Monday 10 September 2012

EastScapes Film Club #1: 'Black Shuck' (2012)

'Black Shuck.' dir. Paul T T Easter. UK. 2012.

I've thought about looking at films on EastScapes for a while, but in my laziness have only just now gotten around to it. East Anglia has been used plenty in film and television over the years, but I'm not interested in the various middle-of-the-road tat that uses Norfolk and Suffolk's various stately homes, picturesque villages, and beaches for chocolate-box backdrops (I'll throw the movie versions of 'The Duchess,' 'Shakespeare in Love,' and various Bond movies out there, for instance). In keeping within the remit for the site, I'm way more into any films that attempt to uncover the beauty, the creepiness, the sadness and the bleakness embedded into the East Anglian landscape. (Excellent examples I'd cite would include 'Patience (After Sebald),' the BBC M R James adaptations, the mighty 'Witchfinder General,' 'The Scouting Book for Boys').

So, 2012's 'Black Shuck.' Despite East Anglia's Devil Dog's long shadow over popular culture - it was a major inspiration for the Hound of the Baskervilles, after all - I'm not aware of any movies directly based on the tale. And, despite Paul T T Easter's film, the wait continues. Despite a barely-audible opening voiceover recounting the gist of the legend, and the presence of the main character's friendly pet dog Shucky, Old Shock is conspicuous by his absence here. Perhaps the director was using the myth for a jumping-off point for his movie, but who the hell can tell.

'Black Shuck' is bad. Extradordinarily so. Yet kind of amazing because of it. I pride myself in being a fan of cinematic undergrounds - experimental, sleaze, no-budget, porn, Z-grade, whatever - but I must confess I haven't seen too many quite like this one. For what it's worth, the basic skeleton of the plot concerns a clean-shaven hermit lunatic living in the woods (director Paul T T Easter) who slaughters his brother (um, Paul T T Easter, playing himself) at the beginning of the film, and spends the remaining hour just sort of wandering around, babbling to himself in a strange mixture of Suffolk yokel and Roland Rat drawl, occasionally bumping off anybody he stumbles across in bloodless, crash-edit ineptitude.

It's possibly the most incompetent film I've ever seen, and this from a man who every once in a while decides to try and work his way through the IMDB Bottom 100. This isn't low-budget underground. I remember hearing Kevin Smith recount a conversation with a studio executive during the filming of 'Mallrats,' dismissing Smith's prior experience by claiming 'Clerks' wasn't a 'real movie.' Similar accusations get thrown at low-budget flicks all the time. It's a ghastly insult. But 'Black Shuck' really isn't a movie. It's genuinely something more akin to something a couple of teens would knock up on a mobile phone in the back garden for each others amusement, rather than an example of grass roots, anti-establishment guerilla filmmaking. Which is certainly what the film claims to be: the first ten minutes of Black Shuck are a talking-head segment featuring Easter ranting against the closed-shop of the UK film industry. All well and good, but his insistence on being a businessman, of his films being no-budget to match his business model, etc, takes the charm off the DIY cheerfulness of it all and makes the supposedly serious enterprise seem a touch ludicrous.

Yet... Weirdly... The film did hold a baffling fascination over me. I think everything of any interest was accidental - the utterly unrestrained performance by Easter is nothing if not brave. I kept thinking of the 'spazzing out' approach of the characters in von Trier's The Idiots, or the freakshows of Harmony Korine - who, incidentally, would probably kill to be able to make a film with such an authentically amateurish aesthetic. Tying back into the usual focus of this blog, much of the location imagery appealed to me. They'd certainly be kind of places I would want to tramp around with my camera. Wintry woodland populated with sad-looking streams and bare trees. Rough farmland scattered with dumped tyres, sleeping bags, old trampolines, tractors, torn sofas, empty gas cannisters, an old canoe. I've always had an idea that the very best horror films ought to make you worry about the filmmaker's sanity (the first 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' being my favourite example to cite), and I must admit, I would definitely have been alarmed had I bumped into Easter wandering the woods with his camcorder pointed at himself hollering "My wood! My wood! No-one enter my wood... Pheasant!"

It's horrible. It's terrible. It feels like it has crawled out from beneath a rock somewhere, blinking and pale and scrawny, into the sunlight. And I can't quite get it out of my head.

I may have to buy it. Maybe the business plan works after all?

Black Shook: Graffiti and Folklore

Wikipedia defines 'tagging' as "A form of graffiti signature." Tagging is often the most inconspicuous form of graffiti, and is certainly the one my brain has most successfully tuned out: graffiti can be artistically fabulous, ironic, disturbing, but the simple scrawling of one's nickname across a public place doesn't spark too much interest for me. I assume the marking of one's territory is seen as the main sociological reason behind the trend, but I find this reasoning fairly unsatisfactory - seeing little difference between felt-tipping a name on a bus stop and a dog pissing on a lamppost. As an attempt at self-mythologising, or macho posturing, or laying claim on a certain few streets - it's just sort of, well, lame. I'm more sympathetic when I think about it more in relation to what I do: whenever I photograph a site - be it woodland, a derelict house, an old station, whatever - I do feel as if I have both become a (minor) part of its individual history, as it has mine. There's always a knowing sense whenever passing by these locations afterwards. As many of these places - especially the abandoned and derelict buildings - are already always plastered with graffiti, there is clearly an overlap between graffiti artists and people interested in photography similar to my own. Whilst I use the term for labelling purposes on this site, I'm not massively comfortable with the term 'urban exploration;' not least because, as they are the people who always seem several steps ahead of me, graffiti-pedlars have a stronger claim to the term.

Anyhow. Long preamble over. This entry is a collection of images of one tag - Shook. I must have walked past this name a million times in a million different parts of the city (along with other prolific Norwich tags such as Megaboom, Quir, and, uh, Andy), yet it only recently dawned on me that, phonetically, this tagger is a sort of namesake of East Anglia's most famous legend - Black Shuck, the Devil Dog. I don't know if this is intentional, and I sort of hope it's just a strange accident that even the person responsible isn't aware of the irony of another Shuck stalking the Eastern region.

Monday 3 September 2012


The sloping Southgate Lane, just off Norwich's historic King Street.