A LIFE ON THE FARM Review: Making Movies
“Charles Carson. Coombe End Farm.”
This story begins with a videotape. Director Oscar Harding finds an old tape he never got to watch in its entirety as a kid. Said video was titled “Life On The Farm”, a feature-length home movie made by Charles Carson, an elderly neighbor of his grandparents’. When looking into how this salt-of-the-earth, unassuming farmer managed to make a movie, Harding uncovers a great story. A Life On The Farm is the result.
At first, the contents of said tape – a grainy home movie with bad tracking and all those other bugs that make one nostalgic for the VHS era – prove disturbing. Clad in a plaid red shirt and cowboy hat, Charles Carson takes Harding and his viewers on a tour of his laidback country life in Somerset, England, spending days looking after his animals, tending to the land, showing cows giving birth in graphic detail, talking incessantly to his dead cat and ultimately, taking the corpse of his deceased mother around the farm and posing her for pictures with the animals. It’s no wonder that one talking head compares him to Ed Gein, and you’ll probably be thinking of Norman Bates and his unhealthy attachment to Norma more than once.
But just as you expect Harding’s prized discovery to escalate into a full-blown snuff film or something similar, the director does a total bait-and-switch while digging into Charles Carson’s background, and discovers a simple, well-meaning guy who turned to filmmaking due to loneliness; meanwhile, all his interviewees go from laughing and pointing to sincerely admiring the man.
Carson’s story was pretty tragic; having lived nearly all his life on a remote farm, he lost both his parents, a brother, and his wife, who also did not live with him and only visited occasionally. Left alone in the company of cows, cats and other assorted animals, Carson turned to an old video camera and a photography hobby to have a link to the outside world, and one assumes to keep himself sane.
While he first regaled his neighbors with pictures of himself on his land along with funny captions, they soon started receiving what would be his legacy, “Life On The Farm”. Sadly, Carson passed away in the mid 00’s, alone and mostly forgotten. That is, until Harding and an entire community of found footage and vintage VHS enthusiasts got a hold of his film.
Harding’s doco goes from a budding backwoods horror picture to an uplifting story of an unlikely DIY guerrilla filmmaker whose unconventional work is being rediscovered. Carson’s VHS tape also highlights the love many film fans have for physical media, which is largely disappearing in this new era of streaming platforms; bizarre little gems like Carson’s magnum opus can disappear into the ether (though this one is uploaded to YouTube, so at least it’s safe for the time being), and this film is a rallying cry for their continued survival.
Even though it starts to lay the schmaltz on a bit thick, A Life On The Farm ends up as a portrait of a one-of-a-kind artist who’s finally getting his due, whose work for many will be nothing more than a passing curiosity, but who managed to make his mark. Movies are that one special thing that can bring people together, and for Carson, they’re what brought him to the rest of the world.
A Life On The Farm is currently playing in Alamo Drafthouse theaters throughout the US and will be available On Demand May 9th.
A Life on the Farm
- Oscar Harding
- Derrick Beckles
- Lehr Beidelschies
- Charles Carson