Thursday, 22 March 2012

Alan Garner's Alderley Edge

"We are put back in touch with earlier parts of our culture, when supernatural and inhuman creatures – from whom we thought we had learnt our sense of good and evil – inhabited a world we did not feel we controlled" - A.S. Byatt

Alan Garner was born, with the umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck, on 17 October 1934.

One of his earliest memories is of being led screaming out of a cinema by his mother, who had taken him to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Afterwards, "She thrashed me, for making her look a fool"

"How old were you?"


He recalls his father (Colin), a painter and decorator, as "warm and generous" and his mother (Marjorie), a tailor, as "complex and domineering"

"I was an only son. She had her own failed ambitions to deal with. When I was 18, rummaging in a drawer at home, I came across Approach to Latin Part I in mint condition"

"This was a book you'd used at school?"

"Yes. She had been trying to keep up with me"

"You cannot teach yourself Latin from that book"

When he first had to leave home to make the daily trip to Manchester Grammar school, says Garner, "I had great difficulty coping. The best view of the Edge is from the railway, between here and Manchester. I remember looking up at it as I left for the first time, thinking, I am letting you down"

"Until one day I was in the art hall, the highest room in the school. I looked out, and there was the Edge"

"You've described Alderley Edge as a place that is 'physically and emotionally dangerous'"

"There was a widely held belief in Manchester, where I grew up, that Alderley Edge would not be a place you'd want to be at night. People said no bird would sing there"

"The thing about birds is not strictly true, but it is something I grew up with. There is not a lot of birdsong there, considering the number of trees"

In 1843, adds Garner, "The Honourable Dorothy S Stanley wrote that locals report seeing 'many wondrous sights' on the Edge and hearing the sound of music under the ground". He recalls how, in 1996, his cousin Eric told him that, as a boy, he and two friends had sat on the Edge and heard bagpipes playing, underground.

Garner is a leading authority on the geology, archaeology and every other aspect of the area. In the mid-1990s, he instigated a full-scale scientific survey of Alderley Edge.

"I am proud of that; it is an objective fact that, because of what I did, the Bronze Age was established on Alderley Edge, and it was recognised to be the earliest dated metal-working site in England"

As for the bagpipes, he offers a rational explanation, involving air pressure.

"Eric and his friends were sitting on a burial mound, 4,000 years old. He said that the bagpipes came from the right, and travelled under the ground, in front of them. Being a good journalist, I asked, calmly, "What did you do?" Eric said: 'Do? We ran like buggery'"

His English and drama teacher at Manchester Grammar, Bert Parnaby, laid the foundations of a department that would nurture performers such as Alan Garner's close friend Robert Powell, Powell's classmate Krishna Bhanji (now Sir Ben Kingsley), the late opera director Steven Pimlott, and the producer Sir Nicholas Hytner, among others.

Which makes it all the more surprising that Alan Garner should have left Magdalen College, Oxford, in his second year, without a degree.

"My tutor said I would have to find a position in life where the only way out was to succeed"

"My grandfather Joe used to say: Always take as long as the job tells you, because it'll be here when you're not. And you don't want folk asking what fool made that codge?"

"I imagine that, when The Weirdstone of Brisingamen appeared, with its wizard and its army of dark elves, people who didn't know 'The Legend of Alderley' claimed that you'd copied The Lord of the Rings"

"Which showed that they hadn't read any middle or old English. Tolkien and I ripped off the same sources. He did it for his reasons. I did it because, at a simple level, I hated made-up names. If I'd used a name that was familiar [in connection with "The Legend of Alderley"] considerable baggage would have come with it"

"A name like King Arthur?"

"Yes. When my archive was given to the Bodleian Library in Oxford six years ago, I heard from somebody connected with the film of The Lord of the Rings. He said that one of the Tolkien family had given him JRR Tolkien's annotated copy of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. And apparently his notes are just vitriolic"

"What bothered him?"

