With Philip Trevelyan’s now-cult documentary film The Moon and the Sledgehammer returning to our screens this month, British artist, writer and director Andrew Kötting reflects on its Dogme ’95 predictions, enduring impact and importance…
Where to begin?
At the beginning?
Before the moon landing?
Wayback before we had the ‘understanding’?
Wayback when time began expanding to become a multi-dimensional uneven post-modern happening?
Wayback before genre mingling and sex changing?
Wayback when there was a lot of smoking?
Wayback before Danish manifesting;
Shooting must be done on location, and props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found); the sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa (music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot); the camera must be handheld; the film must be in colour, and special lighting is not acceptable; optical work and filters are forbidden; the film must not contain superficial action (murders, etc, must not occur); temporal and geographical alienation is forbidden (that is to say that the film takes place in the here and now); genre movies are not acceptable.
Dogme ‘95 Manifesto.
It was in the late 60’s that Philip Trevelyan set about the making of The Moon And The Sledgehammer, anticipating the Dogme Manifesto by almost 25 years. Five years honing his craft as a documentary film-maker at the BBC and then that summer spent in the woods with the Page Family. It was to inspire me, to transform me, to transport me and now you, hopefully.
What a family.
At the helm a fascinating and flawed father, proverbial performer and interfering agitator. Two besuited brothers and those beautifully scrawny sisters. Self-sufficient beguilers and inefficient modernisers.
Are the Page family our dinosaurs or are they our visionaries? Has the world passed them by or have we come full circle and is it us that are now struggling to catch up?
The woodland is their only world and within it we experience a man-powered-steam-driven-sweat-soaked-metal-wonder, alive to the noise of physical exertion and out-of-tune pianos. It is littered with heavy metal, rusty spanners, disemboweled car carcasses, manicured lawns, embroidered doilies and carefully pruned roses. It is a paradox fresh-out of Samuel Butler’s Erewohn.
Fantasies and philosophies unfolding in random upsurge.
The trees above them and the world beyond them.
Hermetically sealed within their pastoral echo chamber, yet universal themes ricochet amongst its’ arboreal clutter.
The detail is beguiling and their culture confusing.
There is no reality to their world, moreover it is a world of self-imposed narrative illusion. They live, as we still live, amongst the detritus of contingency, solidarity and irony. They live between what’s real and what’s fantasy. Their truths might even appear eccentric or quaint, but they are truths manifest as trace elements from the haptic events of their lives. Hands-on.
The Page’s are our Stalkers and we’ve entered their Zone. We all stretch the truth and tell lies by omission. We all leave things out in an attempt at seduction, but the absence of issues or the plot-driven, leaves us room to contemplate, to meditate and to ruminate:
Why, given a hammer, do I imagine that Peter might annihilate his father?
Why do I believe that kangaroos can be trained to climb ladders?
Why am I convinced that Kath is having sex with Jim?
And why oh why is Nancy so sexy?
(I know from experience the pull of woodland Sussex; its forest floors, its ripeness for carnal enjoyment and its scratching-at-the-back delightfulness.)
And thus we meander backwards and forwards across that thin membrane of fact and fiction, that foggy no-man’s land of the homegrown, the not-knowing and the non-convention. Steam Power, Page Power and the Power of Difference. The film is neither one thing nor another, it is everything.
Anyhow after Jim’s medley of different engine sounds and the somewhat confusionist outpouring in the form of the hereabove I feel obliged to leave you with something useful to get on with. So hereunder is a list of types of heavy metal you might be able to part with, in exchange for tickets to see The Moon And The Sledgehammer at HOME;
Grey iron cast
(Old School) Zimmer frames
PS Help I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, Bear Grylls and Ray Mears where were you for the moon landing?
The Moon and the Sledgehammer is showing as part of A Trevelyan Trio on Thu Feb 23. To find out more and to book tickets head here.
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