A Place Both Wonderful and Strange: My Visit to Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, Washington, welcomes you.

In early February this year, I finally got around to viewing the unusual, influential, and critically acclaimed American television series, Twin Peaks, from the maverick minds of Mark Frost and David Lynch, and it has been a memorable viewing, indeed.

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TWIN PEAKS showcases the quintessential small American town, with its lively diners and roadhouses, quasi-luxurious hotels, flourishing yet troubled sawmills, active sheriff stations, and isolated backwoods cabins.

Everyone is already familiar with the primary storyline, so I will not write of it here; everyone knows at least one defining image from Twin Peaks, the main one being the iconic Red Room, a place that I will let viewers find out more about for themselves. Before I watched Twin Peaks, I wondered why the relatively simple plotline, the F.B.I. investigation of a murdered girl in a small town, had been stretched to two lengthy series. Upon viewing it, I can see why a feature-length movie was inadequate. (There was a prequel film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, released in 1992 after the second series ended.) Not only was it a murder-mystery, but, in Frost and Lynch’s hands, it became a fantastical and unholy gem of occulted surreality. Admittedly, it loses quite a bit of steam during the second season once the killer’s identity is discovered and lesser and, in some cases, cringe-worthy soap opera subplots begin to arise, but it regains some strength when we return to that familiar red room inhabited by that familiar beautiful spectral girl and the backwards-speaking Dwarf in the red suit.

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The iconic Black Lodge/Red Room sequence, where strange and terrible things are revealed.

With the imminent broadcast of the new third series of Twin Peaks, twenty-six years after the series ended prematurely, the show has been hovering all over the news and media like a vengeful ghost. I seldom watch television, but the eighteen episodes of the new series, all written by Frost and directed by Lynch, are a must-watch for connoisseurs of Lynch and the small Washington mill town, a town that, like Santa Teresa in Roberto Bolano’s posthumously published tome, 2666, acts as a magnet attracting the strange and dangerous and criminal. This is what happens when standard soap opera drama and murder-mystery is commandeered by the cabbalistic imagination of an Alejandro Jodorowsky or the nature mysticism of a John Muir. This, then, is a town populated by lachrymose and bumbling police officers, furtive and rebellious youths, scheming business owners, exotic femme fatales, neurotic eyepatch-wearing housewives with superhuman strength, Hawaii-fixated psychiatrists, doddering bank clerks and hotel waiters, tottering mayors who threaten to kill but are then enthralled by younger women, braindead truckers, stoic yet sagacious military generals, reclusive flower-keepers, sophisticated ”British” gentlemen who are disliked by local wildlife, transgender F.B.I. agents, dancing fathers who can change from mawkish to joyous to sinister in the blink of an eye, shamanic F.B.I. agents with the metabolism of a bumblebee, sulky women who divine through logs that act as close spars, murderous F.B.I. agents who become hegemonic occultists seeking forbidden power, magic grandsons and creamed corn-loathing grandmothers, one-armed shoe salesmen who are possessed by obliging spirits, supernatural giants that impart cryptic intimations, long-haired evil spirits that feed on suffering and pain, petroglyphs in ancient caves that hide maps to other dimensions, eerie poems with esoteric significance, some healthy inspirations from such arcane sources as Tibetan, Native American, and Theosophical mysticism, and stacks of donuts and ”damn fine” cups of coffee. Have I missed anyone or anything? This is a town that only minds who have gazed into the Black Lodge and its nefarious denizens could have founded, and I look to forward to seeing it again.

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Good cop and bad cop. Agent Dale Cooper confronts his former partner and mentor, Windom Earle, in the spirit-haunted Black Lodge.

 

 

Sacred Demon of Ungovernableness: Penda’s Fen

Death of King Penda of Mercia - © Nash Ford Publishing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King Penda of Mercia’s fall at the Battle of the Winwaed, as depicted in Worcester Cathedral.

 

In 1974, the B.B.C. broadcast a strange and singular television play for their acclaimed Play for Today series. It was not repeated. Then, in 1989, it was shown again, this time on Channel Four, with a new introduction by the play’s writer, David Rudkin. Again, it was not shown on television anywhere and remained a haunting and peculiar memory in the minds of those who had seen it. Then, forty-two years after it was first broadcast, it was given a long-overdue DVD release in the early summer of 2016. This was during a referendum that led to an outcome that has forever stained British history and has divided the country by competing notions of what it means to be truly British. The film in question addressed such an issue before anyone had ever coined the term Brexit, yet eerily prophesied the jingoistic attitudes and social unease of a Britain under the shadow of Brexit. Despite its then-obscure status, the film acquired a cult status among cognoscenti of the fantastical and visionary British imagination. The film is Penda’s Fen.

