TOA/V: The Living and The Dead

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 13.32.25This programme aired last month but in the midst of the Brexit madness, it seemed to miss its audience. Folks in the Folk Horror Revival group mentioned it enthusiastically so having caught up with series three of Black Sails we were casting about for a new show and decided to give The Living and The Dead a try. Five of the six episodes in, I’m intrigued and crossing my fingers that they’ll be able to bring it to some kind of satisfying conclusion. Not necessarily that I expect all the answers, but — well, there’s a lot going on.

Great cast of folks familiar and new. It does have a terrific folk horror vibe. The Hallow’s Eve costumes were dead creepy! There are great eerie moments in every episode. I can’t remember when I last had so many moments of genuine hair-raising spookiness! There’s an unexpected element in the late 19th century setting that really intrigues and I’m not sure how it will payoff, but I can’t wait to watch the last episode tonight.

Also? Fantastic soundtrack by The Insects which you can get now. As always, check out all the overlooked gems at Todd’s blog.


TOA/V: Anna Karenina


The eternal struggle in Belle Ombre: agreeing on something to watch with my brother. One of the places our largely divergent tastes overlap is in the realm of costume drama, so the other night after one or the other of us voting down this or that film we finally agreed on the 2012 version of Anna Karenina.

I had vague memories of when it came out: Knightly and Law seemed an odd pairing, perhaps I had assumed he was playing Vronsky. He’s Karenin and I thought that was even more odd, but no. I should give him more credit. He was terrific. And of course Aaron Taylor-Johnson made a Vronsky you could imagine any number of people swooning for. Knightly was very good, Matthew McFayden should do more comedy —

— and that reminds me: the big thing I forgot that I ought to have realised at once when I was captivated and amused and immediately won over by the dialogue and the conceit that the whole story was unfolding in the world of a play. Tolstoy, but Tolstoy through the means of Tom Stoppard.


If that doesn’t already make you realise what a gem you also probably missed, let me also say a fantastic cast including Olivia Williams, Kelly McDonald, Domhnall Gleeson, and new to me but amazing Alicia Vikander as Kitty. The whole production design by Sarah Greenwood is superb. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui who also choreographed for the NT Live Hamlet created such beautiful dance scenes — and the costumes by Jacqueline Durran! Absolutely sumptuous: if Tolstoy wanted to show the evils of uptight nobles, at least this film shows how they luxuriated in their wealth.


As usual, check out all the overlooked works at Todd’s blog. Celebrate Peter Cook on his birthday. I’m off to Trinity to talk to a college class about White Rabbit.

TOA/V: The Underpass

Sure, it’s not October Country quite yet, but here’s a little spooky tale that’s bound to please — by which I mean make you shudder. THE UNDERPASS is genuinely unsettling and has brilliant sound design, so turn it up (or wear headphones if you don’t want to frighten your co-workers). Chilling good fun. Check out David’s other work at Sword & Cloak.

The UnderpassAs always, check out the round up of gems at Todd’s blog.

TOA/V: The Bed Sitting Room

As a preamble, let me say WHOOHOO Fox Spirit! Nominated (for the second year in a row) for best small press in the British Fantasy Awards — as well as several other skulk noms. Well done!

I finally got the Blu-Ray/DVD package of The Bed Sitting Room because it came up in conversation on the J G Ballard group. I have long had a very poor recorded-off-television-on-videotape-then-transferred-to-dvd copy. When the beauty of the photography was mentioned I thought ‘huh?’ and since the dual package was cheap (and meant a copy for each residence) I decided to take the (not especially deep) plunge.

And yes of course it’s Peter Cook and Dud and Spike Milligan and a terrific cast of luminaries and Richard Lester, so of interest naturally to any fans of them all. I remember reading the play written by Spike and John Atrobus in the British Library and trying not to laugh too loud as I always seem to be making too much noise there.

We watched it last night and it’s just as mad as I remember. More a meditation on the absurdity of trying to ‘keep calm and carry on’ in the face of nuclear annihilation than a real story. Some funny moments, but it’s mostly sad. It is indeed beautifully shot though, and filmed (alas) on mostly scouted locations of ugliness, pollution and trash. It’s more a curiosity that works well in bits. You could imagine structuring a lecture about post-apocalypse narratives illustrated with various scenes from it.

I am looking forward to the Braden interviews with Cook, Milligan and Lester, all 20-30 minutes each. When I’ve got a moment between translating bee charms and whatnot.

See all the overlooked gems at Todd’s roundup.

TOA/V — Tea: The Dark Side of the Cup

“Billions of cups are sunk a day for centuries and nobody says a word – until now.”

A mockumentary exploring the silent epidemic of tea dependence. A plight, engulfing our society for a millennia – undocumented.

Click here to watch on Vimeo

I supported their kickstarter and received a lovely tea coaster like the image above. I will admit to a tea addiction but I see no harm in it. It fuels my whimsical imagination — how dull I would be without it!

Check out all the overlooked A/V gems at Todd’s blog.

TOA/V: Valhalla Rising

Valhalla Rising (2009)
Dir. Nicholas Winding Refn
Mad Mikkelson, Gary Lewis, Maarten Stevenson, et. al.

BBC Two showed this the other night and we DVR’d it. Medieval-ish and Mads: I was sold! Where did I know that director’s name from? Hmmm, oh yeah, Drive. A movie people loved and I didn’t. I am going to have to use this film in my masculinity and medieval film book because it is like the über example of the trope. Women are erased from the medieval world apart from one brief moment where naked women huddle together after their village is destroyed by the Christian vikings and their men are reduced to a pile of burnt skeletons.

And then they’re gone, never to be seen again.

Never mind there’s no village to be seen (no homes, no agriculture, no livestock), this isn’t a film interested in people. It’s a film about images. Unfortunately, that seems to be a lot of films now. Here’s a bunch of images, you make the story — BYON. I resent that kind of film. I don’t mind crazy narratives — I’m a huge Argento fan after all, it doesn’t have to actually be coherent — but this kind of humourless, self-important wank irritates me.

Is the one-eyed warrior played by a mute Mads supposed to be Odin? He has visions–mostly digitally reddened scenes of battle to come. Don’t know, it doesn’t matter. Why is he kept in a cage and made to fight other slaves? Don’t know, it doesn’t matter. He escapes, spares the boy, but goes for a bit of the ultra-violence on his captors in a gruesomely specific manner.

The episodic parts all have pretentious titles. The scenes between the ultra-violence are generally men sitting, looking grim. I began to suspect that the director just didn’t want to move the camera. The sparse dialogue, which added little in the way of story, made Kaurismäki films look positively garrulous! So we had men sitting around looking grim in various places — well framed, I’ll give him that.

The places were confusing because it’s all filmed in Scotland so yes, gorgeous Highlands. But at the start it seemed to be supposedly Denmark or at least Scandinavia, then despite heading for the Holy Lands they landed to the ‘New World’ (I found it hilarious that IMDB commenters don’t seem to know that the vikings did indeed visit North America, this is not controversial). However, when the ‘Indians’ appear to attack, they’re um…Tibetan actors in red face. Perhaps they were filming another movie in Scotland at the time and were willing to take up roles.

It’s got that weird sort of confused modern masculinity as a theme: violence makes us men! But we’re vaguely Christian, so we believe in the power of sacrifice. But violence looks cool when the blood spurts out and the guts go ewww! We want to use the legacy of the vikings, but we don’t want to actually have to do any research. I thought this was going to be fun, but clearly Refn is a very serious filmmaker and I am just a frivolous girl.

See the round up of other overlooked films over at Todd’s blog.

TOA/V: Bear Feast Polska

I love this version of the Bear Feast Polska by Rymäkkä. It captures the mythic heart of the song. ‘Karhunpeijaispolska’ is one of the first songs I learned to play on the kantele. I imagined cheery bears frolicking in the woods to the jaunty tune, which of course I figured out eventually had nothing to do with the lyrics.

The song is of course about the ritual of hunting and eating the bear. The song honours his sacred gift to the community. Bears are very important in the folklore and myths of Finland. Even today when you arrive at the airport in Helsinki, the signs outside are held in place by concrete bears.

I worked that into my noirish tale ‘Baltic Tango’ in Dream Book. It reunites two characters from À la Mort Subite who somewhat unexpectedly find themselves in Finland and have a hard time adjusting. They even hear the explanation of the Bear Feast over dinner one night. It’s important that the bear agrees to be sacrificed. To kill the bear when it’s unnecessary is a great crime again the living and all would suffer for it.

Besides, he has a good beer that’s perfect after a sauna.

2013-08-04 18.14.01Drop by Todd’s blog for more conventional TOA/V.