Fractures

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Fractures is the latest musical anthology from A Year In The Country, and having been listening to an advance copy for the past couple of weeks I can say it’s as fine a collection as the label’s previous opus, The Quietened Village. The latter album encouraged a variety of artists to create pieces around the theme of lost or abandoned villages; the theme for Fractures fixates on a year rather than a location:

Fractures is a gathering of studies and explorations that take as their starting point the year 1973; a time when there appeared to be a schism in the fabric of things, a period of political, social, economic and industrial turmoil, when 1960s utopian ideals seemed to corrupt and turn inwards. […] Fractures is a reflection on reverberations from those disquieted times, taking as its initial reference points a selected number of conspicuous junctures and signifiers: Delia Derbyshire leaving The BBC/The Radiophonic Workshop and reflecting later that around then “the world went out of time with itself”. Electricity blackouts in the UK and the three day week declared. The Wicker Man released. The Changes recorded but remained unreleased. The Unofficial Countryside published. The Spirit Of Dark And Lonely Water released.

Track list:
1) The Osmic Projector/Vapors of Valtorr – Circle/Temple
2) The Land Of Green Ginger – Sproatly Smith
3) Seeing The Invisible – Keith Seatman
4) Triangular Shift – Listening Center
5) An Unearthly Decade – The British Space Group
6) A Fracture In The Forest – The Hare And The Moon ft Alaska/Michael Begg
7) Elastic Refraction – Time Attendant
8) Ratio (Sequence) – The Rowan Amber Mill
9) The Perfect Place For An Accident – Polypores
10) A Candle For Christmas/311219733 – A Year In The Country
11) Eldfell – David Colohan

This isn’t the first time a year has been isolated as a basis for a musical anthology but prior examples such as Jon Savage’s Meridian 1970 are invariably concerned with the musical scene alone. Fractures is different for trying to seize the essence of the year itself even if a number of the musicians involved may not have been alive in 1973.

The year has a resonance for me that I recounted in the memorial post for David Bowie. That summer was significant (and therefore memorable) for being warm, carefree and positioned between the end of junior school and the beginning of secondary school. The years after those few weeks were increasingly bad on a personal level so 1973 for me spells “fracture” in more ways than one. None of this can be communicated by Fractures, of course, the contents of which have more of a cultural focus: A Fracture In The Forest by The Hare And The Moon sets readings from Arthur Machen to music, while The Land Of Green Ginger by Sproatly Smith draws in part upon a TV film of the same name that was broadcast in the BBC’s Play For Today strand. As those Plays For Today recede in time they seem increasingly like a dream of Britain in the 1970s, reflecting back in a concentrated form much more of the nation’s inner life than you get from today’s Americanised fare. Another Play For Today, Penda’s Fen, was being filmed in the fields of England in the summer of 1973 so we can add the crack in the church floor to the catalogue of fractures. (And for an additional musical entry, I’d note the astonishing Fracture by King Crimson, not released until 1974 but most of the track was a live recording from Amsterdam in November of the previous year.)

Fractures is available from the usual sources such as Bandcamp but hard copies are also being distributed via the Ghost Box Guest Shop.

Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies

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The particularly British sub-genre of folk horror receives a substantial examination in Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies, a 500-page collection of essays, interviews and artwork edited by Andy Paciorek.

Featuring essays and interviews by many great cinematic, musical, artistic and literary talents, Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies is the most comprehensive and engaging exploration to date of the sub-genre of Folk Horror and associated fields in cinema, television, music, art, culture and folklore.

Includes contributions by Kim Newman, Robin Hardy, Thomas Ligotti, Philip Pullman, Gary Lachman and many many more.

100% of all profits from sales of the book will be charitably donated to environmental, wildlife and community projects undertaken by The Wildlife Trusts.

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Nuada rising, 1973 & 1976.

Among the contents there’s my 4000-word essay Sacred Demons: The Dramatic Art of David Rudkin, parts of which will be familiar to readers of my previous posts about Rudkin’s work. I’m not sure Rudkin would appreciate being subjected to such a narrow focus when his plays and TV films are much more personal and cerebral than most generic entertainments. But there is an intersection in a number of them with folk horror at its widest reach, and Rudkin did happen to adapt The Ash-Tree (1975) by MR James for the BBC’s series of ghost stories at Christmas. My piece covers this along with other TV films such as Penda’s Fen (1974) and Artemis 81 (1981), and many of the stage plays including Afore Night Come (1962), The Sons of Light (1965/76) and The Saxon Shore (1983). The stage plays I only know from their scripts which makes them difficult to appraise; maybe the renewed interest in Rudkin’s work will spur some revivals.

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Sight and Sound, August 2010. Illustration by Becca Thorne.