 

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PENDA’S FEN’S opening title, set to the dramatic music of Elgar, showcases the dualistic nature of the play, in this case, natural landscape and ominous militaristic constructs.

 

Penda’s Fen was directed by Alan Clarke, an acclaimed director noted for his brutal social realism dramas, and written by David Rudkin, a dramatist and screenwriter whose work explores landscape, heritage, myth, history, and British-Irish relations; this last theme is significant, for Rudkin himself is of Anglo-Irish stock, and this filters into his work. The theme of duality also shows in Rudkin’s personal choice of director; Rudkin the fantaisiste and Clarke the realist. Even the play itself is touched by the polarities that Rudkin is interested in. Penda’s Fen‘s surface plot is simple enough: Stephen Franklin is the proud yet priggish son of a parson in a small village in the heart of pastoral England. He champions the Christian sanctity of the nuclear family and detests anything that challenges the English government, including ”atheistic and subversive trash” that masquerades as ”investigative theology”.  Despite his staunch conservatism and patriotism, he is sneered at by his fellow pupils and teachers for not subscribing to his school’s traditions. He passionately loathes a local playwright, Arne, who, at a village meeting, defends striking workers and speculates on secret government constructions beneath the very land they live in.

 

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Angels pervade the psychic English landscape of Stephen’s dreams.

 

Soon, Stephen’s rigidly hidebound exterior begins to dissolve as he experiences homoerotic dreams, visions of angels and demons, meets the ghost of his idol, the composer Edward Elgar, learns that his clergyman father holds rather heretical views of Christianity, that he is adopted and that his real parents were not even of the Anglo-Saxon stock he so fervently champions, and discovers King Penda, the last pagan king of England. Conflicted between radical and traditional notions of Englishness, as well as England’s modern Christianity doctrines and the country’s ancient pagan past, Stephen’s very being becomes an unsteady, complex focal point where anything seems possible.

 

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Stephen’s guardian angel.

 

In the play, Stephen tells Arne’s wife, who is infertile, that he is like a molecule with unknown elements and possibilities. He could be describing the play itself. Rudkin’s drama keenly explores a diverse range of themes which, however haphazard they may seem, nonetheless seem to tie together with a strange logic all its own. It is, in essence, a visionary, Blakean epic masquerading as quiet and solemn pastoral drama, with whipers of Ballardian underworlds underneath the arable furrows and fields. It also seems to invoke the spirit of William Burroughs with its anti-establishment attitude, homoerotic dreamscapes, and demonic, Manichaean visions, as well as Arthur Machen, Alan Garner, Algernon Blackwood, Derek Jarman, John Cowper Powys, and Hermann Hesse. In 1981, Rudkin would script another wyrd B.B.C. drama, Artemis 81, an ambitious Philip-K-Dickian fusion of dystopian science-fiction and Gnostic cosmology. That affair is even less coherent than Penda’s Fen, but it is interesting and worth watching. However, one would be correct in stating that Penda is Rudkin’s masterpiece; and, as I wrote above, it has gained an even greater relevance now that the insidious Brexit agenda is spreading lies and hate and fear among Blake and Merlin’s land. In these turbulent times, I wonder if Rudkin is receiving ideas for a new drama, or if the ghosts of pagan kings and angels and demons are haunting Britain’s Brexit-bruised green and pleasant land. If I may quote from Jarman’s Jubilee: Equalty prevails not for the gods’ sakes, but for mans; men are weak, and cannot endure their manifold nature.

 

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Stephen looks over his native England from the sacred Malvern Hills with a new look on life.

 

 

 

 

Some Remarks on Derek Jarman

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Oneiric ritual in THE SHADOW OF THE SUN.

