Book Review: Folk Horror by Adam Scovell

 

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What is Folk Horror? When did a group of disparate texts become linked under the banner of a relatively new subgenre? Do the works of M.R. James, Dennis Wheatley, and Nigel Kneale share common preoccupations? Were The Wicker Man, The Blood on Satan’s Claw, and Witchfinder General exploitation films or did they reveal something deeper about that era’s attempts to reconcile conflicting views of past? How has this previously critically scorned subgenre become the focus of scholarship?

Writer and filmmaker Adam Scovell’s text is a subjective survey of the genre that explores its genealogy, formation of a cannon, and wider considerations about cultural shifts. Arguing that the subgenre is fluid, the author suggests that instead of using Folk Horror as a term to retrospectively categrorise books, films, and TV series, it should be employed to open up discussion about thematically connected texts and what present day attempts to form a cannon may say about the critical community.

Acknowledging that ‘Folk’ is an ambiguous term, Scovell’s study suggests that it may refer to cultural practices, aesthetic practices specific to a particular community, and thematic commonalities. Particular focus is paid to the 1960s counter-culture movement and the emergence of alternative lifestyles. This subculture sought to establish a socially progressive model of society which incorporated Folk traditions.

Scovell concedes establishing a precise definition of ‘Horror’ is equally problematic. The term is constantly modified and historically has incorporated Folklore based narratives.

The author suggests that the term may have been originated by director Piers Haggard in a 2003 interview for Fangoria Magazine.

Mark Gatiss’ 2010 documentary series A History of Horror used the term to categorize three films; The Blood on Satan’s Claw, Witchfinder General, and The Wicker Man. Gatiss noted that the films ‘shared a common obsession with the British landscape, its folklore, and superstitions.’ Scovell uses the same three films to form a Folk Horror Chain which provides a theoretical model for analysis of the subgenre, commercial imperatives, reception by later generations of critics and fans, alongside an analysis of contemporary cultural trends.

Scovell’s study is wide-ranging in scope and rigorous in its analysis. The book analyses a vast array of Folk Horror literature, films, and TV series demonstrating that the subgenre is still a potent creative and commercial force. Establishing a theoretical base for further academic investigation, he identifies core thematic elements and offers potential explanations for why Folk Horror continues to resonate.

Folk Horror is published by Auteur Publishing

Adam Scovell’s has written about key Folk Horror films for the BFI.

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Interview with Giedrė Žickytė

Director of documentary on the life of one of the most important photographers of the Soviet era talks about the film ahead of its screening at Ciné Lumière.

I wanted to ask you about working with archival footage: your previous film, “How We Played the Revolution”, and “Master and Tatyana” are both related by you working with material that was sourced from archives.

The footage was radically different in both instances – I do not want to repeat myself, I am interested in constantly finding something new. I am simply telling stories that were happening then, but are also connected to the now. And when one tells stories of the past, one cannot do without the archive.

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In one interview, you went as far as to call the film “Tanya and the Archive”.

That’s what seemed alive to me in this film – its main character Tanya with her archive, the archive of Vitas Luckus that she has kept safe for all these years. This film opened a door into a stunning, touching story that happened more than 30 years ago and was kept completely silent. This was a massive challenge – how do you create a film about someone who is no longer here with material that is not, so to say, live, and about photography, which is not a live medium? Cinema is a living thing. That was one of the toughest tasks – how to make a touching film out of all of this. I decided to tell this film through a love story – love was and is something that is alive, that is still alive with Tanya. Her love manifested through the preservation of this archive.

How did Vitas Luckus become your character, how did he come to you?

I feel as though this story is becoming quite well known. Skirmantas Valiulis told me of Vitas Luckus while I was still at university. A journalist from the Netherlands who had published an album of Luckus visited Vilnius and Skirmantas Valiulis invited me to a meeting with him – to talk about a Lithuanian photographer about whom no one was talking about in Lithuania… We met at the “Neringa” and I had no idea that this story would turn my life upside down years later – I was only 19 years old, after all. The story touched me.

