Saturday, December 29, 2012

Neither The Sea Nor The Sand

I recently re-watched Neither the Sea nor the Sand, AKA The Exorcism of Hugh (1972), directed by Fred Burnley and starring Susan Hampshire and Michael Petrovich.  Ostensibly a horror film, it's most definitely a curate's egg.  But I find it strangely beautiful and quite difficult to forget.  And the shots of Jersey's coastline are ruggedly gorgeous.  Online reviews almost universally skew toward the negative, but I tend to agree with this thoughtful write-up at Cine Beats

I was recently searching for some screenshots of the film but couldn't find too many, so I decided to make some of own:

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Weird Wooden Things In Wake Wood

I recently watched Wake Wood for the first time, and I was quite struck by the rough-hewn wooden items used by the villagers.

The rhythm sticks and rattling drums played during the ritualistic processions:

The fascinating abacuses used for some sort of supernatural consultation:

And the devices used to control the revenants and ease their transition back to the beyond:

I enjoyed the tangibility of these seemingly ancient objects imbued with occult power.  And I liked that there was no attempt at explanation of how they might work, leaving it to the viewer's imagination.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mid- to Late 70s Margaret Drabble Penguin book covers, with photography by Chris Yates

A Summer Bird-Cage (1975 reprint) and The Millstone (1977 reprint) are my scans (although I'm aware that they appear elsewhere on the web.  The Ice Age (1979 reprint) is via Keir Hardie (scatterkeir on Flickr) and The Waterfall (exact year of reprint unknown) is via Brickbat Books

I think they make a lovely set.  If anyone knows of any others in the series, please let me know!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

June Book of Strange Stories 1972

This turned up in a junk shop in Galveston, Texas, although it seems, originally, to have been the property of a young girl called Iona from Wales.

The prospect of "strange stories" initially got me pretty excited, but I didn't honestly expect there to be anything penned by, say, Robert Aickman inside the covers.  Just girls' comics, a few games, a few fun facts, all with a slight supernatural bent.

I did quite like this wee feature, though, and I've decided to post it, since it dovetails nicely with the "ancient aliens" theme of my last post:

And of course I'm a sucker for anything referencing female DJs, too.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Suns of Easter Island

Several months after this post at Mounds and Circles piqued my interest, I've finally had the chance to watch Pierre Kast's 1972 metaphysical odyssey The Suns of Easter Island.

The plot is minimal and the pace is glacial.  But the film has that gorgeous 70s patina and atmosphere by the bucketfull, so I was totally on board from the get-go.  (And the electronic soundtrack by Bernard Parmegiani is suitably weird and really quite wonderful.)  Six individuals who've never before met--one in France, the rest in various locations in South America--experience a series of hallucinatory images and awake from them with a strange, translucent circle fused onto their palms.

Some of these folks have deep-seated esoteric interests--the narrator, a solar engineer in France, is also a geomancer and practicing magician; Norma, a Brazilian astronomer studies Aleijadinho's sculptures at Congonhas do Campo in hopes of uncovering their occult meaning; Irenio, an Afro-Brazilian, is a Macumba priest.  Through her research, Norma learns that Aleijadinho's sculptures refer to a unique celestial configuration that is only visible once every 500 years from one specific spot on the globe--Easter Island.  As luck would have it, the next opportunity for viewing the configuration is just a few short days away, so it's clear to Norma that she must get to Easter Island as soon as possible.  The other five individuals (plus one Reichian therapist boyfriend) know they must go, too, but don't seem to know quite why.  The hand of fate brings all of them to Santiago, Chile, where they eventually meet and begin their journey to Easter Island to fulfill some grave purpose they don't yet understand.

But they don't have to wonder for long.  Shortly after their arrival, a visit to a dark cave and a mind-meld with the island's ancient guardian of secrets reveals the meaning of their journey, and each individual's role eventually becomes clear.  I won't bother giving away the rest.  The Mounds and Circles post does it so succinctly and entertainingly, I can only recommend that if you wish to know more.

A reviewer on IMDB associates Kast's film with the ideas of French ancient astronaut theorist (and science fiction author) Robert Charroux, which were very much in vogue at the time.  But despite the discrediting of Charroux's fellow traveler Erich Von Daniken, the ancient astronaut theory lives on.  The History Channel's Ancient Aliens franchise has a whole new generation asking the question: "What were true?"  So even though the film seems dated and new agey, it's not inconceivable that something of its ilk could be made today.  Who knows--maybe Nicolas Cage is looking into a remake as we speak.

