This is a review of the reboot of Mad Max, Fury Road. You're reading this and you want to know exactly two things.
First of all, is this a film that holds up against the original series? Is it the action packed, fuel injected, chromed out post-apocalyptic vehicular mayhem tale worthy of bearing the name? Yes. Unquestionably, unequivocally: YES. This is a film that never stops. From the very beginning until the end there's no pause, just a shifting of gears. It's an unrelenting, frenetic action piece. Gloriously shot and edited. Full of incredible set pieces and props and character design. Like, did you see that guy with the guitar providing a soundtrack for us from within the universe? Just, whoa! There's details like that throughout the whole film. And it was probably made all the better for its relocation to Namibia and long production time. This isn't a film for the Fast & Furious generation, it's a reminder that Max was the first road warrior, and they've just been keeping the signal fire burning. He's back now to carry the torch and light the way.
The second question then, if you're still reading this, if you need to know anything else: is there any more to it than that? YES! Yes, there is. And this is the focus of the rest of my review. SPOILERS FOLLOW.
George Miller could have just delivered something resembling an elaborate cut scene from the Borderlands video game and been done with it. There's definitely an audience out there for that kind of material. But he didn't stop there, no; he imbued the entire thing with a rich mythology and an important message.
While this is a story very much situated in what we immediately recognise to be Mad Max's universe, the tale it tells is all about Furiosa's journey. Max is in fact barely present in the story. He's on the screen a lot, he's just not... ... Read More »
Last month I announced the coming release of The John Michell Reader, Inner Traditions' collection of essays by the late English counterculture icon. Well, the book is now available through all the major bookstores [Amazon US & UK] and it would definitely make a fine addition to any Fortean's library. "Radical traditionalist" is a spot-on way to describe Michell, who used his witty prose on his column at The Oldie --a humorous monthly magazine aimed for senior readership-- both to complaint about the loss of the traditional lifestyle in British rural areas, condemn modern Agriculture, rant about Darwinism, support the Monarchy system, as well as extolling the use of psychedelics to promote thought-provoking conversations at suitable parties. You can't get more "radical center" than that!
At the same time, Michell also directed his attention to a plethora of Fortean topics, including Sacred Geometry, Stonehenge, the Grail lore, Fairy legends and UFOs. It is on this last subject that I find Michell's ideas resonating heavily with my own, which is why with Inner Traditions' permission, I'm posting one of his essays concerning the most controversial aspect of the UFO phenomenon: Alien abductions.
UFO Abductions and the End of Innocence
The first UFO contactee I met was a young lad from a poor Protestant family in Northern
Ireland, named Ivor Brown. One evening he was walking along a dark country road toward a dance hall when he saw in front of him an ovalshaped object. Some creatures came out of it and took him inside, where he was seduced or whatever you call it by two strange but attractive females. Somehow Ivor got in touch with Desmond Leslie, the author of the very first UFO book, who took me to meet him.
We were inexperienced at that time, so were rather disconcerted by Ivor Brown. Our main concern was whether or not he was lying, and our ideas on how to tell a liar from an honest man were unimaginatively conventional. We had hoped to find the type of reliable witness who appeals to lawyers, firmeyed and rationalminded. That was not Ivor Brown. He was nervous, impressionable, uneducated, and prone to symptoms that are familiar to psychiatrists. Ever since his experience he had maintained psychic contact with his abductors and knew when they were near his house. His sensitivity spread to the rest of the family. Their minds and habits were changed and they left their home to go on psychically guided travels. The last I saw of Ivor was when he passed through London with old Mr. Brown and a younger brother, on their way to visit the grave of Matthew Hopkins, the fanatical witchfinder of seventeenthcentury Suffolk.
There is now a vast literature on the subject of “UFO abductions”— the modern folklore term for the kind of experience described by Ivor Brown. A large and growing number of similar encounters are reported all over the world, particularly in America. Opinions are divided about their meaning. Some say that they are to do with extra-terrestrial beings, while others believe they have a psychological origin. My own persuasion is that the sensible approach to the phenomenon of UFO abductees is by comparing it with past records—the records of folklore.
In any regional account of British folklore one can find stories about people who have been abducted by unworldly creatures, conventionally identified as fairies. The details in such cases are infinitely varied, but one detail is always the same. In every account of an abduction, whether by fairies, demons, or UFOcreatures, the abductee is mentally changed and acquires a new, spiritual perception. The results are not always of obvious benefit—abductees are likely to become lonely, melancholy, introspective. Some are persuaded that they have gone mad and there are always a few who think that God or the Venusians have chosen them to reform mankind.
In certain cases, however, a person who has undergone the abduction experience is awakened to life and gains the level of understanding, which, in ancient and tribal societies, was induced by a ritual initiation.
I now know that Ivor Brown was telling the truth, that he had a genuine, traumatic experience and that he naturally described it in modern, spaceage imagery rather than, as he would have done a generation or so earlier, in terms of demons and fairies. The actual cause of that experience is a mystery, which, I feel sure, will never finally be explained. Yet is has to be accepted as a real, effective phenomenon. To any sympathetic reader who has the slightest idea what I am driving at, I offer for contemplation the following suggested connections: violation of innocence by “UFO abductors”; by rumoured covens of “cult ritualists”; by tribal elders in the course of their initiation of adolescents. These are terrible things to undergo, but the victim may find certain compensations, such as maturity and a finer sensibility.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The John Michell Reader by John Michell, introduction by Joscelyn Godwin © 2015 Inner Traditions.
Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com
Bertha was a maiden fair
Dwelling in the old Minster-square;
From her fireside she could see
Sidelong its rich antiquity—
Far as the Bishop's garden wall
Where Sycamores and elm trees tall
Full-leav'd the forest had outstript—
By no sharp north wind ever nipt
So shelter'd by the mighty pile—
Bertha arose and read awhile
With forehead 'gainst the window-pane—
Again she tried and then again
Until the dusk eve left her dark
Upon the Legend of St. Mark.
From plaited lawn-frill, fine and thin
She lifted up her soft warm chin,
With aching neck and swimming eyes
And daz'd with saintly imageries.
- from "The Eve of St. Mark" by John Keats, 1819
The Christian martyr Saint Mark, or Mark the Evangelist, is the traditionally purported to be the author of the Gospel of Mark. He is said to have founded the Church of Alexandria, one of the most important episcopal sees of Early Christianity. His feast day is celebrated on the 25th of April (this coming Saturday as I type).
If you're in Britain over the next few days and happen to find yourself enjoying the warm weather near grassland, hedgerows, or woodland you might well encounter a small swarm of bulbous-eyed, black, hairy, dangly-legged flies. These are the males of the Bibio marci species and their dancing flight is intended to impress the smaller females which, if you look closely, you may find perched on nearby leaves. They are sometimes known as Hawthorn Flies, but more commonly and widely so as Saint Mark's Fly because of their uncanny habit of emerging out of the earth on, or around, the Saint's feast day.
The exact meaning of John Keats' unfinished 1819 poem "The Eve of St. Mark" (quoted in part above) remains a matter of debate among scholars and other interested parties, but the atmosphere of the piece is unmistakably gloomy and foreboding. Indeed, early in 1818 Keats had become convinced that he had only three years left to live, the themes of death and dying becoming more prevalent in his works in the year that followed (he did pass away on the 23rd of February, 1821 of tuberculosis). Isabella Jones (who also inspired his contemporaneous work "The Eve of St. Agnes," ) was Keats' lover at this time and it has been speculated that it was she who told the poet about the folk traditions attached to Saint Mark's Eve. According to Chambers Book of Days, 1869: "St. Mark's Eve appears to have enjoyed among our simple ancestors a large share of the privileges which they assigned to All Saints' Eve (the Scottish Halloween)". It seems equally likely that Keats would also have known of, and perhaps been deliberately alluding to, a poem published some thirteen years before he penned his own entitled "The Vigil of St. Mark".
"The Vigil of St. Mark" was one of twenty poems written by James Montgomery, published in his 1906 collection The Wanderer of Switzerland and Other Poems. Lord Byron, Keats' Romantic contemporary (though the pair did not get on), was a fan of the titular poem and Montgomery was successful and well known throughout the early 1800s. Montgomery's poem tells of Edmund "monarch of the dale" and his desire to wed (and bed) Ella "the lily of the vale". It just so happens to be the eve of Saint Mark's Day and, to prove his mettle and win Ella's hand in marriage, Edmund agrees to sit the vigil of Saint Mark.
" 'Tis now," replied the village Belle,
" St. Mark's mysterious Eve ;
And all that old traditions tell
I tremblingly believe ; —
" How, when the midnight signal tolls,
Along the churchyard green '
A mournful train of sentenced souls
In winding-sheets are seen.
" The ghosts of all whom death shall doom
Within the coming year,
In pale procession walk the gloom.
Amid the silence drear.
The custom of the vigil is explained in Chambers Book of Days as follows:
In the northern parts of England, it is still believed that if a person, on the eve of St. Mark's day, watch in the church porch from eleven at night till one in the morning, he will see the apparitions of all those who are to be buried in the churchyard during the ensuing year.
In some versions of the custom it is supposed to be necessary to sit three successive Saint Mark's vigils before the spectres of those yet to pass will be seen. (Three years, the span mysteriously yet accurately foretold by Keats in 1818).
Another Saint Mark's Eve custom is described, yet again, in Chambers Book of Days:
On St. Mark's eve, at twelve o'clock,
The fair maid will watch her smock,
To find her husband in the dark,
By praying unto good St. Mark.'
We presume that the practice was to hang up the smock at the fire before going to bed; the rest of the family having retired, the anxious damsel would plant herself to wait till the resemblance of him who was to be her husband should come in and turn the garment. The divination by nuts was also in vogue. A row being planted amongst the hot embers on the hearth, one from each maiden, and the name of the loved one being breathed, it was expected that if the love was in any case to be successful, the nut would jump away; if otherwise, it would go on composedly burning till all was consumed:
"If you love me, pop and fly,
If not, lie there silently.'
Love and death seem to be the recurring themes here; this is neither a celebratory time of new life and rebirth (like Easter), nor a cursing, or driving away the death and darkness of winter (like Yule). The folklore surrounding Saint Mark's Eve seems (to me) to be about engaging with the fact that everyone and everything dies - everything is transient - a tragic, yet romantic notion which I'm sure Keats would have appreciated.
The St. Mark’s Fly has a very short adult life cycle - the males emerge first, the females a day or so later. After mating, they lay their eggs in the soil ("the deep-delvèd earth" as Keats might have it) and die soon after.
In October 1819 John Keats wrote the following in a letter to Fanny Brawne - a woman with whom he was passionately in love with but had never, and would never, be with:
I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion – I have shudder'd at it – I shudder no more – I could be martyr'd for my Religion – Love is my religion – I could die for that – I could die for you.
Yet, as the poet himself also once wrote "the poetry of the Earth is never dead"; the next generation of Saint Mark's Flies sleep beneath the soil, already doomed to live and love and die within a pre-allotted time span. Every Saint Mark's Eve the males keep their vigil, awaiting their brides and sealing their fates.