Last weekend saw the return of Raft Race and the Edinburgh Canal Festival for the first time since before the Pandemic years. I was at the very first Raft Race, taking photos back in 2007 (I hadn’t realised how long ago it actually was until I looked back at those photos and saw the date taken).
It started as a fun Raft Race, with people building wacky designs (sinkings were common and still are – part of the fun!), and over the years evolved into the local Canal Festival. We had a warm, sunny weekend for it (you can’t take the weather for granted for outdoor events in Scotland, even in summer!), and a lot of folks turned out to welcome it back. I met several friends to watch it, two of whom had never been to it before, so this was all new to them, which of course made it more fun.
Despite the warmth and sun, it was very, very windy – this wee raft was the only one I saw with a sail, which I imagine was as much for decoration as anything else originally. But with the strong wind, and fortunately for them, in the correct direction for the race, they scurried along at a great clip! Lucky!
It’s not the Raft Race until someone ends up in the drink!!!
This chap in costume, with the recumbent bike approach to his design, was going great guns, handily ahead of the others… until it broke down and he was trying to fix the pedals and chain as the others caught up and passed him. They all got big cheers anyway.
As you can see, it was a pretty busy day, and everyone was having fun, cheering on the rafters. I think we were all just enjoying being able to hold these events again after the last couple of very difficult years.
There was also live music – this lady in the pic above was playing her violin under the stone arch of the old bridge over the canal at the bottom of Viewforth, which gave amazing acoustics. Others played by the side of the canal or even on passing boats!! Insert pun here about performing Handel’s “Water Music”!!!
As ever, if you click on the pics you can view the larger version on the Woolamaloo Flickr photo stream.
Very windy but sunny and warm day off, met with chum and his old hound, off down to Portobello for a stroll. Despite being a weekday it was still quite busy, when among the folks on the beach, something caught my eye – a woman in a totally white costume, with a white inflatable ring with an animal head around her waist, trotting down the beach, then joined by a man, also in a white costume and clutching an inflatable palm tree.
The pair of them then ran down towards the shoreline, where they were joined by another chap with a camera, so I imagine it was some sort of photoshoot, although I have no idea what for. Still, it was a wonderfully odd thing to just come across and grab some pics of – hope their photos for whatever it was come out too.
A little further long the beach we spotted something else that was rather delightful: someone had created a wee sculpture of the TARDIS and a Dalek, mounting them on the post of the wooden groynes that run along the beach periodically, to help stabilise the sands. I do love when artists create something like this, then leave it somewhere public so anyone who spots it can enjoy it – certainly made us smile!
(as ever click on the pics to see the larger versions on my Flickr stream)
Sitting on a bench by the side of the Union Canal on a very fine evening, reading. Hear some splashing, look over and see a kayaker coming along, enjoying the spring evening. Managed to grab the camera for some very quick pics as he came towards where I was, then turned as he passed and saw a traditional “Indian” style canoe coming the other way.
They both moved over to give each other plenty of space, passing with friendly smiles and waves, all enjoying a very welcome evening of warm sunlight after several days of rain and wind.
And while we’re on the canal theme, here’s a nice bookend to my recent photos of this year’s new cygnets – this year’s new ducklings on the Union Canal! All looking unbelievably cute and fluffy, also looks like I caught one of them here mid-quack!
As ever, click on the pics to see the much larger version on the Woolamaloo Flickr site (now over 24, 000 photos!)
We’ve reached that time of year when something rather wonderful happens: I heard a few weeks back that our resident breeding swan pair on the Union Canal had nested, laid their eggs, then hatched them. The main nest is along near Wester Hailes, but the pair claim a roughly five mile stretch from there right into the city centre where the canal ends at Lochrin Basin.
Well, as you can see from the photos taken on a canalside stroll, the we cygnets are now strong enough to start swimming up and down that range of canal with Mama and Papa Swan keeping a close eye on them. I’ve been waiting for them to be strong enough to start going up and down the canal, and had heard from a friend they were around our area the previous night. I went for a stroll the next day, not really expecting to see them, assuming they would have drifted back down the way before I was there. I had reached the final section of canal and given up on a chance of seeing them – with them moving up and down several miles, it is pure luck if I happen to be walking by a section they are in at the right time.
I paused at the Watershed, the floating cafe-barge moored by the old Leamington Lift Bridge, and as I was waiting for my coffee, I happened to look over – and there they were, the Swan Family, happily bobbing around in the water right behind the barge. Just when I had pretty much given up for that day and assumed I had missed them, that they had already headed back down the canal, there they were. I’ve taken photos of their broods each year going back quite some years now, but it still always makes my heart sing to see them with their new cygnets, especially when they are at this size, just adorable, fluffy, beautiful little creatures, sticking close to Mum and Dad.
I’m so lucky to have this just a few moments walk from my flat, and right in the middle of the city. Always cheers me to see this little annual miracle of nature, then to try and follow them through the next few months, taking more photos of them as they grow into adolescents, before one by one they fly away to start their own lives. So many people out walking or cycling by the canal stopping to admire them, it really does brighten the world for many of us.
They swam back along a little further, then up through the reeds onto the opposite banking, a spot the mother and father know well and often use as a temporary nest for the little ones to rest for a while before heading back along to the main nest. As ever, click on the pics to see the larger versions on my Flickr.
This evening’s uploads to my Flickr photo stream saw the Woolamaloo Flickr pass the 24, 000 images mark. Since I first purchased a Pro Flickr account back in 2007 I have uploaded 24, 000 photos and videos to my Flickr, and it has taken some 33.7 million views of those images across those years, which to be honest is pretty damned amazing. Quite a milestone – to mark it I thought I would pick out some photos from 2022 so far:
People watching in Princes Street Gardens, folks enjoying a bright, spring day
Water pouring over a lock gate on the Forth and Clyde Canal
Sudden burst of warm, spring weather, of course some men will cook up a huge cloud of very stinky BBQ smoke to ensure everyone within a hundred yards is enveloped by it! It’s like an inexorable law of nice weather here…
Evening light creating some lovely reflections of the old rowboats on the Union Canal at Harrison Park and the surrounding area:
Barefooting it at Porty Beach
Came back from getting myself another pint to find the book I was reading had fanned itself out like this and was being illuminated by a burst of spring light coming in the pub window, of course I had to take a pic.
Juggling a tote bag on Princes Street
The annual spring miracle as the cherry blossoms beging to bloom again
The Falkirk tunnel for the Forth and Clyde Canal, finished in 1822, running some 630 metres. In an interesting historical aside, two of the navigators – navvies – who excavated this were Irishmen, Burke and Hare – yes, the later, infamous Resurrection Men and Bodysnatchers of Edinburgh’s Old Town…
Krow on stage at the welcome return of the Shoreline of Infinity journal’s Event Horizon evenings in the Pleasance Cabaret Bar; as it was March, the month that includes International Women’s Day, the line up of musicians, performers, poets and writers was entirely female.
Peaceful afternoon drink and read in Cloisters pub
Nothing quite like a good cuppa! Street photo of chap enjoying a cuppa in a cafe on the Grassmarket
Smiling seaside selfie by the sea shore (how’s that for alliteration?)
Holy Corner at night; improvised night shot, just after work so I didn’t have the tripod, made do with sitting camera on timer mode on top of the button box for the pedestrian crossing to steady it.
First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, chairing a talk with the Scottish Makar, Kathleen Jamie, as the Paisley Book Festival in February, and bestselling Scottish author Denise Mina being interviewed at the festival.
Dreich night! Pouring rain on a cold, dark, winter night by the Royal Scottish Academy
Wee dusting of snow around Holy Corner
Union Canal towpath at night, Fountainbridge
Dusk on a winter’s evening at the Union Canal, viewed from the old, stone bridge at Viewforth
Stewards guiding the huge crowd coming from Murrayfield stadium after the opening Scotland versus England rugby match of the Six Nations.
Haymarket at night
Shops and cafes at night, Bruntsfield
As ever click the pics to see the larger versions on my Flickr.
