PlacePrints by David Rudkin

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Hidden voices and haunted landscapes are conjured up in ten unique stories from the imagination of visionary writer David Rudkin. Join a stellar cast including Juliet Stevenson, Toby Jones, Josie Lawrence, Michael Pennington and Stephen Rea, among many others on an enlightening journey across the British Isles with this dramatic audio cycle that will transform your sense of the landscape around you.

PlacePrints is the umbrella title for ten new audio plays by David Rudkin, a series directed by Jack McNamara for the New Perspectives theatre company. The series has been freely available online for over a year but only came to my attention last month. One of the pleasures of recent years has been seeing David Rudkin’s dramas being reappraised after many years of neglect, although interviews suggest the writer has ambivalent feelings about the concentration on the gaudier, generic elements of his surviving TV plays. In The Edge Is Where The Centre Is, a book by Texte und Töne about Penda’s Fen, Rudkin is determined to frame the film as a political work when most of the reaction to it over the past decade has been to label it “folk horror”. I can’t complain too much when I’ve been partly responsible for giving it the horror label in the first place, having written (at the request of one of the editors) a short review of the film for Horror: the Definitive Guide to the Cinema of Fear (2006), and later contributing a lengthy piece about Rudkin’s stage and TV dramas to Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies (2015). In my defence, the latter was intended to draw attention to Rudkin’s work as a whole, and you have to start somewhere. In 2006 Penda’s Fen and Artemis 81 were mysteries to most people, not horror enough for the MR James obsessives, or, in the case of Artemis 81, too weird for the science-fiction crowd; both of them were also unavailable in any form. Grant Morrison was the only person I’d met who not only knew who Rudkin was but had read the available playscripts. Some of Rudkin’s works may touch on generic horror or science fiction but even his adaptation for the BBC of The Ash-Tree by MR James can be grouped with his own dramas via its themes of religious conflict and the presence of history in the landscape. He also changes Mothersole’s warning from James’s “There will be guests at the hall!” to the pithier “Mine shall inherit!”, a threat delivered with a playwright’s economy, and a declaration whose reference to inheritance connects the film to a persistent Rudkin theme, the legacies of people, place and history.

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All of which makes the existence of the PlacePrints dramas very welcome indeed. For the most part, these are closer to Rudkin’s theatrical works than his TV films, being a collection of lone voices engaging repeatedly with the legacies of people, place and history: a British Celt watching the invading Roman army build one of their roads across the Warwickshire fields (River, Of Course); a close description of a walk along an ancient pathway in Cornwall (Nemeton): the scathing voice of an earthwork following the clumsy searches of an aged academic (Grim’s Ditch); a young student slipping in and out of visions of life in Suffolk 30,000 years ago (Cave Girl/The Stone Age). The series features an impressive range of acting talent, especially Juliet Stevenson in Grim’s Ditch, and Frances Tomelty as an elemental spirit haunting the waters of Lough Fea in To the Waters and the Wild. Sympathetic sound design and music by Adam McCready adds a hint of location atmosphere and dramatic texture without ever being obtrusive. Each piece is preceded by an authorial introduction, one of which suggests that Rudkin may not be too displeased about being tagged with the horror label when he describes Grim’s Ditch as being a contemporary equivalent of an MR James warning to unwary academics. The episode has its share of uncanny moments, with Toby Jones as the professor receiving a lesson from the landscape that he won’t forget. The final recording is an interview with David Rudkin by Gareth Evans, one of the interviewers and contributors to The Edge Is Where The Centre Is.

There’s a further parallel in some of these pieces with chapters from Voice of the Fire by Alan Moore, a novel that also deals with (among other things) ancient Britain, the Roman invasion and the patterns of history. Fitting, then, that New Perspectives have produced the audio version of Voice of the Fire with the same director and sound designer, and with Toby Jones returning as one of the characters. I generally prefer to read books rather than to hear them read but I’m looking forward to listening to this one as well. (Thanks to Jay for the tip!)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Voice of the Fire
Penda Reborn
Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies
The Edge Is Where The Centre Is
Afore Night Come by David Rudkin
White Lady by David Rudkin
Penda’s Fen by David Rudkin
David Rudkin on Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr

The Edge Is Where The Centre Is

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Design by Rob Carmichael.

“I am afflicted by images, by things that are seen, pictures of things. They are extraordinary, momentary, but they stay with me.” (David Rudkin, 1964)

“The pattern under the plough, the occult history of Albion – the British Dreamtime – lies waiting to be discovered by anyone with the right mental equipment.” (Rob Young, Electric Eden)

Penda’s Fen, written by David Rudkin and directed by Alan Clarke, is one of the key films in the pantheon of what has been called The Old Weird Albion. A radical archaeology of Deep England, a work of dark pastoral, a praise-song to anarchistic transformation, as militant a rejection of imperial identity as Lindsay Anderson’s If…, it culminates with perhaps the most euphoric revelation in British cinema: “My race is mixed. My sex is mixed. I am woman and man, light with darkness, nothing pure!”

The Edge Is Where The Centre Is, the first book devoted to this visionary and never-commercially-released film, has at its heart a rare and far-ranging interview with Rudkin (b. 1936), a writer who for more than fifty years has, in the words of Gareth Evans, “charted a vast topology of viscerally-realised primary narratives for our troubled times”. It also features new essays by its editors — Gareth Evans, William Fowler and Sukhdev Sandhu – that explore the film’s status as a radical horror film, an experimental topography, a work that anticipates subsequent political debates about Englishness. (more)

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What could be more essential than a book (and poster) devoted to my No. 1 Cult Thing Of All Time? My copies are already on order. Even better, this is a publication from the same team—editor and designer—that produced The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale last year, a celebration of another British television dramatist that sent me on a full-scale re-viewing of Kneale’s major works.

