Color, 1975, 68 mins. 16 secs.
Directed by David Gladwell
Indicator (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), BFI (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL)

One of the British Film Institute's key contributions to the Blu-ray generation was the very diverse discoveries from their vaults unveiled in the BFI Flipside line, and one of its most impressive tributes was its salute to David Gladwell, the one-time editor for Lindsay Anderson (on films like If... and O Lucky Man). The centerpiece here is the titular Requiem for a Village, a feature-length, unclassifiable mood piece that starts off as a narrative-free ode to country life with ominous shots of bulldozer raising the English earth into a chaotic heap. A local gravedigger wanders through a church graveyard and serves as sort of the unifying device of the film, including thumbnail sketches of some of the lives of the villagers. However, that's just the beginning as the steady but experimental structure of the film intercuts the arrival of some thug bikers, a nervous couple's wedding night, an older couple's romp in bed, resurrected locals rising up from their graves among a bed of pebbles, and grim views of what will happen to the village thanks to the onset of modern progress, all set to a spare and eerie pastoral score.

Exactly what the message of this film might be is a little tricky to decipher apart from the obvious "mowing down villages with long histories for shopping malls is terrible." The arrival of the bikers puts it in especially odd territory, and its nervous attitude about the current generation of runaway youths would make this an unexpected but very appropriate companion film with Psychomania from a few years earlier. On the other hand, the languid shots of the villagers at work in the countryside recall similar poetic touches from films like Days of Heaven, albeit shot under much more financially-challenged conditions. As should be obvious, it's an amazing film to watch if you're willing to go along with its idiosyncratic rhythms, and there's certainly nothing else like it out there. Though not strictly horror, it certainly has an otherwordly atmosphere to it potent enough to merit its inclusion in the essential folk horror documentary, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched.

As per their usual practice with their essential Flipside series, the BFI release in the U.K. from 2011 came with both Blu-ray and DVD editions, with the former obviously the way to go. It's taken from the 16mm interpositive and looks about as you'd expect-- very film-like and detailed, albeit without that super-sharp crispness found in top-tier 35mm transfers. It's hard to imagine this looking any better. In addition to the main feature, it also includes four short films: A Summer Discord (1955, 17m11s), Miss Thompson Goes Shopping (1958, 22m41s), The Great Steam Fair (1964, 17m40s), and An Untitled Film (1964, 9m2s). Image quality increases substantially as the films get more recent, with the last one (an eerie slow-motion study of a young boy seeing a hen's execution on a farm) looking absolutely stunning and as good as just about any monochromatic title on the market. The Great Steam Fair is definitely the odd one out here as it's shot in Requiem for a Village35mm with vivid colors and in scope, offering a punchy visual study of a '60s carnival. The enclosed booklet contains a 1975 Sight & Sound essay by Elizabeth Sussex about Requiem for a Village, a newer written appraisal about it by Rob Young, a brief series of recollections by Gladwell about his time with the BFI, a Gladwell Requiem for a Villagebio, a Suffolk map, and brief notes about each of the shot films by William Fowler and Patrick Russell.

In 2022, onetime Flipside guru Sam Dunn had long moved over to co-founded Powerhouse's Indicator line and revisited this beloved project for its American Blu-ray debut. The presentation here is considerably expanded, retaining the excellent HD master of the main feature and porting over the same four short films. However, you also get tons of additional material starting with two new audio commentaries featuring Gladwell and Dunn over the film; the first is an in-depth discussion of Gladwell's journey into filmmaking and his adventures in filmmaking including his work as an editor as well as his shorts. The second is dedicated entirely to Requiem for a Village, ranging from the development of the concept (all built from the resurrection idea) and covering aspects like the location scouting and the state of the BFI at the time. 1965's 28b Camden Street (28m) is a black-and-white Gladwell documentary short looking at an artistic community in the area largely centered around a sculptor who makes use of unorthodox materials from urban landscape. 1969's New Way at Northgate (34m51s) offers a snapshot of the Requiem for a Villagetitular Northumberland hospital for the mentally disabled that took a revolutionary approach to providing a "community oriented" treatment aimed at helping its young inmates function back in society rather than sticking them in long-term care. Finally Requiem for a Village1971's Can Horses Sing? (25m38s), directed by Elizabeth Sussex and edited by Gladwell, is a gentle, harpsichord-laden snapshot of life at a Scottish country school, with little touches involving its mobile library, milk deliveries, lunchtime rituals, and playtime activities. (The English SDH subtitles come in really handy for this one!) That short also comes with a new commentary by film historian Thirza Wakefield who offers some context in relation to other connected films, the role of narration, and the portrayal of environment as a key thematic element. Also provided are five separate, quite extensive galleries: A Summer Discord and Miss Thompson Goes Shopping; early treatments for Requiem for a Village; production and distribution of Requiem for a Village; Gladwell correspondence; and Gladwell paintings. As usual the limited edition packaging comes with a substantial insert booklet featuring a new essay by Ben Nicholson, archival articles, and notes by Adam Scovell on the short films.

Updated review on August 14, 2022.