Reading in the pub on a quiet afternoon, sun came out from behind the clouds and lit up my table by the window. I had just put down my book for a moment, and the pages fanned themselves out, just as the sunlight hit them. Had to take a photo…
The Kaiju Preservation Society,
Hardback, 272 pages, published March 2022
Jamie (whose gender is never explicitly mentioned) has put up with corporate nonsense and an entitled trust-fund owner of the tech start-up they are working at, to try and get ahead, only to find themselves laid off, right as the Covid nightmare is manifesting and Lockdown beckons. The only job they can find is delivering food during the Lockdown, and in a bitter irony for a company that her former tech company did the software for. Depressing as this is, it does lead to the happy accident of delivering to someone – Tom – who turns out to be someone they vaguely know, a friend of a friend sort of thing. And on hearing of Jamie’s recent employment woes, Tom reveals the animal protection charity he works for has been left short-handed at the last minute and he’d much rather have someone he knows if he can manage it.
Tom can’t tell her the full details, it is all very secretive, but it involves working with “large animals”, Jamie’s work would mostly be grunt work of helping move stuff and help out the science and tech teams, and the remuneration package is superb. Grabbing this offer, Jamie is soon given numerous shots for various diseases – including an early form of the Covid vaccine, not yet out to the public – and bundled off with a team of returning staff and some other new recruits to an airbase in Greenland.
The destination seems puzzling – what large animals are they working with here? But Greenland is just a way-point – from here they take a special portal, one of just a handful secreted around the globe, to, well, Earth. Except this is a parallel Earth, one where giant monsters, the eponymous Kaiju – are the dominant species. It transpires there are indeed numerous parallel worlds to our reality, but this is the only one we’ve been able to access, and only since the Atomic Age: nuclear energy, especially large-scale explosions, thins the walls between the worlds for a while. In fact one 1950s A-bomb test in the Pacific brought over a Kaiju looking for a radioactive snack, only to encounter the US Navy (yes, in this world the inspiration for Godzilla were the stories that leaked of this Kaiju incursion!).
In Scalzi’s world one of the reasons the atomic test ban treaties were agreed by world powers was not just for safety in our world, but to prevent more of these enormous creatures coming through – imagine if one entered our world near a major city. Of course only a few people know the reality behind this – the organisation, a number of senior members of world governments, and a few big corporate heads who also donate to the budget for operations (nice parallel to the billionaires having their rocket-measuring competitions at the moment, and yes these CEOs are just as big a bunch of numpties as you’d expect).
While bad things can and do happen to good people, for the most part this is a joyful romp of a book – it’s laced with a lot of humour (which will not surprise many Scalzi regulars), and the main characters (and even most of the supporting cast) are immensely likeable and indeed, loveable. Actually I came away from this with the sort of warm feelings for the characters as I have from Becky Chambers’s wonderful books, while Scalzi also works in some sound ecological themes and the sheer sense of wonder at such creatures really existing.
In an afterword, Scalzi reveals this was not the book he was originally writing; he was partway through something far darker when Covid hit. Lockdown, then falling ill himself, then a computer failure eating several thousand words of the work in progress, and he realised he just couldn’t finish it. Tor was understanding – it has been a weird two years for everyone – and with the weight of that book lifted from him, the Kaiju story popped into his head, and he wrote it swiftly, offering up instead of that grim, dark tale, something full of wonder and joy and humour. I don’t think I realised how much I needed this book, it left me content and smiling. An utter delight.
Light snowfall overnight, woke up to cold but bright winter morning, snapped a few photos on the way to work:
Holy Corner (so named because it has a church on all four points of this busy junction) was looking especially beautiful on this February, just a small amount of snow, but draped across the roofs, chimneys and ledges, outlining them in white against the slowly rising winter sunlight, had to grab a couple of photos on my way into work. The Italiante architecture of Morningside United Church (where Eric Liddell, whose story was told in the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire, worshipped – one of the stained glass windows still commemorates that Olympian) looked especially handsome.