I knew from seeing the screenshots that the film would be lovely to look at, but I'm now finding myself truly haunted by its images.  Most specifically by the image of the hexagon, which appears in nearly all of the six, palm-marked strangers' individual and collective hallucinations.  There are dozens of unique, multi-colored hexagons in the film, and all flash only briefly on the screen, but I kept thinking of them (and even dreaming of them) long after the film was over.  I compiled several of them into a couple of composite images.

There has been much analysis of the symbolic/esoteric meaning of the hexagon, particularly from a sacred geometry perspective, but I personally find it a very powerful image.  Even the word "hexagon" seems imbued with a certain power.  It must be the "hex" part.

I have to wonder--could The Suns of Easter Island have been an inspiration for Boards of Canada and the Hexagon Sun artist collective/studio/secret cult?

All I know is that I now feel like I've got an image of a hexagon imprinted on my brain.  Perhaps I should get one tattooed on my palm?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

They found the truth in the flowering tree: "Glastonbury" by People (Deram, 1971)

"Glastonbury" by People, included on the compilation Staircase to Nowhere, Volume 12 in Bam Caruso's Rubble series.  Per the liner notes on the inner sleeve:

"People were essentially a squeaky-clean folk group, but something of [Glastonbury's] atmosphere must have touched them for this flipside, where they suddenly sounded so at ease with ley lines and King Arthur."

(image via 45cat)

A cursory web search has not turned up a way to listen to the A-side, which is entitled "In Ancient Times," presumably a reference to Blake.  When I first noticed the writing credit given to "Oliver" I got excited thinking it might be the same fellow who released the 1974 private press classic, Standing Stone.  But I doubt it.  Seems like both sides of the single would have been appropriate for the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, though, no?  If the powers that be had heard the B-side, they might not have been able to resist those funky breaks.

I-Spy: Trees

"Pagans worshipped the trees because wood was a magical substance, feeding the fires that cooked their food, supplying materials to make weapons and construct shelter."-- Rob Young, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music.

I came upon a large number of undated (possibly 1970s) I-Spy books in a charity shop in England in May, but I left with only one: Trees.

The front cover invites you to enter the grove.  But the inside cover beckons further:

"This country is famous for its beautiful trees; just to stand and look at them gives us great pleasure.  But how many of us know them and can name them ?  This book will help you do that, so you'll enjoy them all the more"

I've only scanned a few chosen pages, but I quite enjoy the color and layout.  And, of course, my blog banner comes from an image that illustrates the Wych Elm entry.

Mountain Ash or Rowan Tree / Sallow (or "Goat Willow")
Common Elm / Wych Elm

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tony Bastable v John Noakes

cover illustration by Alan Parry

Tony Bastable v John Noakes
.  It's the name of a song by my old friends The Dentists, from their 1985 LP Some People Are On The Pitch They Think It's All Over It Is Now.  The title has absolutely nothing to do with the song's lyrics whatsoever (and the album, despite its title, has very little, if anything, to do with football).  But it does seem to hint at the eternal question: "Magpie or Blue Peter?"

When I first heard the song in the 80s, I had no idea to what its title referred.  I remember bassist Mark Matthews telling me the history behind most of the songs on the album sometime in the late 80s, but if he'd explained the meaning of that title, it probably flew right over my head at the time.

In later years, through the magic of the Internet (as well as various jaunts through charity shops in the U.K, where I've spied many an annual)., I became aware of the children's show Blue Peter and its one-time competitor, Magpie.  I still didn't make the connection with the song title.

That only happened this past May, when I met up with The Dentists' guitarist Bob Collins in London.  Bob explained, of course, that Tony Bastable was one of the earliest Magpie presenters and his Blue Peter counterpart was John Noakes.  Bob said he preferred Magpie.  It was weirder and more psychedelic, he said.  I have absolutely no doubt that I would have preferred it, too.

endpaper illustration by Alan Parry

The next day I found The Magpie Book of Stories (London: Purnell, 1970) in a junk shop in Islington for £2, amidst a bevy of smelly old annuals.  While not technically an annual itself, it's printed on similar pulpy stock, so it too has a trace of that odeur that plagues old annuals, but the illustrations were bright and quite psychedelic, so I bought it and subsequently hauled it throughout the rest of my two-week journey.