Seven years later I found the photocopied pages of the photo album. I read them and I could not sleep for several nights. I started looking for information online and I was astounded at the lack of it – and started having an idea about making a film… Everything fell into place. I wrote a letter to Tatyana since I had to start somewhere and I could not start without her. It was an immensely long letter – you are not going to say, “hi, Tanya, I want to make a film!”. I told her about myself: who I am, how I found Vitas, what I felt, the questions that I have and why this story is important to me. So many questions that I cannot ask of him. Perhaps I could talk to him through her? The last sentence of the letter was: “will you take me back to Vitas’s life and time?”.

She did not answer me for two months – I kept checking every single day and cannot remember ever waiting for something so intensely. It was Christmas in 2008 and she wrote to me on Christmas Day, as if sending the best Christmas gift. The response was this: “yes, Giedre, I will take you back to Vitas’s life and time”. The following year we communicated intensively on the phone – Tanya did not use “Skype” back then, I installed it for her after going to the USA. We talked so much – she would call me, it would be daytime in the USA, night time in Lithuania… And when I visited her, it seemed to me as if I had known her for a hundred years. This is how we started our journey.

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It seems like there was a conversation between the three of you – Vitas, Tanya and you. In the beginning, perhaps, she was a mediator, but the conversations and the bond between you two changed that.

Tanya could never be just a mediator. Everyone had an individual relationship with Vitas – Tanya, his friends, others. I knew I could not speak about Vitas objectively since it’s simply impossible. I do not believe in an objective reality in cinema – what is real in cinema is the feeling, something we all feel. Everything else is simply interpretation. If I had attempted an objective portrayal of Vitas, it would have been an encyclopaedia, a collection of every single version of events. Cinema is something else. Like “How We Played the Revolution” – there were many historical events, but the film is their interpretation. Its essence lies in human emotions, their feelings, the fact they could stand before tanks without being armed. That is true and undeniable. Tanya is alive – she has changed, but her love is alive and it served as a basis for my film and helped me orient myself in that great flood of material.

Interview by Paulina Drėgvaitė

Master and Tatyana screening Wednesday plus Q&A with director Giedre Žickyte – 14th June at 6:30 PM at CINÉ LUMIÈRE – Institut Français du Royaume-Uni.

DVD Review: Maigret – Season 1

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For French viewers, Bruno Cremer’s performance of Paris-based detective Maigret is the interpretation against which all others are judged. Owning the role in the way that Jeremy Brett and Joan Hickson did respectively with Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple, Cremer’s realisation of the pipe-smoking detective is the most authentic screen embodiment of Simenon’s fictitious sleuth.

Premiering a year before ITV’s Michael Gambon starring adaptation, the Cremer series remains a regular fixture on French TV thanks to constant repeats. Running for fourteen years, the producers originally intended to adapt the entirety of the Maigret canon (75 Maigret novels and 29 short stories). 54 feature-length episodes were filmed before plans were abandoned due to Cremer’s ill health.

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Best known to English-speaking audiences for his appearance in William Friedkin’s 1977 remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, Cremer appeared in more than fifty films. He worked with many of Europe’s most prominent directors, including Costa Gavras and Luchiano Visconti.

Already in his early 60s at the time of casting, Cremer had the unenviable task of following Jean Richard who had played the role on French television since 1965 and for an entire nation was Maigret despite being publicly derided by Georges Simenon.
Cremer’s core appeal was that he perfectly conveyed Maigret’s world-weariness, compassion, and humour.

Restoring credibility to a character that over the course of numerous adaptations been reduced to a hat wearing sleuth, Cremer’s fondness for the novels and determination to be true to the source material resulted in the most complex portrayal to date.

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Comprising the first six feature films, this DVD boxset is more faithful to Simenon’s material than ITV’s recent Rowan Atkinson starring version. Despite its age, the series remains a satisfyingly atmospheric recreation of Simenon’s world thankfully devoid of the ersatz Frenchness which has plagued other adaptations.

If you’ve discovered Maigret via Penguin’s issuing of newly translated editions this should be your next DVD boxset purchase.

Maigret – Season 1 is available to order from Amazon.