Britain was once covered in woodland. Our ancestors started hacking away at around 6,000 years ago and we’ve removed most of it by now. Near where I live, the oak that covered Kent became bows and boats in the medieval period. On holiday in Ceredigion, I found it hard to believe that the whole area was once rainforest. Nowadays terms like “the Cambrian desert” infer that the barren moorland has always been here. Alternately, the eye dazzling pine forests seem familiar and as natural as the moorland.
Sometimes though, something breaks through
Little patches of deciduous woodland are glimpsed among the sheep farms, but more sizeable pockets are rarer. After a long ride over single track I came across lush woodland near Ystradffin. The size of this chunk of “Celtic rainforest” as the notice boards describe it made me think that forest / deforest is all about the trees. So I wandered ignorantly around a delightful circular walk alongside wild streams and sunlit trees…
… and only later found that the real Celtic rainforest is built up of the smaller plants – rare lichens and mosses are the real wonders here.
Years ago, a friend introduced me to the work of Pasolini. Apparently she had seen some of his films in Portugal whilst on holiday, and was impressed that she could follow the storytelling given that the show was in Italian with Portuguese subtitles. It was the strange time of my twenties, so a group of us went to see Salo at the Scala, which was part of an erotic film night with the “story of O” or “Venus in furs” “querelle” or some such. The 60s erotica of the other films was laughable, and then there was Salo. On the way out our group were puzzled by it, trying to buy into the sensationalist “shit eating” or did they really cut off a cock mondo style? Where the other films were trying to be sexy and failing, this Salo wasn’t even trying. It was obviously decadent, but not in the way that “the millionaire” – her favourite “adult movie” was. It was cold and heartless. but not because there was a poor script or acting. It was deliberate. Turned out it was political.
It was years later that for some reason I was watching “uccellacci e uccellini” – a tale of a father and son making their way through a life-in-a-day setup accompanied by a talking marxist crow who recounts to them the story of St Francis, or more exactly on of his disciples tasked with converting the birds to the word of God, and hitting the barrier of nature along the way. Intercutting the modern society – the poverty of mid sixties italy, with the crows tale, the story shows the forward thrust of humanity’s aspiration for many millenia – for example the propagation of non-violence and lessening exploitation and its troubled coextistence within the ruling framework of class and power. It offers an ambivalent finale with the carnivorous birds succumbing to their nature after a fleeting conversion to the love of god, and the resolution of St Francis urging his disciple to keep trying.
It also has the most singular credit sequence of any film I ever saw.
What has happened in the time between Uccellacci e Uccelini and Salo? The former’s view, seemingly saying that hardcore marxism may be outmoded, but not completely useless (and part of history’s great arc) doesn’t so much give way to a later view, but hits the hell like nihilism of Salo, where there is no hope nor future.