Paciorek’s book isn’t solely concerned with British subjects, other essays include studies of Weird Americana, the music of The Cremator and Morgiana, and Czech folk horror. The Lulu page apparently didn’t allow the listing of a full table of contents so I’m posting the details below.

Continue reading “Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies”

Weekend links 265

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The White House, Washington DC, on the evening of June 26, 2015.

I can remember that after the cops cleared us out of the bar we clustered in Christopher Street around the entrance to the Stonewall. The customers were not being arrested, but a paddy wagon had already hauled off several of the bartenders. Two or three policemen stayed behind, locked inside with the remaining members of staff, waiting for the return of the paddy wagon. During that interval someone in the defiant crowd outside called out “Gay Power”, which caused us all to laugh. The notion that gays might become militant after the manner of blacks seemed amusing for two reasons—first because we gay men were used to thinking of ourselves as too effeminate to protest anything, and second because most of us did not consider ourselves to be a legitimate minority.

At that time we perceived ourselves as separate individuals at odds with society because we were “sick” (the medical model), “sinful” (the religious model), “deviant” (the sociological model) or “criminal” (the legal model). Some of these words we might have said lightly, satirically, but no amount of wit could convince us that our grievances should be remedied or our status defended. We might ask for compassion but we could not demand justice. Many gays either were in therapy or felt they should be, and the words gay liberation would have seemed as preposterous to us as neurotic liberation (now, of course, Thomas S. Szasz in the United States, RD Laing in Britain and Felix Guattari on the Continent have, in their different ways, made even that phrase plausible enough).

What I want to stress is that before 1969 only a small (though courageous and articulate) number of gays had much pride in their homosexuality or a conviction that their predilections were legitimate. The rest of us defined our homosexuality in negative terms, and those terms isolated us from one another. We might claim Plato and Michelangelo as homosexuals and revere them for their supposed affinities with us, but we could just as readily dismiss, even despise, a living thinker or artist for being gay. Rich gays may have derived pleasure from their wealth, educated gays from their knowledge, talented gays from their gifts, but few felt anything but regret about their homosexuality as such. To be sure, particular sexual encounters, and especially particular love relationships, were gratifying then as now, but they were explained as happy accidents rather than as expected results.

Edmund White writing on The Political Vocabulary of Homosexuality (1980). Reprinted in The Burning Library: Writings on Art, Politics and Sexuality (1994).

• “…after seeing Don’t Look Now, The Wicker Man looked just so dull and flat. What Don’t Look Now has that The Wicker Man doesn’t is a complete mastery of cinema. Don’t Look Now is almost a silent movie, a brilliant, coherent, original and fantastic film that has an enormous emotional impact.” Bernard Rose emoting at length about Nicolas Roeg. Related: Wild Hearts Run Out Of Time, the Roy Orbison video that Rose mentions directing.

• “The male sex organ is depicted not so much as a body part, but more as a fetish object in its own right—a thing independent of the male body, worthy of intense, delirious veneration.” Jason Farago reviewing Tom of Finland: the Pleasure of Play. Related: Same-sex desire through the ages at the British Museum.

• “Sphinx is a typical love story only in the way that it’s the tale of two people who have fallen in love, and things don’t go smoothly. Beyond that…as reader, you have no idea of the gender of either half of this romantic equation.” Chris Clarke reviewing Sphinx, a novel by Anne Garréta.

• “To give space to the musical elements was really a thrill—how far can you get without using too much stuff?” Moritz von Oswald on “the sounds of emptiness”.

• “The problem is not always Helvetica but that Helvetica is all too often the default, the fall-back, the I-really-can’t-be-arsed choice,” says John Boardley.

• Mix of the week: Shaft’s Old Man: An Imaginary Soul Jazz Soundtrack by Aquarium Drunkard.

• “What is the Cut-Up Method?” Ken Hollings explains in a BBC magazine piece and radio feature.

• Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass, the final TV serial, will be released on Blu-ray next month.

• Relevant to the week’s reading: an archived Italo Calvino site.

Drÿad: a Tumblr.

Sphinx (1989) by Syd Straw | The Sodom And Gomorrah Show (2006) by Pet Shop Boys | Pattern 1 (2009) by Moritz Von Oswald Trio

Summerisle souvenirs

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Presenting the second in what is now a series of travel posters for the fictional regions of Old Weird Britain. In 2012 I created a poster for the village of Milbury from Children of the Stones, a design derived from the London Transport posters of the 1920s promoting destinations outside the city. At the time I had a vague idea of maybe doing more in this style but it’s taken this long to produce something new.

Summerisle is an obvious choice but not necessarily an easy one. The popularity of The Wicker Man means that a small cottage industry of Summerisle souvenirs already exists, most of the products being concerned with the events of May Day 1973. A travel poster would represent a location rather than a single date so that wasn’t a problem, but I also wanted to avoid any Wicker Man silhouettes. The appearance of the Wicker Man at the end of the film is a secret being revealed, it’s not something the islanders would broadcast to the world, hence the concentration here on the village, the manor house and the standing stones. The sole nod to the island’s customs is the group of people lurking behind a wall. Another temptation would be to use the Nuada sun as seen in the film but others have already made use of that so I took a sun face from an old Tarot card.