I’m always happy when there is a new Ken MacLeod book to be read; for my money he is one of the UK’s most consistently impressive and thought-provoking SF writers. In Beyond the Hallowed Sky we have not only a new book, but the start of a trilogy – the Lightspeed series. As that would suggest, this is a story in which the development of FTL (Faster Than Light) travel is fairly prominent. In the summer of 2067, Lakshmi Nayak receives an old-fashioned, physical letter, containing detailed mathematical proofs, which would seem to indicate that FTL travel is in fact possible. It seems to echo some thoughts she has already had but not fully formulated, but who was thinking not only on the same lines but ahead of her, and knows of her interest to contact her? Examining the letter the seemingly impossible explanation is that she sent it to herself – from the future…
After finally publishing the work, Lakshmi’s reputation is ruined by many of her peers; she eventually decides to take an offer to defect to the Union bloc and travels to Scotland, a member state, where after some Le Carre-esque spycraft in the middle of Edinburgh, the Union’s AI guides her around the spies of rival powers and to a job interview on the west coast. The job offer is genuine, but the AI has other reasons, not least the development of her FTL ideas into a workable engine for a starship.
This brings us to the Clyde Coast and John Grant, a “responsible” (a person who was seriously active and important in a previous revolution in the Union) and his comrades who run an engineering co-operative making ships on the Clyde. The AI guides them together to start a collaboration which could create the first FTL ship – rather pleasingly, Clyde-built, like the great ships of the previous two centuries of tradition on that great river.
But there’s more going on here – out for a coastal stroll John sees a submarine leaving the Faslane naval base – in this decade Scotland is no longer part of the UK, but an independent member of the Union. However, Westminster held onto the vital nuclear submarine base of Faslane as part of the deal, and shares it with their US allies. When John sees a submarine leave the base and sail out into open water it’s nothing unusual – until it seems to hover above the waves for a moment before vanishing in a shimmering haze. Most don’t believe him, the all-seeing AI carefully wipes his photographic evidence from his devices. Is it possible that FTL is not only possible, but other power blocs already have it?
MacLeod proceeds to gives us an expanding universe with three main arcs: our future Scotland and the small team trying to engineer their FTL ship (without the rival power blocs knowing), a Union science team on a floating base in the violent atmosphere of Venus, paying host to a visiting android who is also a spy for British Intelligence (which they are aware of, all sides are playing a version of The Great Game here), and a distant world around another star, reached by FTL, and the science teams operating there. Crossing all of this is a discovery that ties all three worlds together in a way that isn’t clear yet.
The multiple, overlapping story arcs work nicely to build up a three dimensional picture of this future society, dominated by three rival power blocs; as with a number of his previous works, MacLeod conjures up a believable socio-political structure, giving it just enough details that we can grasp the situation but not bogging it down with too much exposition, so the narrative flows at a good rate of knots. Along the way we get to consider various weighty topics, from the notions of political ideology and patriotism to the use and limits of AI in the human sphere, and the exploration/exploitation of other worlds. Looking forward to the second volume.
This review was originally penned for Shoreline of Infinity, Scotland’s leading journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Mandel, who won huge acclaim and the prestigious Arthur C Clarke Award for Station Eleven (recently adapted into a TV series), returns with a fascinating take on the time travel tale. Taking us from the vast forests of British Columbia in 1912, where a young aristocrat, Edwin St. Andrew, has a strange, momentary audio-visual experience involving a glimpse of a building and violin music, a famous author, Olive Llewellyn, two centuries later, leaving her Lunar colony home for a book tour on Earth, with a new novel that includes a scene with a violin player in a huge airship terminal, but momentarily seeing huge trees, and further into the future, the unusually named Gaspery-Jacques Roberts (named by his mother for a character in Llewellyn’s novel), in an era where time travel exists but is understandably tightly controlled. Gaspery-Jacques is tasked with investigating a potential anomaly in different time periods, an anomaly involving violin music…
Mandel takes us chronologically through these different lives in different periods, introducing us to the different characters, giving us a glimpse of their lives, their worlds, and then deftly drawing them together, through the anomaly. Is it just a weird coincidence linking these disparate lives and time periods, or is there an actual fault in time itself – and if so, is it naturally occurring or the result of human interference? Or… could it be something else again? Gasper-Jacques’s sister, a physicist with the Time Institute has an interest in Simulation Theory, the idea that what we assume is the real universe around us is in fact an advanced computer simulation, that we are, in effect, all living in the Matrix. And perhaps this anomaly is a glitch in the Matrix?