With the first two beautiful days of 2017, in bright weather that reminds me of the hidden beauty of the world whilst horror and misery swamp the fore, I decided to visit a favourite location. The Chesters Hill Fort is an Iron Age hill fort situated in the lovely, fertile landscape of East Lothian that commands many views of the surrounding area. Despite the cool wind blowing at me, the sun was warm as I stood in it; and seeing the daffodils sprout from the lustrous green grass, and hearing the birdsong all around me after what seemed a long absence, I knew that spring was returning. I have lived in the city all my life, and yet, listening to the birds in the trees stirred up a strange feeling in me, as though I had returned from a long exile in the city. The Romans posited the belief that every place had its own spirit, each location had hidden in its heart its own genius loci. Wherever I go, I try and detect the spirit of the place, and whenever I am visiting ancient sites that may or may not be considered sacred, such as a mediaeval church or a prehistoric stone circle, I often think of a certain short film by a certain English filmmaker who died before he reached the age of fifty-five and had Queen Elizabeth II killed in a mugging. If ever I am psychically dowsing for the spirit of the place, I often think of A Journey to Avebury by Derek Jarman.

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Neolithic menhirs used in ancient rituals are given an ominous, occult significance in Jarman’s alchemical, apocalyptic vision.

I first became interested in the artist, gardener, author, and filmmaker, Derek Jarman, around April, 2016. What had attracted me to Jarman was undoubtedly his non-conformist attitude (he was a homosexual in Thatcher-era Britain) and his interest in alchemy and esoteric traditions. He had a fascination with fellow London magician, Dr. John Dee, who appears in his bizarre 1978 film, Jubilee, where, with an Enochian spell, he transports himself and Queen Elizabeth to 1970s England, which has become an anarchic wasteland ruled by vicious girl gangs (I cannot help thinking of Brexit whenever I see one character do a memorable raunchy dance to Rule, Britannia! complete with Hitler barking on the soundtrack and goose-stepping). 1985’s The Angelic Conversation, a mystic and dreamy journey into homosexual love set to readings of Shakespeare’s sonnets by Judi Dench, takes its title, of course, from the book that recorded Dee’s supposed communication with angels and spiritual creatures that he and his partner, Edward Kelley, contacted through their scrying experiments. In essence, Jarman was a hermetic alchemist creating his chimerical visions through the recording lens of a camera.

 

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Derek Jarman in his famous garden in Kent.

Jarman was also greatly inspired by the American Beat Generation, and Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs are obvious influences in his films — and indeed, he once filmed Burroughs reading from his work in London, 1982 — but Jarman also, not entirely intentionally, reflects a rather British tradition that was in vogue in the ‘sixties and the ‘seventies, that of the landscape-centric art or ”folk horror”. In addition to feature films, Jarman also made a number of short home films with a super-8 camera early in his career, and many of these reflect his interest in alchemical and occult symbolism. The best of these, in my estimation, is 1971’s A Journey to Avebury, which showcases the Neolithic stone circle that Jarman remained transfixed by, but filmed with a sickly yellow tint and accompanied, depending on which version one watches, a scratching, growling Coil song that gives off the impression of ancient, sinister forces stirring to power. Such a film could have been made anytime, yet it is also simultaneously a product of the 1970s. These short and oneiric films were compiled into one lengthy film, In The Shadow of the Sun, which I can recommend to devotees of Kenneth Anger’s films.

 

This film does not have the Coil soundtrack, which appears below.

 

Even though twenty-three years have passed since Jarman’s untimely death of AIDS at the age of fifty-two, his films remain as provocative, fresh, and invigorating as ever; I think that they are especially relevant today with all the socio-political turmoil that is currently rocking the world — The Last of England, in particular, an angry, plotless film that highlights the despair felt in Thatcher-ruled Britain, comes to mind. Below is the ending to Jubilee (the only Jarman film I have seen besides the short films) and showcases his painterly eye for detail and his shimmering prose-poetry. UPDATE: the video of the ending sadly no longer exists.

 

 

Enrico Cocozza: the Wishaw Surrealist

Once in a blue moon, I come across a singularly interesting individual who may be unknown even to connoisseurs of the extraordinary. This week’s searching has turned up an underrated Scot who should be better known. Enrico Cocozza (1921-1997) was born in Glasgow and spent most of his life in Wishaw, where he worked and lived above his family’s café. His films are a stark contrast to the more realistic Scottish films of the era in which he was active, exploring such themes as eroticism and death with surrealistic gusto, though he also worked in a more naturalistic vein, as film like Glasgow Dockyards and Chick’s Day showcase. An accident left his eyes sensitive to strong light, and, unable to film, he began lecturing at Strathclyde University. In August, 1997, a fire at the fish-and-chips shop where he lived left him seriously injured, and he eventually died at a nursing home.

