Saturday, June 8, 2019

The Folk Horror Podcast Episode 14: Arcadia (2017), pt. 1

We're back and talking about Arcadia. Well, at least starting to talk about the film, you know how we take a little while sometimes. I'm remembering Monty Python's "Summarize Proust" competition in which one chorus of people was only able to sing "Proust in his first book wrote about, wrote about.." repeatedly before time was up.

Here's the interview with Paul Wright:

Here's the first part of our talk:


  1. You didn't mention who the author is of the poem that begins "And did those feet . . .". Most people call this poem "Jerusalem", but it doesn't really have a name. It is poem by William Blake. It is common for folks today to assume that the reference to "dark satanic mills" in the poem is a reference to the factories ("mills") of the industrial revolution, but Blake lived too early to see the heavy industrialization of the Victorian era. I once discussed this with one of the leading world experts in Blake, who coincidentally was also the father of myself and Candle-ends (Neil). Anyway, what Blake was concerned about was how scientists like Isaac Newton had reduced the universe to basically being a complex machine (another use of the word "mill"), without any soul or imagination. Blake once said "Art is the Tree of Life. Science is the Tree of Death."
    But more generally, I think this film Arcadia has really been made at a time when many people are struggling with the term "English" and what it means. In the contemporary UK, the term "English" has been largely co-opted by racists. So much so, that many people are uncomfortable with the term and try to avoid using it (instead often substituting the word "British"). One of the issues seems to be whether celebrating the folk heritage of England--the sort of English folk heritage that permeates this film--somehow makes the celebrants racist and anti-immigrant. This becomes all tied up with the current political situation in the UK around "brexit". One interesting manifestation of this recently was when right wing, racist organizations tried to take over the celebration of St. George's Day (April 23). St. George has been the patron saint of England since the middle ages. So some groups were using St. George's Day to celebrate a type of "Englishness" that excludes certain groups of people. But in many places, including London, the people responded with their own celebrations of St. George's Day that were inclusive instead of exclusive.
    Your question of how can these English/British people claim to have a cultural amnesia when they are surrounded by these reminders of their cultural heritage is I think an interesting one. I am suspecting that on some level it is an "affected" amnesia, that perhaps some "English" people are pretending to have amnesia so they can avoid being considered racist.

  2. People keep talking about an idealized past, a past that never existed. At one point I hadn't been to England for a while, and had been reading about these idealized English villages, the "chocolate box" England (so named because pictures like this were traditionally put on the covers of English chocolate boxes). Then I went to visit my family in England one Christmas. Because I flew in to Gatwick Airport on Christmas Eve, there were no trains or public transportation running, so I had to hire a car and driver to drive me across Sussex. The whole drive through the Sussex countryside was through these very types of villages that writers had been insisting did not exist!
    Since that experience I have been very skeptical of the insistence that "this never existed". For one thing, the rural archive of the BFI--which this film drew heavily from--shows that in fact it did exist! Many English or British traditions go through cycles of being "suppressed" and later "revived", but for a great deal of them we have records going back many centuries.
    What's interesting is that the concept of "Merry England" (a term which has been traced back to 1151) has had appeal not only to political conservatives, but also to English Utopian Socialists and similar folks.
    I think that Psychogeography is a real thing in British cities. Certainly when I visit London, I make a point to seek out the old buildings of bygone eras. Britain has a system by which historic buildings are designated "listed buildings" and cannot be altered, and apparently there are even laws requiring the owners of such building to keep them maintained. Again, here is another constant reminder of the past that is present in modern day British cities.
    In terms of "hauntology" I am thinking about some critiques I have read of recent science fiction. Some are saying that science fiction has recently started looking backwards, instead of looking forwards as it traditionally did. For example, there is a huge interest in "Steampunk" which is science fiction inspired by the Victorian era. Also lots of science fiction which are similarly based on or tributes to the science fiction of earlier eras. We are still making "Star Wars" movies more than 40 years after the first one, and "Doctor Who" recently passed its 55th anniversary. Science fiction fans will still buy the genre called "Space Opera". And there are other genres similar to Steampunk, such as "Dieselpunk". Anyway, one thought about why this may be going on is the fact that we may have come to a point in history where it is actually not possible for science fiction writers to predict the future any more. It seems to me that if science fiction writers are having trouble coming up with predictions for the future, what hope is there for the rest of us, and so is it any wonder that we have started looking to the past instead?

  3. so much to sift through, like the footage mentioned. Enjoyed the insights and barrage of works and ideas presented! Nice work guys! I saw Koyanasqatsi (?)at the Dearborn Library back in the late 80s - it had a limited release.

  4. I've just begin listening to your podcast and am thoroughly enjoying it! I just wanted to mention/add to Mike's exhaustive list of precursor films and filmmakers the San Francisco filmmaker Craig Baldwin, whose brilliant Tribulation 99 is assembled from a vast array of shlock SciFi films to create a pseudo-documentary of an alien conspiracy narrative that doubles as an indictment of US intervention in Latin America. Completely one of a kind and, although not remotely folk horror, a film that I suspect you both would enjoy (having gleaned some of your extra-folk horror aesthetic tastes from the podcast). Thanks for the great podcast! I look forward to future episodes.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Tom. Tribulation 99 sounds amazing. The podcast is on hiatus for now, but getting positive feedback like yours encourages me to get back to it.