19 October 2021

THE TREE STILL SINGS

The Singing, Ringing Tree. Network Blu Ray 2021

I have to confess that my first viewing of The Singing, Ringing Tree wasn’t during my infancy when it was screened by the BBC. If you read through many of the responses to the film on IMDB then most viewers encountered, during their childhood, a disconcertingly scary film. From 1964 right through the 1980s it frightened new generations. 

I watched it five years ago and re-saw it today. Although I admit The Singing, Ringing Tree is somewhat weird I feel its power to ‘traumatise’ you right into adulthood has been exaggerated. It’s charming, captivating and, from a distance only, intellectually disturbing. What the fairy tale’s huge fish, talking bear, malevolent dwarf and tree might symbolise is open to considerable interpretation and children’s TV isn’t solely responsible for nightmares. The important thing to savour is the lovely simplicity of The Singing, Ringing Tree and its moral strength.

A beautiful, arrogant, spoilt princess rejects the proposal of a wealthy prince. She will only marry him if he brings her the famed singing, ringing tree. The prince finds the tree but it lies in the land of an evil dwarf who promises to give it to him. However if the princess still rejects the prince then he will be turned into a bear. For the tree to sing and ring she must be truly in love with her suitor. She isn’t. Thus the prince becomes a bear. And the princess is put through a series of tests so as to break her selfishness and make her love and care for all creatures, outside of herself, including a welcoming prince. 

The Singing, Ringing Tree was produced in East Germany in 1957 and was one of the many fairy tales produced then that you were meant to decode as signifying the politics of a carefree socialism. However it appears it received a hostile reception from disapproving GDR film critics who labelled it “a bourgeois idyll.” The question of whether the film is communist or capitalist is for me irrelevant. If you watch the included extra interview with Christel Bodenstein (our princess) she sees the film to be about love and transformation. 


All that hairiness might suggest a Freudian handled 
sexuality that the virgin princess has to eventually accept.


Yet stories resonate even more when they are put into a cultural context. The aesthetic charge of The Singing, Ringing Tree reveals its influences. That bear for instance. Isn’t it another variation of the beast from the tale of Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and Cocteau’s famous film La Belle et le BΓͺte? All that hairiness might suggest a Freudian handled sexuality that the virgin princess has to eventually accept. For me the haughty countenance of the princess resembled the face of a young Leni Riefenstahl with her superior Aryan sense of control. And The Singing, Ring Tree’s dwarf evoked the dwarf Alberich in Wagner’s Das Rheingold (Especially in the ring of fire encircling the tree scene). The change from a beautiful princess into a plain rustic girl invited me to think of Hans Christian Anderson’s ugly duckling although the girl has green hair and a noticeably upturned nose she’s still a pretty gamine. 

All the characters in The Singing, Ringing Tree are archetypes. However the most seductive and iconic character is surely the remarkable studio set of art designer Erich Zander. It looks papier-mache but apparently was very expensive with glowing colours that are quite wonderful, filmed to alternate between the inviting and the forbidding. The design combines both cheery Xmas card art with a muted sense of Max Ernst menace all nestled in an artificial dreamscape. And now thanks to Network’s beautifully produced Blu Ray the film’s photography has a vivid presence. 

The Singing, Ringing Tree is a film for people all ages who may, or may not, still be scared, not to death, but like the Princess will mature to understand and experience the enchantment of the real world and the redemptive power of love. -- Alan Price.


For another interpretation of the 'Singing Ringing Tree':

11 October 2021

HEAVEN-SENT FOR SATAN

Erik Butler, The Devil and his Advocates, Reaktion Books, 2021.


Let’s be honest, Satan has had a bad press. If he’s not luring confused people into his net to siphon off their immortal souls just to give two fingers up to the great Enemy, God, he’s shown as a truly monstrous character with goaty face and bat-like wings. Sometimes you wonder what the attraction is. In this book author Erik Butler takes on the usual assumptions about the Prince of Darkness and Despoiler of Souls, and places him in a much wider, more questioning and less hysterical context than perhaps one is used to. This is long overdue.
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30 September 2021

THE SCEPTICAL FORTEAN

Martin Shough, with Wim van Utrecht. Redemption of the Damned, Volume 2: Sea and Space Phenomena. Anomalist Books, 2021.

