A new film from BAFTA-winning film-maker Paul Wright, who has “sampled” a century of archive footage to construct Arcadia, a “sensory and visceral journey” through the landscape and mindscape of Britain. With the “trending” fascination for ‘Old Wyrd Britain’, the presence of Maypole dancers, Morris Dancers, Mummers, and shitwitches is practically guaranteed, contrasting with nostalgia-drenched footage of kids from the 1970’s defying all Health & Safety regulations in the pursuit of what we used to call “a good doss.” Complete with a poster by Stanley Donwood and a soundtrack from Adrian Utley (Portishead) and Will Gregory (Goldfrapp), it’s got enough Guardian-approved names to get it attention and has certainly got me intrigued, but being ever the contrarian, it’s the kind of thing I’d rather see wash up in the weird rockpools of late night TV than get a ‘legitimate’ cinema release which, for me, dilutes any potential impact it might have on my frontal lobes.
Increasingly, though, for those penned into cities with no view of the stars and no taste of clean air and nothing but grass between the cracks in the pavement to nourish their sense of the wild, this is no freedom at all. We have made ourselves caged animals, and all the gadgets in the world cannot compensate for what we have lost.
Photograph taken at Siston, South Gloucestershire, November 2017.
All stories are about wolves. All worth repeating, that is. Anything else is sentimental drivel.
Another old painting, dredged up from the dungeon (all right, from the pile of canvasses under my bed) and added to my Wildlife gallery. For anyone to whom this looks familiar, it’s a painting of the cover of Barry Lopez’s Of Wolves And Men:
It’s one of my all-time favourite books, about one of my lifelong fascinations: wolves. Lopez’s approach to the subject is a perfect meld of art and science, discussing the myth and reality of the wolf in prose that illuminates like moonlight on a clear winter’s night. This is one of my favourite passages:
Wolves are extraordinary animals. In the winter of 1976 an aerial hunter surprised ten gray wolves travelling on a ridge in the Alaskan range. There was nowhere for the animals to escape and the gunner shot nine quickly. The tenth had broken for the tip of a spur running off the ridge. The hunter knew the spur ended in an abrupt vertical drop of about three hundred feet and he followed, curious to see what the wolf would do without hesitation the wolf sailed off the spur fell the three hundred feet into a snowbank, and came up running in an explosion of powder.
I’ve used my 2014 drawing of Withnail for, appropriately, a mock-up cover for Bruce Robinson’s screenplay. Depending on what day it is, this is my favourite film of all time, but I what I am certain of is that it’s the greatest screenplay of all time. Life is too short to read most screenplays, no matter how good the film, but Robinson’s is a rare exception. The scene setting and character descriptions are hilarious, but what’s not lost is the sense of melancholy and repressed yearning that is essential to the film’s enduring appeal.
While I’m on the subject, here’s the one-off printed edition I did of my series of portraits of characters from the film:
and if you want a PDF version of the book, download it here.
We have all grown up, one might say, thinking of nature as an adorable, helpless bunny that some people want to protect and others, motivated by the will to power that is the unmentionable force behind so much of contemporary culture, want to stomp into a bloody pulp just to show that they can. Both sides are mistaken, for what they have misidentified as a bunny is one paw of a sleeping grizzly bear who, if roused, is quite capable of tearing both sides limb from limb and feasting on their carcasses. The bear, it must be remembered, is bigger than we are, and stronger. We forget this at our desperate peril.
John Michel Greer
Photograph taken ’round our way’, March 2018.