The narrative manages to be both chronological yet circular, exploring the nature of this potential anomaly; I really am wary of saying too much because I don’t want to spoil it, and with all three segments being so interrelated it’s impossible to talk about certain events without massive spoilers. Suffice to say I found Mandel handled this rotation through the timelines and the various people in a very satisfying manner. The book also raises a lot of interesting questions – for instance, the few licensed to go back in time have a strict non-interference policy, like the temporal Prime Directive in Star Trek. Very sensible you may well think, protect the integrity of the timeline – after all, we can’t know what even minor alterations could have on the unfolding centuries of events that follow.
But, as Gaspery-Jacques is told in his training, when they visit a period, they know everything about most of the people they will encounter, their entire biographies. He could meet people at a party, for example, and know that one woman he is chatting to so amiably is destined to die soon, and not in an unavoidable way such as a fatal disease, but by a simple accident. Despite knowing this he absolutely could not tell her to avoid driving on that particular road next week. As his sister tells him, you effectively have to shut down your empathic, human side and remain totally detached; easier said than done. The issues raised by the possibility of Simulation Theory are likewise fascinating in their philosophical ramifications (I was reminded of the compelling documentary A Glitch in the Matrix which came out last year and explored this in some depth), both to the Big Questions of Life, The Universe And Everything, and the smaller, personal, individual elements (what would this mean for our lives, the lives of those we love?).
I can see this being a cracking read to do for my long-running book group, there’s a lot of questions and moral quandaries raised here that would be perfect for book group discussion material! Thought-provoking and very satisfying reading, I raced through this and couldn’t stop.
Sea of Tranquility is published late April 2022 by Picador
This review was originally penned for Shoreline of Infinity, Scotland’s leading journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
In this intriguing, often almost dream-like dystopia, Kelsey Egan has crafted an unusual apocalypse: The Shred. An airborne virus which slowly destroys the memories of anyone exposed, piece by piece, until there is little left but animal instinct. The eponymous Glasshouse is a beautiful place, a botanical garden structure, one of those wonderfully airy, glass and steel structures the Victorians crafted so well in so many places, all descendants of the Crystal Palace from the Great Exhibition. Concealed by some of the last surviving greenery to protect it, it is a sanctuary, a safe place for several young women – Bee (Jessica Alexander), Evie (Anja Taljaard), and the very young Daisy (Kitty Harris), a single male, Gabe (Brent Vermeulen), overseen by their matriarch, Mother (Adrienne Pearce).
The Glasshouse is not just a safe place in a world that has fallen apart, the plant life nourished there feeds the small group, while also generating fresh oxygen in a sealed environment, that they can breathe without fear of inhaling The Shred (outdoors masks and air cylinders are required for protection). Understandably they protect this sanctuary – with any infrequent intruder most likely to be a Shred victim they simply shoot without hesitation; it’s a brutally efficient method we see early on when an approaching figure is gunned down without warning, then parts of his body harvested, chopped up and used to help fertilise the soil for plants in the Glasshouse, like a sacrificial offering to some plant god. Other religious overtones are apparent in the rituals the group observes, even the stained glass they have added to the Glasshouse, depicting their version of the events that lead them to this place.
It’s a very controlled, very female space – Gabe is the only male, a young man in body, but a child in mind due to exposure to The Shred. His greatest tragedy, perhaps, is that he was not exposed long enough to lose everything he was and become completely oblivious, which may have been more merciful. Instead we see Vermeulen portrays the torture in his damaged mind, glimpses of half-erased memories, struggling to recall the words of the group ritual and failing, unable to manage it but aware enough to know he is failing. For any of us who have watched the cruel advance of dementia on a loved one, it’s painfully familiar, and deeply emotional as we watch this half-life struggling on, part of him gone, but enough left to be slightly aware of what has happened to him.