"Trivial use of language"

"I would love to see that book"

- Edited extracts from a 2010 interview with Robert Chalmers. Read the full interview here.

Further information here, here & here.

The Modern Antiquarian: Lomographic images of Alderley Edge.

BBC Radio 4's Ramblings. Last broadcast on Thursday, 30 Jun 2011.

Alan Garner spent his early childhood in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, England, and he remains associated with the area. Many of his works, including The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, are drawn from local legends and locations. Clare Balding walks with him to hear more about the area and how it inspired his writing...

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The films of David Gladwell

“An impressionist prose poem on the themes of time, nature and mortality, symbolised through the pending demolition of an English village and its surrounding countryside ... in which economy and restraint, in terms of craft, become the agents of a near-hallucinogenic exploration of landscape and history” - Michael Bracewell on Requiem for a Village.

David Gladwell, born 1935, is best known as a British Film Editor and Director.

Having started out making amateur films whilst at college on his father’s home-movie equipment, Gladwell produced a short for the BFI Experimental Film Fund in the late fifties.

This led to a brief stint at the British Transport Films Film Unit and credits, as production assistant and assistant editor respectively, on two of their best-loved works: Blue Pullman from 1960 and John Schlesinger’s Terminus made the following year. It’s the latter film which is most important in Gladwell’s case as the role of editor would become his most common source of employment and where his work has been most widely seen.

Lindsay Anderson’s If…. and O Lucky Man! were both cut by Gladwell, as was James Ivory’s Bombay Talkie and John Berger’s Ways of Seeing series for BBC television. He also did significant work under Derrick Knight, the documentary filmmaker, as did a number of his contemporaries: future creator of the prototypical ‘reality TV’ series The Family, Roger Graef; award-winning cinematographer, and occasional director, Chris Menges.

Look up Knight’s inclusions on the BFI’s Shadows of Progress set from last year and you’ll find Gladwell serving as editor twice more, on the ‘new town’ proselytising of Faces of Harlow and on the touching National Coal Board commission A Time to Heal. Continue delving amongst documentary releases and the BFI’s online presence and you’ll also find Aberdeen by Seaside and Deeside, which Gladwell made for the Films of Scotland Committee in 1970, on a Panamint Cinema disc and Knight’s Smoking and You (another editing assignment) on the BFI’s Vimeo channel. You might also recall, if pressed, Memoirs of a Survivor, the second and last feature which Gladwell directed for the cinema, adapted from Doris Lessing’s novel, starring Julie Christie and once available (but no longer) on DVD in the US courtesy of Anchor Bay.

For the rest of this article, go here: Anthony Nield.

Since his wide and accomplished career as a Film Editor, Writer and Director, David has returned to painting. He enjoyed a residency at Lambeth College in South London in 2004-2005 and currently lives and works in South London.

As Director:

1985: Earthstars (TV movie)

1981: Memoirs of a Survivor

1975: Requiem for a Village

1970: Aberdeen by Seaside and Deeside (documentary short)

1969: New Ways at Northgate (documentary short)

1967: Dance (documentary short)

1967: Port Health (documentary short)

1965: 28B Camden Street (short)

1964: An Untitled Film (short)

1964: The Great Steam Fair (documentary short)

1958: Miss Thompson Goes Shopping (short)

1955: Summer Discord (short)

Further information here, here and here. Video content here, here & here.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The films of Jan Švankmajer

“I never call myself an animated filmmaker because I am interested not in animation techniques or creating a complete illusion, but in bringing life to everyday objects”

Jan Švankmajer (born 4 September 1934 in Prague) is a Czech surrealist artist. His work spans several media. He is known for his surreal animations and features, which have greatly influenced other artists such as Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, The Brothers Quay and many others. Švankmajer has gained a reputation over several decades for his distinctive use of stop-motion technique, and his ability to make surreal, nightmarish and yet somehow funny pictures. He is still making films in Prague. Švankmajer’s trademarks include very exaggerated sounds, often creating a very strange effect in all eating scenes. He often uses very sped-up sequences when people walk and interact. His movies often involve inanimate objects coming alive and being brought to life through stop-motion. Food is a favorite subject and medium. Stop-motion features in most of his work, though his feature films also include live action to varying degrees.