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As with the Milbury poster, this is now a design available on a range of CafePress products. These are mostly paper goods for the time being; setting up new shops at CafePress becomes increasingly time-consuming as the company adds more yet clothing, phone cases and household goods. Among the new products, however, there’s a stainless steel flask which I wouldn’t usually add but which is perfect for a design promoting a Scottish island. I think I’ll have to order one for myself.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Wicker mania
Milbury souvenirs
Children of the Stones

Afore Night Come by David Rudkin

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RSC programme, 1962.

Not a review, this, you can’t really review a stage play you’ve never seen. Following the re-viewing of David Rudkin’s White Lady I’ve gone back to some of the published plays. If all you know of Rudkin’s work is his television drama, the plays are instructive for showing the consistency of his themes across the years. The recent resurgence of interest in Penda’s Fen and Artemis 81 has seen Rudkin’s work included among that group of film and TV dramas that Rob Young memorably labelled Old Weird Britain (after Greil Marcus and The Old, Weird America), a loose affiliate that would include films such as The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan’s Claw, and television works by Nigel Kneale, Alan Garner (The Owl Service and Red Shift) and the MR James adaptations, one of which, The Ash Tree, was also written by Rudkin.

If the Old Weird Britain lies at an intersection between different dramatic forms—ghost story, horror story, science fiction, historical drama—then not all of Rudkin’s work would fall into the intersection, but two of the plays—The Sons of Light and his first staged work, Afore Night Come—could be coaxed into the charmed circle: The Sons of Light, with its sinister human experiments taking place underground, has ties to Artemis 81, while Afore Night Come is another piece about (intentional or otherwise) human sacrifice in rural England. I hadn’t read Afore Night Come until last week, and was struck by its similarity to John Bowen’s Robin Redbreast (1970), a more deliberately ritualistic piece of work. In its first act Afore Night Come is an almost documentary-like account of a day in the life of workers hired to pick the pear harvest in an orchard outside Birmingham; the eruption of violence in the second act is certainly foreshadowed but seems less premeditated than in Robin Redbreast, a factor which has apparently shocked many audiences. During its performances in the early 1960s the tendency was to see the play in the light of Harold Pinter and Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, it’s only in retrospect that a connection with more generic works emerges. There’s also a connection to White Lady via the pesticide spraying about which the workers are continually warned, and whose advent coincides with the moments of violence.

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Sight and Sound, August 2010. Illustration by Becca Thorne.

A couple of other things are worth noting: until 1968 all the plays performed in Britain were vetted by the Lord Chamberlain’s office who would routinely strike out any material deemed offensive or irreligious. Knowing this I was surprised by the recurrence of the word “fuck” in Rudkin’s script, and also the hint of same-sex attraction between two of the male characters, a detail that would usually have been removed. It seems that plays pre-1968 could be performed without censorship if the theatre was declared to be a private club for the evening (a similar state of affairs helped evade some film censorship) which is what happened with Afore Night Come in 1962. Given this, and the incident of a decapitated head being rolled across a London stage (probably the first since the Jacobeans, says Rudkin), it’s easy to see why audiences at the time might have felt assaulted, although the play still won the Evening Standard Drama Award that year. Sexual ambiguity/ambivalence or outright homosexuality have been a continual thread in Rudkin’s drama yet he’s seldom been given much credit for this pioneering work. A year after Afore Night Come there was Rudkin’s first play for television, The Stone Dance, a piece which sounds like another potential addition to the works in the Old, Weird Britain catalogue. Rudkin describes it thus:

A Revivalist pastor pitches his crusade tent within a Cornish stone circle. His repressed son becomes sexually obsessed with an outward-going local boy, and suffers a hysterical loss of speech. A storm blows the pastor’s tent away, and amid the stones, their primal purity reasserted, by the boy’s accepting touch the son is healed.

I believe that, prior to this, no tv play had overtly treated homosexual emotions as a central theme. (In Britain at this time, any gay sex could incur a prison sentence of up to two years.)

Many of the TV plays from the 1960s are now lost so there’s no guarantee that we’ll ever see this, a shame considering that Michael Hordern and John Hurt were the leads. No guarantee either that we’ll see any staging of the more interesting plays like The Sons of Light and The Triumph of Death which seem to be too eccentric for theatre directors. The scripts can at least be picked up relatively cheaply. To date there’s only Afore Night Come that seems to be revived with any regularity. Michael Billington, a long-time champion of Rudkin, reviews the Young Vic production from 2001 here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
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
David Rudkin on Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr