Firelit effigies: Thomas Imbach’s ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ (2013)

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In exploring the mindset of a figure clouded by legend, this Swiss-made retelling has a beautiful atmosphere. It uses shore, mountain and forest to depict Mary’s psychological terrain; puppet effigies twitch in firelight with folk-ritual precision, and Elizabeth is a constant presence, never made flesh – she is paint or puppet or a glimpse of doppelganger.

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Central to the story is Mary’s court musician and advisor Rizzio. With shades of Hamlet’s ghost, he lends another layer of tragedy to a treatment based on Stefan Zweig’s Maria Stuart with its key notes of suffering and fallibility.

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There are beautiful sequences of Scottish landscape which the director captured himself (though most of the filming was in Switzerland).

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As Mary narrates the letters she writes to Elizabeth, it’s a deathly, rough-hewn and unresponsive backdrop. At her moments of dislocation, the camera flees wraith-like over sea-washed shores or broken forest paths.

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Camille Rutherford captures Mary’s isolation,┬ábesieged as a powerful woman, long before she is imprisoned by the English queen, with a grace that captures both youth and regality. It’s a stark, European perspective which shuns Hollywood excess, with a layer of modernity that lies with ease.

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Many sequences foretell a life of imprisonment, with gunmetal-grey lattice and winter’s branches, failing winter light and a cooling sun.

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The years as a prisoner are beautifully distilled to a vision of purgatory: a crown woven with the fabric of her being, stained like Lady Macbeth.

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Mary Queen of Scots is a film that haunts and ebbs and flows. It’s not going to appeal to anyone seeking a history lesson, either gritty or lavish: it’s a theatrical, dramatic sequence of legendary events filtered through a poetic vision of inner life.

It’s released on Region 2 DVD now and also on Amazon Instant Video.

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Synchronised dreamscapes

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Tim Walker - Devon cream

Postcards from an exhibition of Tim Walker‘s photographs, which was held over the summer at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle. All the images were displayed in light boxes, so the darkened room created a night-time setting to make the experience entirely dream-like. I like the above image particularly, because it must have been projecting quietly in my mind when I was transferring my parents’ slides from the 1950s here. It’s also called Devon Cream, which I didn’t know until I drew it out for this post. Synchronicity indeed…

Tim Walker - It rained outside

The above image is called It rained outside so we camped indoors.

Tim Walker - Snow in Summer

Snow in Summer (above).

Tim Walker - Flying saucer with members of hunt

And another hunting image – Flying Saucer with members of the West Percy Hunt. All these photographs are constructed, using props, and are not the product of digital manipulation… to quote the essay, “To reveal the ambition of photography as an integrated, collective undertaking where the pressing of the shutter on the camera is the closing moment in the creative process”.

I’m not sure how many exhibitions work so successfully, when small elements sit quietly in your mind and then crystallise a particular moment in your own history – my parents, Devon, and the 1950s – a time before I was born. I’ve looked at my parents’ slides many times over the years. They’re blueprints in my memory of a time I never knew, acting like gentle magnets, as I drift along.

To the lighthouse

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About six months late, but this is a beautiful little film that went with Bat for Lashes’ album last autumn. I’ve been listening since Fur and Gold but overlooked this – probably too much going on and was thinking it would be a little bit too introspective at the time… it’s not, because having bought it at last it’s great stuff, with lots of light and air. This is probably a bit long for a blog post at 15 minutes, but even just the landscapes and lighthouse are worth it I think.

Everything shining bright

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April 2013. A memorial on Dartmoor to a Royal Air Force bomber which crashed here in 1941.

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There are a few of these posts scattered over the same area: I’m told they were put here during the war to prevent enemy planes from landing.

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Jay’s Grave: an eighteenth century suicide, a girl ruined by a local squire. Fresh flowers appear here every few days, something of a local legend. Whoever places them there is brushing up their act with picturesque daffodils in a glass jar. I always remember it usually being an old margarine tub with a few wilted polyanthus chucked in. Not the most uplifting captions are they? But the sun’s shining like I promised. At least I didn’t get in the bit about the friendly community burying the poor girl at a crossroads so that her doomed soul wouldn’t be able to find its way home.

Pathway

Countryside Commission voiceovers can audition here…

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Whose prints?

Spring again

My prints.

Ponytree

The lightning tree.

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Resurrection.

Daffodils

Blah blah golden host blah wandering etc., etc.

Incendiaries in the Suburbs, Henry Carr, 1941

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Henry Carr, Incendiaries in a Suburb, 1941, IWM

A painting from the Imperial War Museum in London. Many of the pictures they hold seem on the fringes of what tends to get shown in galleries: like an overlooked subculture – or maybe it’s just that these images are being viewed in one place. Nevertheless, there’s something quite interesting about the fact that these paintings often deal with people dealing with everyday tasks, albeit within the context of a shattering period of history. There are women in factories, queuing for rations, men and women from every class engaged in the processes of war and aftermath. It’s not just the images of generals or battle which some perceive about the museum.

Evelyn Dunbar, The Queue at the Fish Shop, 1944, detail, IWM

Evelyn Dunbar, The Queue at the Fish Shop, 1944, detail, IWM

Often these images have been labelled as ‘recordings’ and not put on an ‘art’ pedestal. Perhaps the gatekeepers of culture of much of the 20th century saw little profound in images of people going about the detail of everyday life, of what would then be termed the lives of ‘ordinary’ people. (Yet even in the 1970s, an oft-repeated TV documentary series called ‘The Family’ filmed an ‘ordinary’ family with a real sense that looking at this ‘ordinariness’ was something unusual to put before a viewing public. Not to say directors like Ken Loach, kitchen sink dramas and Coronation Street didn’t exist to challenge this of course.)

That, however, is a WhistlesintheWind ramble. I just wanted to post a nice postcard from my desk and then do some work. I love the Henry Carr image – the city sky is beautiful, but with a bitter taste because it’s the work of the worst aspects of humankind and not sun or moon or weather. You can stare into the painting and see so much in a moment captured, not to mention the red post box exaggerating the routine and calm of order shattered.