A lot of his movies, like the short film Down to the Cellar, are made from a child’s perspective, while at the same time often having a truly disturbing and even aggressive nature. In 1972 the communist authorities banned him from making films, and many of his later films were banned. He was almost unknown in the West until the early 1980s.

Today he is one of the most celebrated animators in the world. His best known works are probably the feature films Alice (1988), Faust (1994), Conspirators of Pleasure (1996), Little Otik (2000) and Lunacy (2005), a surreal comic horror based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe and the Marquis de Sade. Also famous (and much imitated) is the short Dimensions of Dialogue (1982), which shows Arcimboldo-like heads gradually reducing each other to bland copies (“exhaustive discussion”); a clay man and woman who dissolve into one another sexually, then quarrel and reduce themselves to a frenzied, boiling pulp (“passionate discourse”); and two elderly clay heads who extrude various objects on their tongues (toothbrush and toothpaste; shoe and shoelaces, etc.) and use them in every possible combination, sane or otherwise (“factual conversation”). His films have been called “as emotionally haunting as Kafka’s stories.” He was married to Eva Švankmajerová, an internationally known surrealist painter, ceramicist and writer until her death in October of 2005. She collaborated on several of his movies including Faust, Otesánek and Alice. They had two children, Veronika and Václav.

Selected Filmography

Feature-length films:

1988: Alice. Něco z Alenky. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
1994: Faust. Lekce Faust. The Faust legend, Goethe's Faust and Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
1996: Conspirators of Pleasure. Spiklenci slasti. Original story
2000: Little Otik. Otesánek. Otesánek by Karel Jaromír Erben
2005: Lunacy. Šílení. "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" and "The Premature Burial" by Edgar Allan Poe
2010: Surviving Life. Přežít svůj život. Original story
2015: Insects. Hmyz. Pictures from the Insects' Life by Karel Čapek and Josef Čapek

Short films & misc.:

1964: The Last Trick. Poslední trik pana Schwarcewalldea a pana Edgara
1965: Johann Sebastian Bach: Fantasy in G minor. Johann Sebastian Bach: Fantasia G-moll
1965: A Game with Stones. Spiel mit Steinen
1966: Punch and Judy. Rakvičkárna. Also known as The Coffin Factory and The Lych House
1966: Et Cetera
1967: Historia Naturae (Suita)
1968: The Garden. Zahrada
1968: The Flat. Byt
1968: Picnic with Weissmann. Picknick mit Weissmann
1969: A Quiet Week in the House. Tichý týden v domě
1969: Don Juan. Don Šajn
1970: The Ossuary. Kostnice. About the Sedlec Ossuary
1971: Jabberwocky. Žvahlav aneb šatičky slaměného Huberta. Based on "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll
1972: Leonardo's Diary. Leonardův deník
1977: Castle of Otranto. Otrantský zámek
1980: The Fall of the House of Usher. Zánik domu Usherů. Based on "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe
1982: Dimensions of Dialogue. Možnosti dialogu
1983: Down to the Cellar. Do pivnice
1983: The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope. Kyvadlo, jáma a naděje. Based on "The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe
1988: Virile Games. Mužné hry. Also known as The Male Game
1988: Another Kind of Love. Music video for Hugh Cornwell
1988: Meat Love. Zamilované maso
1989: Darkness/Light/Darkness. Tma, světlo, tma
1989: Flora
1989: Animated Self-Portraits. Portmanteau film by 27 filmmakers
1990: The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia. Konec stalinismu v Čechách
1992: Food. Jídlo

More information here, here and here.