Redemption of the Damned seems an odd title for a book that subjects the strange incidents recorded in the books of Charles Fort to a detailed, scientific re-examination. What exactly is being ‘redeemed’ here? In his Forward to this volume, bibliographer and Fortean researcher George Eberhart says that “Charles Fort has not aged well”, claiming that “The Book of the Damned is a difficult read, riddled with sprawling and oddly constructed paragraphs, abrupt sentence fragments and an exuberance of dashes.”
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26 September 2021

THE RETURN OF PAN

Paul Robichaud. Pan, the Great God’s Modern Return. Reaktion Books, 2021.

‘The Greek god Pan...cosmic god of All; symbol of bestial lust; demon; protector of forests; cipher for Stuart monarchs; symbol of the latent powers in nature; terrifying god of the abyss; source of occult knowledge; symbol of gay love; guardian of wild animals; Horned God of the witches; ruler of nature spirits; archetype of the unconscious; and many more.’
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9 September 2021

BEYOND PASCAGOULA

Irena McCammon Scott, PhD. Beyond Pascagoula: The Rest of the Amazing Story, Flying Disk Press, 2021.


The Pascagoula abduction incident of 11 October 1973 was not just an isolated case but a part of a wave of UFO sightings throughout that region of the United States. Not only that but Irena Scott comprehensively shows that a massive sonic boom accompanied by at least two other booms rocked the USA on the same night as the abduction.
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28 August 2021

WATCH THE SKIES

T. S. Mart and Mel Cabre. A Guide to Sky Monsters: Thunderbirds, the Jersey Devil, Mothman, and Other Flying Cryptids. Red Lightning Books, 2021.

Winged cryptids are a mainstay of forteana, and appear in may guises across the world. This book concentrates initially on American examples, but offers more than just a basic listing and description of various crypto-species.
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13 August 2021

DEEP DOWN IT'S SHALLOW

Kevin D. Randle. UFOs and the Deep State, a History of the Military and Government’s War Against the Truth. New Page Books, 2021.

Kevin Randle’s blog A Different Perspective often provides a sensible and sober appraisal of the UFO scene, and this book in a similar vein is a very good guide to the involvement of the U.S. military and secret agencies with ufology. I should warn readers that he begins with Roswell and trundles along neatly through the various studies and projects that the U.S. ran and winds up at Rendlesham Forest. 
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8 August 2021

THE MACHINERY OF MYTH

Philip Ball. The Modern Myths. Adventures in the Machinery of the Popular Imagination. University of Chicago Press, 2021.


‘Myths are not choosy about where they inhabit, and I am not going to be choosy about where to find them...They erect a rough-hewn framework on which to hang our anxieties, fears and dreams.... Myths are promiscuous; they were post-modern before the concept existed, infiltrating and being shaped by popular culture.’
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29 July 2021

BATTLE WEARY

Neil Nixon. UFOs, Aliens and the Battle for the Truth: A Short History of Ufology, Oldcastle Books, 2021.

A really short history of UFOs would be: ‘What’s that?’ ‘Dunno.’ The End. The battle for the truth about these pesky manifestations is of course a lot more complicated, and Neil Nixon provides a very useful guide to UFO history, classic cases and the multitude of theories to explain them.
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22 July 2021

EXPLORING THE GOTHIC MIND

Clive Bloom (Editor) The Palgrave Handbook of Steam Age Gothic. Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.


The foundations of the gothic novel were laid in the eighteenth century with The Castle of Otranto (1764), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1790) and The Monk (1796). This is a dark dungeon and secret passageway territory that I read as a teenager but have been unable to comfortably revisit. 
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