The Magpie Book of Stories compiles short fiction works submitted by young viewers, and supplements them with a few pieces by known authors.  When scanning some of the illustrations very recently, I was struck by the haunty subject matter of the stories submitted by the kids.  While the I'm not keen on all of the illustrations in the volume, I was drawn to two stories--and their illustrations--in particular.  "The Poppy Field" by Jackie Bradnam, aged 13 at the time, tells the story of young Sarah, who, whilst supine in a field of poppies, meets the spirit of a girl who drowned when the sea swallowed her home--the lost city of Atlantis.

from "The Poppy Field" by Jackie Bradnam; illustration by Ivan Ripley

I was also rather taken by the subject matter and illustrations of "The Haunted Valley" by Antony Cavender, aged 15 at the time.  A reporter is sent to a rural town to investigate the mysterious deaths of shepherds minding their sheep on a particular hillside and ends up researching local folklore pertaining to witches.

from "The Haunted Valley" by Antony Cavender; illustration by Alan Abbot

It's hard for me to imagine something of this ilk being produced in the U.S at the time.  It's so essentially British, and that is why I love it.  We had Scooby Doo (which I watched religiously) and cheap cash-in paperbacks like The Partridge Family: The Haunted Hall (which I probably still have somewhere), so we knew a thing or two about ghosts and bogeymen.  But youthful interest in the mystical/mythical/supernatural--coupled with a connection to the landscape--seems to have run deeper in Britain, as evidenced by stories like these.

When I bought the book, the man behind the counter asked me, "So did you watch Magpie or Blue Peter?"  I'm honest to a fault, so I fessed up to being American, but I know what the answer would/should/could have been.

Beyond The Wychelm, Beyond The Veil

I am fascinated--and I mean deeply fascinated--by the darker aspects of Britain's ancient past and how it saturates the landscape and bleeds into the present.  How it hints at the sinister and unsettling things that may be lurking just beyond the veil of what we call reality.  This fascination has been with me since childhood.  But I am American, of Eastern European descent.  So I can't help it--I feel like an imposter sometimes.  It's not my own personal "heritage."  And yet I feel deeply connected to it somehow.

As a little girl in the 70s, I was, in many ways, your garden-variety Anglophile, feeling as if I'd been born a decade or two too late.  I was obsessed with post-Rubber Soul Beatles' records, the colorful fashions of 60s swinging London, cute boys with English accents, bright red telephone boxes, etc.  But something happened when I saw a picture of Stonehenge, probably in one of the musty old issues of National Geographic magazine that my father kept piled up in the basement.  I didn't know what a frisson was back then, but I certainly experienced one.  I felt an intense need to go there--to Stonehenge, to Great Britain--as soon as humanly possible, but I wasn't sure why.  It was uncanny.  I was really starting to get that nagging feeling that I was growing up on the wrong side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Fast forward to the late 1980s, when I encountered John Michell's "The New View Over Atlantis."  Glastonbury, stone circles, ley lines and British folklore became my new passions.  I was already a devoted fan of supernatural fiction, having started with the mainstream American authors as a teen, eventually moving on to Lovecraft and, finally, the British masters of the genre.  This dovetailed with my other major interests--music and film--where I was always seeking out the underground and the strange.

I fostered these interests for years and years, and eventually started my near-annual pilgrimages to Britain, but everything really started to gel five or six years ago when I discovered the Ghost Box label and the hauntology "scene" (for lack of a better term).  The music, the aesthetic, the influences were so aligned with my own predilections, it startled me.  I already loved Broadcast and Boards of Canada (and even had a couple of records by Mount Vernon Arts Lab), but hadn't really thought too much about their influences and inspiration.  Now it all made sense.

I've always expressed my musical taste and interests through my decades-long work as a freeform-format, non-commercial radio DJ, but Flickr, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc. have, of late, provided a means to share my more visual preoccupations.  I've had a catch-all blogspot blog for years, but I haven't yet figured out what I want that to be.  So I've specifically started Beyond The Wychelm to explore my pursuit of all things haunty, particularly those of the British variety, from an American perspective.

I continue to visit the U.K. frequently, and, if you'll pardon the cliche, it always feels like coming home.  It certainly feels more like home than my actual home, which is Texas (where I wasn't born but have resided since 1996).

Maybe I was a Brit in a past life (or alternate universe)?  A girl can dream, right?