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Field work – is it time Mike Leigh made a film about crop circles?

17 July 2020

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories

Rakewell was interested to read in the Guardian this week an obituary of the architect Michael Glickman written by Mike Leigh. As the film director explains, the pair had been close friends in the north of England, before sharing a flat in London as students. Glickman’s impressive career highlights include the design of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho and the Island Records studio in Notting Hill, as well as teaching posts at the Architectural Association, the Bartlett School of Architecture and the Royal College of Art.

One particular design form, Leigh writes, held an increasing fascination for Glickman as time went on – that of crop circles. Seduced by their geometric and mathematical properties, he wrote several books on the subject (one the excellently named Cornography: The New Swirled Order) and designed a series of graphic posters based on his meticulous drawings of the formations (see e.g. ‘Crop Circle Classics’) – and his cottage in Wiltshire was a meeting place for ‘croppies’ from all over the globe.

Leigh himself admits to an interest in these enigmatic patterns and their associated theories: ‘Many people, including me, have experienced tangible changes of energy on entering one. Your mobile may cease to function, and your watch, and your compass; yet the moment you step outside, they instantly return to normal.’ More intriguingly, in an interview with Metro back in 2011, he even compared his signature style of working without a script – encouraging his actors to improvise – to the phenomenon of crop circles: ‘Some are man-made but the majority have no explanation: they are profoundly mysterious,’ he said. ‘If I talk about them too much it sounds like pretentious gobbledegook.’

Might this interest yield a film on the subject? Leigh is no stranger to depicting outsiders in his work – J.M.W. Turner included – and what are crop circles, if not the ultimate ‘outsider’ art? Rakewell has High Hopes, and any amount of suggestions for a title. Secrets and Lies and Combine Harvesters? Another Year of Cereal Offenders?

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.