I have often wondered why the UK has never produced an equivalent of Kerouac, of Hunter S Thompson, the wild, crazy, drug and alcohol fuelled travellers and story tellers. Yes, I know Britain is a lot smaller. Any road trip would be a lot shorter, but here’s a film that comes close.
It begins with a woman claiming to be Edith, the mistress/wife of King Harold trying to talk to the camera inside Waltham Abbey church, where parts of King Harald were brought after the Battle of Hastings, but she told she needed official permission. Then we have psychogeographer Iain Sinclair in the churchyard (with the grave of Henry Bridges in the background, whose life I am obsessed with). He talks of how the church was founded when cows from Montacute in Somerset were set loose and followed till they stopped here, on the outskirts of North London, to build a church to house their holy cross. That’s a long walk for a cow.
Edith Swan Neck and Sinclair are joined by Jem Finer, formerly of The Pogues, Anonymous Bosch, a drummer, a sound technician and filmed by Andrew Koetting as they walk from Waltham Abbey to Battle where Harold was shot in the eye, to end at the monument on the seafront of St Leonards on Sea where the king is said to have died.
The filming is via a pinhole camera, phones and more traditional equipment. We see them sharing maps and discussing routes, interspersed with interviews with author Alan Moore who talks of how there is no evidence of a battle at Battle, and how the bodies of Harold and Hareward the Wake have never been found, so Harold probably survived the battle that began the Norman invasion, to reinvent himself as Hereward. There was talk of how his bones were scattered, and if Maude could reunite them, he would return, so echoing the story of Osiris, and we have a sort of echo of King Arthur restoring a golden age for England, only it probably wasn’t a golden age at all.
Maud sings, they stride across windswept English countryside, they discuss much of importance, these 6 pilgrims.
It ends with Maude raising and lowering Finer on a mechanical tilt table on the seafront at St Leonards on Sea, separated by the monument to King Harald and his beloved wife. It makes sense, but I can’t explain how or why. The film clocks in at exactly 1 hour 66 seconds, i.e. 1066. Brilliant!
I have no idea what it all means, but with such brilliantly bonkers film making, who needs road trips or illicit drugs? In England the landscape inspires far more craziness. And it’s legal.
The film is available on the BFI iplayer. I must catch up on Koettig’s back catalogue and finish the book I’m reading by Sinclair.