Into this almost literally hermetically sealed bubble comes The Stranger (Pelser). Bee is on sentry duty, but fails to shoot The Stranger – she hesitates because he is wearing a gas mask. Is he untouched by The Shred? He collapses, she, against all the rules, brings him inside. Mother is not pleased, but with The Stranger confined to one room and on chains so he cannot go far, she can also see possibilities here – just as they pollinate their plants in the Glasshouse, they could use him to impregnate her oldest daughter, Bee.
But The Stranger’s arrival creates ripples in this contained eco-system of closed family and ritualised, selective remembrance – to begin with it unbalances the existing gender dynamic by bringing in a male who is adult in both mind and body, unlike Gabe (who does not react well to this change). It also brings back to the surface the question of their missing brother Luca, who went out on an exploration mission but never returned. They repeat to each other that he will come back some day until it has almost taken on the overtones of The Second Coming, but it seems far more likely Luca lies dead somewhere, and if he never returns but The Stranger has come, what does that mean? No closed system can remain fully closed off forever, change is inevitable for both people and the environment.
This is a beautifully shot film – you’d never realise it was made on a micro-budget. The location, the Pearson Conservatory in South Africa, has been a location writer Emma Lungiswa de Wet has known since childhood, and she created the story with it in mind; she and director Kelsey and the production team were immensely fortunate the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, which administers it, were so open and helpful in letting them make the film there. The women’s clothing and the location give it a feeling that is at the same time pseudo-Victorian and yet timeless; the date is left ambiguous, and I was left with the impression this is our future, but one living in part of our shared past, essentially a world with little real future left, living in a memory of the old order, another metaphor for the film itself, in which our memories and our grasp of our own narratives, both individual and our shared societal memories, have been so badly disrupted.
There are echoes here of the oft-overlooked early Clint Eastwood film from 1971, The Beguiled, where Eastwood’s injured soldier is nursed to health in an isolated house filled only with women, upsetting the dynamic there (in that film the outside world is also in a state of chaos, this time from the raging US Civil War), while the isolated tending of remaining natural resources like plants under protective glass also stirs vague memories of another 70s film, eco-SF Silent Running.
The South African setting also ties to this narrative which is about both enforced and chosen aspects of what people and groups forget or remember, or indeed even rewrite their pasts, something that land has had to do to move on. I think the more you consider it, the more this is a film you could find so many parallels to, both individual and on the larger scale, and that gives it a depth and emotional resonance, aided and abetted by beautifully crafted cinematography, excellently exploiting this unusual location, and a wonderfully tight small cast that showcases the increasing friction between trying to be a cohesive family living outside the ruins of the world and a desperate desire to be something else, even if it involves forgetting all.
Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond,
Starring Niamh Algar, Nicholas Burns, Michael Smiley
I read good things about Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor last year and have been eagerly awaiting a chance to finally see it – fortunately the always-reliable Second Sight crew are bringing out an impressive limited edition Blu-Ray at the end of January, so I finally got my chance to watch it. I must confess that, in addition to being a life-long horror fan, I also wanted to see this for personal reasons. I hit my teens in the “Video Nasty” era, before this new, emerging world of home video was regulated by the BBFC in the way film already was, so my friends and I got to watch, well, pretty much everything (and despite the rants from people like Mary Whitehouse about how they were affecting Impressionable Youth, none of us grew up to be serial killers), so this is an era and films I have strong memories of.
Years later in the 90s I used this period and the frantic, illogical, tabloid-driven, whipped-up fears (what academics like Cohen have called “folk devils and moral panics”) for some of my college essays on censorship. Even a free, democratic society probably requires some censorship and classification, to protect vulnerable groups, both in the viewing audience and those making the films. But it’s also unhealthy for freedom of speech, and viewing for adults to be dictated by the screaming “outrage” headlines of tabloid media and small interest groups (this would recur again in the 90s and affect even a film-maker of the stature of Oliver Stone, with Natural Born Killers being denied a BBFC certificate due to tabloid pressure, only to be passed pretty much as is a year later once the furore had passed, pretty much making it clear the censors didn’t just work to a list of categories as they said, but also to media jackals, which is worrying).
