Monday, 17 October 2016

Fear and A Field In England, part two

(Yeah, I know I wrote part one about 37 years ago...)

When I was a kid, I suffered from asthma and bronchitis.  Memories of carefree Summers eating Dalek Death Ray ice lollies and cycling up and down the road on Dobbin, my little gold bike, are frequently interrupted by less palatable recollections.  Those of damp Winters lying in my parents’ bed, short of breath and feverish, being fed spoonfuls of foul-tasting Tedril, a thick yellow medicine that looked a lot like the stuff it was supposed to help me stop coughing up.

My high temperatures led to hallucinations.  Some were innocuous – like reaching out for a non-existent glass of orange juice - but others seemed malevolent.  There was one I remember vividly to this day in which a rotating globe was floating above the foot of the bed.  There were numerical figures all around it, like a dial, and I lay there watching it move in terror as I knew that when a point on the globe met with the number 99, it signified my imminent death.  I probably didn’t think it in those actual words, as I was only 8.  But I knew I was about to die.  In a panic, I called out for Mum and as she calmed me down with her lovely soothing manner the globe went away, but what sticks with me is that I had been awake throughout, not dreaming, and that it could seem so very real, so tangible.

It’s perhaps partly for this reason that (other than a few brief encounters with my college pal’s supply of Red Leb, which didn’t really work for me) I’ve never had any desire to indulge in mind-altering substances. I'm not sure I want to unleash anything else from my darker imagination.

There were plenty of opportunities though.  Behind my college were fields and woods where magic mushrooms grew.  Ray, the best looking lad in my Foundation Art group, ate a load of them before an Art History lecture and laughed all the way through the Pre-Raphaelites.  He left the course soon after, or was he chucked out?  I don’t know, but he went on to play drums for a band fronted by his extrovert brother who, it was reported, would deliberately strip naked before opening the door to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Anyway, what I’m getting to in a very long-winded way is the film that’s based all around one big magic mushroom trip: A Field In England. 

Or is it?  If you've seen the film, do you think it’s all a hallucination, or subscribe to one idea that the field represents Purgatory and that they’re all dead already?  Or something else altogether?  Did you think it was a masterpiece of surrealist black and white cinematography, or a load of pretentious old bollocks?

Looking through reviews of the film on IMDb, there are some very varied opinions, such as:

‘tedious hype’

‘wow, just wow’

‘a dull plot in England’

‘subversive and fresh’

In case you haven’t seen the film but want to, I won’t say any more except that in an interview with Dangerous Minds, director Ben Wheatley said he thinks “there’s too much reliance and importance put on clarity of narrative and that everything is explained all the time….  Script books seem to me to be written in a way that it’s like stories written by accountants – everything has to have its place, everything has to mean something, it’s very specific, there should be no ambiguity about what something means.”   He continues “… life is not like that, it’s much more complex and ambiguous and difficult, and that interests me more”.  Maybe it's best to bear that in mind before you start viewing.

I didn’t, and I wish I had - but I liked it.  I was immediately reeled in by the dialogue and the imagery, and loved the characterizations and earthy humour; however as this isn’t a film with an easy, coherent storyline it took a little while before I realised that I needed to just let go and let its madness take over.  Then it started to feel like I was watching someone else’s dream - or hallucination. It was only after a few  hours of it finishing that I found myself thinking about it more and more, like some kind of strange creeping infatuation, and for a while I became mildly obsessed by it.

There's one scene in particular that sticks in my mind as vividly as the taste of Tedril and my imaginary rotating death globe.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll know which one it is.   A huge part of its haunting, compellingly abstract power is due to the choice of music behind it, lush, dark, hypnotically cyclical.  This is it (not the scene, I wouldn’t spoil it for you, but the music alone).  It just works so well and every time I hear it now I can see Reece Shearsmith as he.... well....

Blanck Mass is Benjamin John Power, who I'm reliably informed is one of the founding members of Fuck Buttons.

I've also been reliably informed that it sounds a lot like Tangerine Dream’s Mysterious Semblance At the Strand of Nightmares.  That title does kind of sum up the film itself pretty well too.


Trivia note:  I was introduced to one of the very fine actors from this film at my friend’s funeral earlier this year, a lovely man.  It was quite strange to then watch him playing this part having met him for real a few weeks beforehand .   But I must say, I really hadn’t expected to be seeing his character's syphilitic penis ;-)


  1. Haven't seen this film but what you have written about it reminds me very much of the French film Holy Motors with Denis Lavant - I saw it a few years ago with friends and most of them thought it was awful as they couldn't work out what it was "about" but like you with this one, the point was just to let the madness take over and enjoy the weirdness of it all. Like you I became a little obsessed!

    1. I'm intrigued - and must now go and find out more about the film you mention! There's definitely something about the attitude you have when you watch a film which can affect the experience I think - much like viewing art, a lot depends on just being open-minded.
      I'm quite looking forward to watching this one again now that more time has passed, and seeing what I pick up on that I may have missed before.

  2. Remind me to tell you about my 'Lost Weekend' in Amsterdam sometime.

  3. Hi C,
    It was great hearing from you.

    The asthma and bronchitis must have severely cramped your style as a child, and I know I would have completely freaked out if I`d experienced your terrifying hallucinations. It`s no wonder you can link it to A Field in England. (I`ll have to track down that film.)

    In the '80s, I suffered a loss which sent my immune system plummeting. A bad bout of bronchitis developed, which lasted for at least six weeks.

    During that time, I had a job interview scheduled and like a fool actually turned up for it. Between coughing fits (with the interviewer leaning further and further back in her chair), I was able to respond to a few questions, but obviously that was the last I heard from her. (Such a doodle, I am!)

    P.S. Recent links are back up for listening.

    1. Hi Marie, lovely to see you again too.
      I sympathise very much with the horrendous bronchitis episode you mention, aargh, sounds awful. Last time I had it, several years ago and only because I'd already been laid low with a debilitating strain of 'flu, I found it absolutely exhausting. But thankfully no hallucinations. And no interviews to attend!
      I'll pop over to VS shortly to try the links again, thanks.

  4. It's a wonderful film in my opinion - and one of the best bulletins from Wyrd Britannia we've had in a long time. I pine for the days when this kind of thing cropped up more routinely - like many others of our generation, I suspect.

    At the start, the characters step out of the madness of civil war and into a kind of parallel dimension, with it's own internal (il)logic. However disturbing a trip it may be, part of me wishes I could do the same - not least when I look at all the bullshit going on in contemporary British society.

    1. Hi Hugh, yes I think I know what you mean, that parallel dimension/world idea is one I think about too - to be able to step out of the madness of this one and into an alternative. I suppose we have it in our heads, and if we have enough alone time we can indulge it now and then. In a way that's how the film felt to me, like I was in someone else's head/dream. I'm looking forward to watching it again.

  5. Thanks for highlighting this film, C. Instigated by your post, I now intend to watch it.

    1. Thanks John, I get the feeling from what I've read on your blog that you probably would like it, but I'd be interested to know. Hope you do anyway!


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