I’ve been haunted by Derek Jarman’s 1971 film Journey to Avebury for the last few days. Filmed in the year I was born I saw it (wittingly) for the first time early this year in the Hayward Gallery touring exhibition Uncommon Ground when it visited the Mead Gallery.
This ten-minute film is widely available on the internet but with different soundtracks (original-silent, 1990s-Coil, etc.). The Super-8 filming and yellow-filtered light re-enforce my 1970s nostalgia yet, despite this, there is a joy to it. Joy in the freedom of this new medium for Jarman, and maybe joy in the english landscape.
Sometimes brooding sometimes pastoral the film seems to track an art-satellite’s parabola as it synchs with the Sacred Avebury Landscape®. The landscape is punctuated with cows, standing stones and tree clumps – occasionally these motifs are dwelt upon and a passage of repeated forms follows. I’m not sure if it is a result of the digitising of the film or the original Super-8 (or subsequent 16mm) film stock but the stones and wider landscape tremble and simmer with life – a life in addition to their rich lichenous habitats and denim-flares-clad village children.
Some see hints of Samuel Palmer in this film (maybe reinforced by the colouring that might make one think of Cornfield by Moonlight perhaps) I also see something akin to the eye of Graham Sutherland in his landscape paintings as we are funneled along and down ancient trackways.
I’ve been to Avebury once before, probably over twenty years ago now, I also used to dabble with Super-8 filming, and even (in the 1980s) I used to add biscuit wrapper filters of yellow, red and purple to the front of my still camera (the Boots film developing lab never liked this an always insisted there was something wrong with my technique or film as they advised me in big oval stickers slapped onto my precious prints). (Perhaps) I shall do all these things again in my landscape research and think of Derek Jarman.