Perhaps superficially, Cocozza reminds me of Eduardo Paolozzi, another Italian Scot who embraced a surrealist ethos in his art and work. He also reminds me of his east coast equivalent, Bill Douglas, another filmmaker who shot raw films around his hometown, albeit less fancifully. None of Cocozza’s films, however, are easy to find; but if they are ever released on DVD, they reveal one of Caledonia’s dark and glittering hidden gems that disciples of Breton may find interesting.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker

To me, it is a shameful fact that I have not seen as many interesting films as I would like to see. This is partially because I do not have a DVD player nor a television in my room, and also because some of  the films that I seek are obscure. The B.F.I., however, do a stalwart job in bringing out many interesting films on DVD, among them Alan Clarke and David Rudkin’s unclassifiable, coming-of-age, politically-charged, metaphysical drama, Penda’s Fen, a television play that explores, among other themes such as homosexuality, the English landscape and its pagan history and traditions and its echoes in contemporary times. However, sometimes the internet yields many interesting specimens. A director whose works I have been eager to explore is Andrei Tarkovsky, and it was on YouTube that I finally had a chance to watch his 1979 film, Stalker.

The Writer warily proceeds down the Meat Mincer, the most perilous part on the pilgrimage to the Zone.

Loosely based on a novel by fellow Russians, brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Tarkovsky’s vision of the book follows three men who journey into an area called the Zone, a room that can supposedly grant one’s innermost wishes. The landscape surrounding the Zone is littered with the detritus of a dead era, and the buildings on the way are waterlogged and blighted with urban decay. If this premise sounds simple, Tarkovsky takes great pains to see that it remains not so. Those who are familiar with the Russian auteur will know that he relies on long shots, visual poetry, and philosophical and poetical monologues to establish a certain atmosphere, and is preoccupied with metaphysical and spiritual themes. He was, in essence, a poet armed with a camera in place of a pen. When the three men finally reach the threshold of the Zone, where their innermost wishes may come true, Tarkovsky does not deliver this simplistic climax.

As many have already said, Tarkovsky is not for everyone. For the connoisseur of hot dogs and popcorn whose eyes are lit up by great explosions of fire and juvenile dialogue, Tarkovsky must be avoided at all costs lest his or her mind be opened up into a strange and poetic world of infinite possibilities. But those who have the patience to let their intellect drift into his haunted, melancholic worlds will be rewarded with some of the most gorgeous set designs and imagery ever to grace celluloid. Throughout the film, the main character, who acts as a guide for the two men, a stalker, remarks that the Zone is perhaps some kind of miracle. Tarkovsky’s films themselves are miracles in what now appears to be a world that has lost most of its imagination and its spiritual values. As the Writer character laments: My dear, our world is hopelessly boring.  Therefore, there can be no telepathy, or apparitions, or flying saucers, nothing like that.  The world is ruled by cast-iron laws, and it’s insufferably boring.  Alas, those laws are never violated.  They don’t know how to be violated…. To live in the Middle Ages was interesting.  Every home had its house-spirit, and every church had its God.

I would agree that to live in the Middle Ages would be interesting in some degrees, but certainly not much better than now. Overall, however, as a stunning guide into dank ruins blighted by decay and an unknown metaphysical force, Tarkovsky’s vision of Stalker remains peerless.

 

 

In this video, the Russian director speaks about his feelings concerning the youths of the modern world. In this day and age of social media, when every boy and girl congregates like provender ready for the slaughterhouse, Tarkovsky’s words speak truth.

 

 

 

An introduction

Well, despite previously being adamant in my refusal to have a blog of my own, the temptation has proved too strong. It was the question that, if many of my favourite authors were alive today, would they have a blog? Now, plenty of my favourite authors who are currently living as I type this have blogs of their own, and some do not. It also feels somewhat vain, as I am not a sufficiently established author to warrant any attention yet. But now I have a blog, anyway, and I can only hope that some awful calamity does not befall the Internet, and cause everyone who has an online account of any kind a great deal of financial loss and misfortune.

This is my very first blog post, and it may well be the only one for some time; I only intend to use this blog for posting news, however infrequently that may be. This will not be the place for impassioned and solemn monologues a la Fernando Pessoa; I have notebooks for that. Well, here goes nothing.