January 23, 2017

Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow: A Century of Folk Customs and Ancient Rural Games

For the first time ever on DVD, the BFI has compiled an idiosyncratic and highly entertaining collection of startling short films, poetic documentaries, long-unseen TV reports and rare silent film footage all celebrating the traditional folk customs, songs, dances and games of Great Britain.
This double-disc set of 44 newly remastered films, accompanied by a 58-page booklet of essays and notes by leading folk authorities, reveals just how powerful and enduring our folk traditions have always been, and celebrates the enjoyment that these customs continue to bring to communities nationwide.

These eye-opening films, with subjects ranging from pagan customs to traditional dances and extreme sports, come from all over the country. There’s Cornwall’s ‘sexy, savage Spring-time rite’ performed on May Day; the highly anarchic ball games played in Leicester and Orkney; the Mummers’ plays of Derbyshire, Dorset and Dartmoor; mischievous ‘dwile flonking’ in Suffolk; the extraordinary Burry Man of West Lothian; sword and step dancing in Yorkshire and Norfolk; and the carrying of barrels of burning tar in Ottery St Mary, Devon.

This ambitious 6 hour collection includes Alan Lomax’s glorious Padstow May Day film Oss Oss Wee Oss (1953); a series of 1912 Kinora Spools featuring traditional dances by pioneering folklorists Cecil Sharp and George Butterworth; Richard Philpott’s celebration of ancient pre-Christian spring rituals in The Flora Faddy Furry Dance Day (1989); 1920s newsreels charting Shrove Tuesday football contests; and recent footage shot by filmmakers Doc Rowe and the Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller with Alan Kane, showing the exhilarating contemporary performance of folk customs and rituals. The silent films feature innovative fiddle and melodeon accompaniments by contemporary folk musicians.

The films are divided into thematic sections titled Dance and Song, Extreme Sports, Mummers and Hobbyhorses and All Manner of Customs. The full listing is on page 2. Drawing on films collected over many years by the Britain’s national and regional film archives, as well as the BFI National Archive, Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow is presented in collaboration with the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS).

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Hi, I'm Steve, the Britmovie admin with a love of British cinema especially Ealing Studios output and 50s/60s b-movie crime films.