There’s no need to enthuse about Penda’s Fen when I did all that four years ago but there’s a couple of points worth making in the light of this publication. The first is that it’s surprising that a wider reappraisal of Rudkin and Clarke’s film has lagged behind the resurrection of so many other British TV dramas, especially those that deal with rural horror, those that share a mythic resonance or impart an atmosphere of dread. Surprising because almost all the recent resurrections—the BBC ghost films (one of which was written by Rudkin), Robin Redbreast, The Children of the Stones, etc.—are primarily entertainments with little subtextual meat on their bones. That’s not to say that a subtext can’t be found if you apply the usual academic tools but Alan Garner’s adaptation of Red Shift is one of the few films of this school that has much going on under the surface.

Penda’s Fen doesn’t need a subtext when so much of its polemic is out in the open. It’s one of the most interesting of these films in being so directly political on several levels at once, even when it’s also being directly metaphysical: a call for disobedience and nonconformity on a sexual as well as a social level that (unlike Ken Loach et al) manages to generate a succession of indelible images.

This leads to the second point, the comparison made above to Lindsay’s Anderson’s If…. The similarity between the two films has always been unavoidable for me when If…. is another film that sits at the top of the cult list (see this post). Both films share a rejection of school and society, and also share an approach to sexuality that was very unusual for the late 60s/early 70s. The difference between the two films lies in their conclusions: If…. ends with riot and massacre, and while this may be a cathartic moment Lindsay Anderson wrote in the published script: “It doesn’t look to me as though Mick can win. The world rallies as it always will, and brings its overwhelming firepower to bear on the man who says ‘No.'” By contrast, Stephen in Penda’s Fen defeats his mental demons. If the final shot is of him walking down the hill into darkness we can at least feel he’s on his way to a better life. “Cherish the flame.”

The Edge Is Where The Centre Is is limited to only 200 copies so if you’d like a copy I’d suggest you place your order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Afore Night Come by David Rudkin
White Lady by David Rudkin
The Horror Fields
Robin Redbreast by John Bowen
Red Shift by Alan Garner
Children of the Stones
Penda’s Fen by David Rudkin
If….
David Rudkin on Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr

Weekend links 232

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Forget Me Not (no date) by Caitlin Hackett.

• Halloween brings out the articles about weird fiction: “No one would now write of [HP Lovecraft] as the critic Edmund Wilson did, in the New Yorker in 1945: ‘The only real horror in most of these fictions is the horror of bad taste and bad art.’ The true horror was in fact that of judging Lovecraft by the standards of a defunct literary culture,” says John Gray. At The Atlantic there’s Jeff VanderMeer on the uncanny power of weird fiction, while Matt Seidel at The Millions explores the mysteries and attractions of Robert Aickman’s “strange stories”.

The Witching Hour is a video essay by Pam Grossman “examining the many different faces of witches in film”. Pam’s video opens with a scene from Suspiria; over at FACT, Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti talks about the creation of Suspiria‘s peerless soundtrack.

• David Rudkin and Alan Clarke’s uncanny television film, Penda’s Fen, is given a 40th anniversary screening later this month at the Horse Hospital, London. For those who can’t attend (and those who haven’t already read it) there’s my post from 2010.

Nabokov sees each day’s weather as a palette: “The weather this morning was soso: dullish, but warm, a boiled milk sky, with skin – but if you pushed it aside with a teaspoon, the sun was really nice, so I wore my white trousers”. He listens carefully to the sound of the rain, which his letters brilliantly orchestrate. He provides fantastic descriptions of puddles, some of which contain shifts in perspective reminiscent of the nearly cinematic transitions found in the novel he would write shortly afterwards, King, Queen, Knave:

“I looked out of the window and saw: a red-haired housepainter caught a mouse in his wheelbarrow and killed it with the stroke of a brush, then he tossed it in a puddle. The puddle reflected the dark-blue sky, quick black upsilons (reflections of swallows flying high) and the knees of a squatting child, who was attentively studying the little grey round corpse.”

Eric Naiman on Vladimir Nabokov’s Letters to Véra

• Occult rock: Peter Bebergal talks to Expanding Minds about his new book, Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll. There’s an hour-long film of Black Sabbath saving rock and roll in Paris, 1970, here.

• Mixes of the week: Burning The Existence, “a three-hour sonic exploration of the outer fringes of Goth”, and a horror soundtrack mix by Death Waltz.

• “‘Capital loathes the old,’ [Gareth] Evans said, ‘for anchoring us in the reality of the lived.'” Iain Sinclair on London’s lost cinemas.

Desirina Boskovich, co-editor of the Steampunk Users Manual, offers “7 Reasons Why Steampunk Is Totally ‘Now'”.

• Penguin has new collage covers by Julian House for The Cut-Up Trilogy by William Burroughs.

Hear a homemade synthesizer turn weather into music.

• Grotesque doodles by William Makepeace Thackeray.

full fathom five is Thom’s new blog.

Weird Dream (1976) by Harmonia 76 | Weird Caravan (1980) by Klaus Schulze | Weird Gear (1991) by Ultramarine