by Amy Cutler
What is she else, but a foul woosie marsh
-Michael Drayton, Poly-Olbion (1612)
FOG / DISMAY (2017) is set in the black waters of tree-filled wetlands – a half-world of sepulchral woods where childhood memories intermingle of the Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (of the 1973 public information film Lonely Water) and The Neverending Story’s slough of despond (‘fight against the sadness, Artax!’). The film draws on a lo-fi history of abject/visceral geography in anti-exploration cinema (such as Nancy Holt’s roving Bolex camera in Swamp, 1969). It’s a film mired in a difficult, recalcitrant environment, in which your footing cannot be trusted, and even the ground is full of liquid reflections.
The film is inspired by the ways in which cultural histories still haunt certain ecologies and their preservation, cultivation, or lack thereof. Wetlands are some of our most fertile but also catastrophically vulnerable eco-systems, affected by a long history of drainage projects. The writer Rod Giblett has linked the threat of transformation / immersion there not just to the general tactile horror of wetlands and of immersion, but to gendered Narcissus/Echo tropes of reflection in black waters, as well as the general sense of threat of seeping landscapes, particularly those seen to be inaccessible or unwholesome.
There are also the enduring Romantic Gothic tropes – Giblett’s account of the language of mire (‘dismal’, ‘dreary’, ‘desolate’, ‘gloomy’), for instance, or the ‘black and lurid tarn’ of The Fall of the House of Usher, where one shudders to see reflected ‘the remodelled and inverted images of the grey sedge, and the ghastly tree stems’. Like the will-of-the-wisp, the vocals and music, composed by Alison Cotton and Mark Nicholas (The Left Outsides), are woozily narcotic and bewitching, full of weeping willows and trapped reflections. The film follows these shimmers across treacherous ground.
Amy Cutler is a cultural geographer, curator, poet, and filmmaker. She runs the cultural geography cinema PASSENGERFILMS, and is currently the Early Career Leverhulme Research Fellow at the Centre for the GeoHumanities, RHUL, where she’s completing research on dark woods and cultural histories of definition. She makes films with musicians, including Liar Lyre, a series of interventions in the scoring of nature documentaries. She also performs live writings based on natural history, including, most recently, her settings of The Life of the Fly with the multi-instrumentalist Sylvia Hallett. Find her at www.amycutler.net or @amycutler1985
The Left Outsides are Mark Nicholas and Alison Cotton, a husband and wife duo based in London whose atmospheric, hypnotic songs echo Nico’s icy European folk, pastoral psychedelia and chilly English fields at dawn. Their most recent album is There is A Place, which reworks the British woods in Gothic-cinematic excursions: http://www.folkradio.co.uk/2017/10/the-left-outsides-there-is-a-place/