June 07, 2012

The Edge of the World

Watched the 1937 movie The Edge of the World which is set just before the evacuation of a remote Scottish island when the traditional way of life loses its competitive edge against coal-powered trawlers and becomes unsustainable.  The premise came from the evacuation of St. Kilda, a place name you might know in connection with Soay and Boreray sheep if you read up on sheep breeds.  But this film was done on one of the Shetland islands and I assume the sheep shown are Shetland.

There's a scene where the crofters herd small rugged-looking sheep across hillsides into a stone pen.  They roo the sheep by sitting them on their laps and plucking off the wool by hand.  The sheep have to be a primitive breed for the wool to have a seasonal moulting stage like that.

The sheep are quite lively.  A woman has to catch a lamb that scales the top of the pen's wall.  A man rescues a sheep by carrying it up a cliff on his back and the sheep struggles, really putting its weight into trying to get away even though its feet are tied.

In another scene women sit and knit during a community gathering outside.  A woman secures an end of a long metal needle in a knitting sheath at her waist.  She is knitting a fine lace scarf on two needles.  Other women have the same long metal needles but are working in the round.  They knit with quick little movements.

The crofters pay the laird, the landowner, in bolts of tweed, bundles of wool, and sweaters they called jerseys.  The bundles of wool are small but could be more than one fleece each.

There is a good amount of vintage and old-fashioned knitwear on the actors: sweaters, shawls, a baby blanket, that sort of thing.  Many soft caps made of woven tweed.

The film also has other interesting aspects some of which are relics of life without fossil fuels: turf cutting (peat for heating), baskets, cats, a water-powered millstone for grain, grain stooking, a stone building that looks like it has an upside-down boat for a roof, folk songs such as "Dream Angus" which I had to learn once, line singing as a way to conduct a church's song service without hymnals or overhead projectors, rock climbing, and a community governance meeting called a boat parliament that's held outside.

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