-ish rogue, nature takes its course and the ridding of the child is narrowly averted… the young man has been encaptured by a sort of queen (of wealth in one, of the fairies in the other) and he may well become a tithe to differing hells (capricious whims in one, literal in the other)… upon his escape and his lovers attempted rescue of him he will be turned into various beasts and even burning matter by his captors in order to make her leave him (via psychedelic ingestion in one, I assume magical powers in the other)… his form of transport for his escape bears the same colour – white – in both, though one is powered by a combustion engine, the other by more natural means…
And in the end in both the Queen of Fairies and of wealth are angered by but acknowledge their defeat/his escape – though to be honest in Tam Lin (the film), I wasn’t left with a sense that this particular queen had permanently stepped away from the fray and the young lover’s lives; there is something genuinely unsettling and even subtly psychopathic/unhinged in the goddess/star’s portrayal of the need for control.
And one again returning to the sense of an ending of an era/a dream, In some ways Stephanie Beacham’s innocent is a representative of the normal, decent world outside this coven-ish pack; a dissolute, amoral gathering that must be escaped from.
““Scum! You must treat them as scum!”
I’m surprised in a way that this isn’t a better known film that it is – it seems like a slightly overlooked piece of (sort of) folk-horror from the late 1960s/early 1970s. It’s not an easily classifiable film and has not been made available in a legitimate easily viewable form for home viewing on these shores, which may in part explain that…
Further tales from The Ballad Of Tam Lin here.
A trailer via Filmbar 70 here.
The Pentangle’s accompaniment here.
An official (although overseas) sending forth here.
Day #80/365: Stepping back to The Films Of Old Weird Britain… this particular issue has an article by Sam Dunn reflecting back on the experience of first coming across Tam Lin… view the related article more directly here.