Saturday 13 April 2019

Crack the whip

I’ve walked up this pathway a thousand times, I’ve photographed the trees before: their mistletoe baubles, pollarded boughs, the shards of trunks struck by lightning – I’ve even shared them on these pages.  But every time I walk this way I swear I see something different.  Once it seemed to be a ghostly shape emerging from the mist.  Another time, a leaf was magically suspended in mid-air, twirling and spinning for ages without visible means of support until I realised it must be hanging from the finest thread of spider’s silk.  This is the place just to observe and when you do, you simply never know what you’ll find.

And that’s how, as I walked up there a couple of days ago, I came across the devil.
Although distant, he caught my eye immediately.  Why haven’t I seen him here before?  I can only assume he is also a shape-shifter, his form ever changing as the wind and the rain and the sun sculpt his features each week, each month.  But the moment I saw him, I recognized him, from this:

19th Century illustration

Well, actually, more from this:

My photo below doesn’t do him justice but, believe me, he had perfect white eyes, small dark horns and the bulbous hindquarters of the Sabbatic goat.  And then there's that whip - the way he was wielding that whip!

I walked around him very cautiously, and came home with my soul intact.  Dare I go up there again tomorrow and see what has become of him, though?  Perhaps by then he will have changed form once more, and all I’ll find is benign old broken tree stump sprouting a long, thin branch.

Bauhaus: Lagartija Nick

Tuesday 2 April 2019

The answer is in the soil

I loved it so much I tuned in to i-Player and watched it all the way through twice in less than a week, and now I’ve ordered the DVD too.  If that isn’t a reason to pull on my patent lace-up blogging boots and finally write something here again then I don’t know what is.  

It’s the film Arcadia.  Did you see it?  I missed it on BBC Four when it aired a few weeks ago but thanks to the spot-on recommendation from a good friend who has the measure of my tastes, I turned out the lights, settled back into my chair at my desk under the stairs (the suitably quirky and shadowy cubbyhole from which these posts emanate) and treated myself to it on my PC.  By the eerie blue glow of the modem I let it take me into its part-dream, part-real landscape – one inhabited by the monochrome ghosts of our distant past and the colourful eccentrics of our more recent one,  a place that could only be Britain.  Oh I loved it.  It’s so far up my street it’s in the front door and helping itself to tea and biscuits. 

I didn’t really know what to expect; none of the reviews I’d read beforehand could really give me an accurate insight, and so I realise I probably can't give one here either. Perhaps that’s part of the beauty of this film– its inability to be easily categorized.  I was trying to persuade Mr SDS to watch it with me the second time and found myself struggling to answer his queries.  “What’s it about?”  he asked. I couldn’t explain that one easily.  The British countryside?  Nostalgia?  Nature? The changing seasons?  Life and death?  Folklore?  Any one of those themes would have put him off, and all were too simplistic, so I had to choose my words carefully. 

Arcadia is about all of those things, but in a glorious, eccentric mash-up.  It’s a collage of existing footage, seemingly quite random and yet crafted in such a way as to deliver an unspoken narrative about past, present and future.  It’s arty, but not arty-farty.  And it taps into something that I can imagine only those of us who were brought up in Britain could really, truly get, if you know what I mean.  That could sound worryingly jingoistic; in these horrible times of racism, the rise of the Far Right and Brexit madness I’m almost afraid to mention ‘Britishness’ as a thing – it’s feels almost shameful.  But this film somehow gets to that ‘quintessential’ stuff we all recognise, without passing judgement – an innate identity we can’t help but have because of our experience.  It’s the Britain of BFI Public Information films, Nationwide, maypoles, Alice In Wonderland, foxhunting, the North/South divide, the Wicker Man, Stonehenge, punk.  Mystical, prosaic, carefree, dark, beautiful and brutal -  all these contrasting things and more.  Actually I was quite surprised to find that its creator,the Scottish film-maker Paul Wright, is only 37, because it’d be easy to presume it came from the experience of someone with a few more years under their belt.  (I’m thinking: my age!) I was also put in mind of Julien Temple’s style of montage, which I’ve always enjoyed in his documentary films such as The Filth and The Fury and Oil City Confidential – his characterful way of peppering his work with odd little archive clips.

At least one thing I could tell Mr SDS was that within the first five minutes we'd see some black-and-white footage of the village just up the road from us, where cows were wandering through the deserted main street and where happy-faced women waved to each other across the road from their cottage windows.  Like most of the film, there is something deep and dreamlike in this sense of familiarity now so warped by the passing of time.  There might even be something from your neck of the woods - if you check out this BFI page for it, you can access the sources from which the clips were taken and it's a fascinating selection - I was deeply side-tracked by this later so be warned...

Enhancing it all too is a rather brilliant soundtrack which comes courtesy of Portishead’s Adrian Utley, Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory and folk singer Anne Briggs.

Here's a sample of the music to whet your appetite.

Anyway, what am I doing, taking up your time reading this waffle when you could be watching it?!  There’s only 7 days left on i-Player.  
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