In the opening moments of The Moon and the Sledgehammer (1971), which plays at Anthology Film Archives for a week beginning tomorrow, the camera pushes aside branches and finds a clearing: the page family residence, a few miles outside of London. Nobody’s home, and the camera looks around, peering for close-ups of the pianos, smithing tools and steam engine components scattered about the lawn, before the elderly Page patriarch emerges from the woods to deliver a ringmaster’s greeting. This tone of wonderment at a stumbled-upon object pervades director’s Philip Trevelyan vérité-style but clearly pieced-together glimpses of Page — a circus clown turned self-sustaining woodsman, tinkerer and pipe organist — and his grown children, two feral gardener girls and two lost-boyish, passionately mumbling engineers, especially handy with old steam engines.
Stray moments and pronouncements about sustainable lifestyles and overdependence on petroleum seem prescient, and a family psychodrama, fueled by barest socialization, occasionally bubbles to the surface, but ultimately this family portrait is too specific and singular to be anything but a curio. As a curio, though, it offers up gorgeously strange images, moments that take no set social rule, technological advance or natural relationship as a given.