True Escapism in The Moon and the Sledgehammer


True escapism this summer is to be found with the Page family in Philip Trevelyan’s 1970 steam-engine idyll-doc. Seventysomething Dad, in suit and cap, and four grown children live off hens, tinker work, and daydreams in a Sussex glade, where they raise puttering to a fine (or folk) art. Like an H.G. Wells–era vision of a fallen future, or a Mayan ruin overgrown and reinhabited, their green and pleasant patch hosts coal-powered traction engines, pipe organs, and philosophizing on the true topography of the moon or the kangaroo’s superiority to the lion as a pet. Trevelyan, who made a string of rural-embed docs, admired the Pages’ natural surrealism and himself ultimately retired to organic farming and custom toolmaking. The seclusion is just as much an effect as a reality, and the resulting world and its garden of metaphors for the artistic pursuit have influenced outsider admirers and experimental filmmakers. Yet, needless to say about four adults penned up with a parent, vexation and wistfulness are also written on the younger faces, and let’s not even start on the close-up of willowy Kath at the bellows as Dad pounds at the organ.