Enid (Niamh Algar), is in the middle of this era and the growing media controversy (carried out on the airwaves and the red-top tabloids for the most part – this is long before social media and the internet), working as a censor in the gloomy offices and viewing rooms in Soho. A very buttoned-down (almost literally, going by her wardrobe choices) person, she seems to eschew any close connections to her work colleagues (bluntly cold-shouldering a very gentle colleague who clearly likes her, and not caring about the hurt she causes him), and as we learn, her relationship with her parents is distant and strained; it feels like there is nobody in her life at all, just the work, to which she is committed, telling her mother that she is “protecting people”.
As we get further into the film, though, it becomes clear that at least some of Enid’s detachment is a form of psychological withdrawal, from a traumatic childhood event that she has largely blocked most of the details of from her mind, involving her younger sister going missing in the woods. Enid was the last one to be with her, but even as an adult she claims she can’t remember what happened. After so many years her parents, obviously deeply worried about her ongoing refusal to face what happened and get on with her life, tell her they have finally sought permission to have her sister declared legally dead, in the hope that drawing a line under this long trauma will help her to move on too, but instead it seems to have the opposite effect. This also dovetails in a storm caused by a high profile murder case, in which the perpetrator claims a scene in a film inspired his crime, a film which Enid viewed and passed, placing her right on the front-line of frantic protest (doorstepping hack journalists, even threatening phone calls).
This could be enough to threaten the mental well being of anyone, no matter how stable, but for Enid it’s cracking the emotional-distance armour she has built around herself since her young sister vanished all those years ago. And then more fuel to the fire: sleazy, sexist producer Doug Smart (brilliantly played by the always excellent Michael Smiley), in-between leering at a disgusted Enid, tells her the famous (or infamous) horror director Frederick North has personally requested she be the one to view and advise on ratings for an older film of his, Don’t Go Into the Church. A film with a plot that triggers Enid with flashes of memory – is this film based on what happened to her sister? How could it be? But what if her long-gone sister isn’t dead but was kidnapped and being used in grindhouse films like a film-slave?
As to where it goes from there, I will not spoil it for you, but suffice to say Bailey-Bond does a sterling job of cranking up the tension, while also adding to it by having it shown in such a way as to make the viewer wonder, is this an already damaged Enid finally breaking and embracing a dangerous fantasy, or are some of the increasingly surreal and sleazy producers and directors she has to go through to try and track down North and confront him indicators that yes, there really is something horrible going on behind the fictional horror of the video nasties?
The film drips with loving attention to detail and homages to that period and the wave of horror films that were unleashed onto then-new home video boom of the 80s – even the opening Film4 and other logos get the 80s styling and the dodgy, wobbly video tracking and static burst of a bad VHS tape starting up, and the smaller screen format (the film itself apparently used a mix of 24mm film and video footage, giving it a very period visual feel), even the soundscape helps generate that period atmosphere (something as simple as the clunking then whirring sound of slapping a tape into a VCR and starting it is quite the memory-jab for anyone old enough to have used one).
The cinematography, by Annika Summerson, is excellent, as are the use of some of the sets: the enclosed, claustrophobic, almost windowless BBFC officers and the even more enclosed viewing booths and the lighting used in them feeds a feeling of alienation, wrongness and disconnection. Some of the scenes, both in the main narrative and in the segments of films being viewed by the censors, also hint at loving homages to older horror films (certainly feels like a couple of scenes tip the hat to some vintage Cronenberg, for instance). An unusual and compelling addition to Brit-horror, and even more fascinating for those of us who remember those 80s video horror nights.
This limited edition Blu-Ray release from Second Sight comes with new artwork (by James Neal), a book with a number of relevant essays and production photographs, collector’s art cards, three options on commentary tracks (including one from Prano Bailey-Bond), a making of, deleted scenes, a whole smorgasbord of interviews with cast and crew and documentaries on the Video Nasty scare and the resulting media-stoked Folk Panic.
Censor gets the limited edition Blu-Ray treatment from Second Sight on 31st January