Thursday, 22 September 2011

Requiem For A Village

'Requiem For A Village' was only released on DVD a few months ago, the first time David Gladwell's 1975 film had been available for many years. As usual, there was a bundle of people falling over themselves to proclaim it a groundbreaking work of incredible lost genius and to align it to some zeitgeist or other but, to be honest, a more realistic and less charged assessment is that it's simply a good and interesting film that most people weren't previously aware of.

Gladwell was a film editor by profession, most famously working on 'If....' and 'O Lucky Man'. Whenever possible, however, he liked to make his own films - abstract, low budget things which celebrated his love of the English countryside, his interest in the macabre, and his fascination for a traditional way of life which had been in steady decline since the national catastrophe of World War One. In 'Requiem For A Village' he takes the idea of a bucolic Suffolk hamlet about to be flattened to make way for a road and a new estate and weaves a strange but gossamer light narrative through it to fascinating effect. The 'star' is Vic Smith -born and raised in the village, Vic works in the cemetery, keeping the graves and grounds tidy even though they won't be there for very long.

More than anyone, Smith understands the community and continuity of village life - it's all there on the grave stones in the church yard. In the film's most striking sequence, he watches the dead rise from their graves to attend a wedding, one of several flashbacks to earlier, simpler, but no more easier times. To this, Gladwell also adds documentary film of blacksmiths, ostlers and wheelwrights at work, as well as some strange diversions - a rape, a frog tied to a tree, and a gang of bikers who haunt the village like avenging wraiths and will, ultimately, be the means by which Vic is joyously reunited with his dead wife.

'Requiem For A Village' only runs for 68 minutes, but it's jam packed full of ideas and haunting images. Our society is still eroding / evolving (depending on your point of view and, probably, your age), let's hope someone is currently documenting the progress / ruination as sensitively and imaginatively as Gladwell.

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