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The 'Magic Fox' Cosmic Wheels Film

by Ade Macrow

Watch the film here!


One of the least-known artefacts of the Cosmic Wheels era is the near 30 minute promotional film Donovan made to increase awareness of the album. This was filmed after the release of the 1973 LP, as it incorporates scenes from his March 1973 tour of Japan.

Known as 'The Magic Fox Film', after the initial opening sequences, the film highlights all that is best and worst about Donovan. Fortunately, many of the worst parts are first and the film steadily improves as it proceeds. I don't intend to literally enumerate every single scene and image but will give you a reasonably detailed idea of the proceedings within.

It opens with a cliched montage of monochrome scenes of death and destruction: atomic bomb mushroom clouds, babies cradled in weeping mothers' arms and so on. Overlaid on these still-harrowing pictures is a superb alternative take of Yellow Star. This has a much denser-sounding drum and bass accompaniment and the organ is very prominent. Listen to the slight difference in the way Donovan sings the notorious 'turds' line, too. The sequence ends with colour footage of Donovan and Linda cradling their daughters, Astrella and Oriole, before action switches to a hotel room, with Donovan looking at his Blue Moon guitar.

Cue footage of a Japan Airlines plane and then the Leitchs are in the back of a limo, on the way to their hotel room. Some excruciating (and scripted) dialogue ensues. Linda: "Oh hello, Tokyo. Another new big city". Don: "I'd like to look at old Japan..." And so on. Scenes of Japanese fans and a glimpse of the Hear Me Now album is seen.

Back in the hotel room, Don's wearing his poncho and flicking disinterestedly through the b/w TV channels, before pulling the curtains and greeting the new big city. We can see the Blue Moon guitar looking very much the worse-for-wear in close-ups, before Don strums a brief song he evidently made up on the spot, Too Many Floors, Too Many Doors. Linda is still making her way to the room – how did they get separated? Nobody explains – and opens the 'wrong' door, only to find a menacing warrior within.

She eventually makes it back and more awful dialogue is heard. "What's that you've got there?" asks her husband. Lin's  been shopping, you see. "Invisible suits. And a Magic Fox" is the reply. Donning the invisible suits, they leap out of the hotel window, turn cartwheels (on the grass, not on the floor as Procol Harum would have it) and eventually arrive in 'old Japan'. Linda appears to have been conned by the salesman, as the invisible suits don't render the two of them unseen to the eye but merely make them look like two adults in black hooded robes.

Geisha girls sing inside a temple room, before being surprised by our invisible twosome. Tinker Tune follows, with the geishas tentatively stroking the magic fox.  Some recorder (he terms it a 'flute') playing by Donovan, before the observation "really is nice, all this old Japan".

The two have changed into black-and-white patterned robes and Linda wants to go shopping again. The Magic Fox approves, so that's alright, then. Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness) plays as we're shown scenes of the two strolling around the marketplace, before bizarrely being shot at by gun-wielding Japanese youngsters. An air raid siren is also woven into the Hey Gyp soundtrack, which is the song used on the Live In Japan: Spring Tour 1973 album, proving that the soundtracking, at least, was cut in after they returned from The Land Of The Rising Sun.  The entire scene is an embarrassing mess.

Donovan observes "now that was a bit of a boggle. Let's go back to the old. It's more refreshing". Linda asks where they are. Don suggests following his 'flute' (not that Yellow Star?). So he and Linda running briefly sitting in an anonymous hotel room, before they are running along equally-anonymous corridors, with Donovan playing some traditional Japanese bamboo pipe/recorder thing. Don't know the name of this but the far more musically accomplished amongst you will.

They emerge into a space. Yes, 'anonymous' looking as well. Linda has the Magic Fox puppet on one of her hands and the film becomes ultra-embarrassing at this point, with its pantomimesque use of dialogue. "Looks like foxy fox has landed us somewhere new again" Donovan intones. "Wish I had my guitar". Linda waggles foxy fox and lo! Donovan's beloved Blue Moon guitar appears in his hands.  For those keen students of 70s fashions, Donovan was wearing a brown/orange poncho over a standard light-coloured shirt and some very flared trousers.

"We should be at the seaside". And there they are. But not quite, as they're sitting at the dockside – commercial boats can be seen behind. Yes, it's water but it ain't the seaside. Donovan then plays and sings Sailing Homeward as Linda and the fox kneel reverentially at his feet.

We then cut to Donovan amongst a Japanese garden. Images of snow-capped mountains – the yonder misty mountains of Epistle To Dippy? – while Don continues to sing Sailing Homeward. Linda then appears from behind a tree and, in another amateurish scene, says "time to go to the office. Work, y'know". The magic fox is nowhere to be seen by now. Perhaps he's thought "stuff this for a game of very bad amateur dramatics. I'm never gonna appear in anything again, unless my co-stars have got Equity cards".

We then see scenes of Japanese people checking in at an airport. Someone waves the round Cosmic Wheels poster. This appears to have been mounted on card or some similar heavy backing material. The footage moves to Donovan at one of his Japanese concerts and he introduces himself before throwing the Magic Fox towards the wings and stating "I'd like to sing a song from my new album, called Cosmic Wheels. And this song is called Cosmic Wheels".

We know that two different guitars were used during this short tour as this song is played using the 12 string guitar with the 'spiked mandala' decoration around the soundhole. The song is performed with Donovan bathed in red light and with an extra "la la la" verse. Obviously the La La Union was very pleased with Cosmic Wheels, with their members being represented not just on live renditions of the title piece but also on Only The Blues and I Like You.

Then Blue Moon is tuned before Sadness begins. Donovan's voice nearly cracks at one point on the bridge. There's a more naturalistic white light used for this song. The well-worn dividing-the-audience-into-halves-of-'boys'-and-'girls' routine for Happiness Runs follows. During this song, there's an intercut montage recap of some of the previous scenes in the film, before Donovan and Linda kiss in profile and wave goodbye. Then there's another shot of a plane in the sky.

And that's it. The original film must have been much longer and doubtless languishes deep in the Donovan archives, from whence it is unlikely ever to emerge. A still from the concert footage was chosen for the 1975 Japan-only Live In Japan: Spring Tour 1973 album and there is another shot of Mr and Mrs Leitch, complete with Blue Moon guitar but no fox, in front of a paper wall in another Japanese room on the back cover of this album.

This latter shot has them both bare-footed and swathed in what would now be considered Islamic-style garments, although both allow the circle of their faces to be seen and both sport different Donovan badges. They are, of course, the 'invisible suits' featured earlier in the film. Linda's has a shot of Donovan's face and Mr Leitch's has the Cosmic Wheels front cover.

Assumedly, this was another still from the entire promotional film. Although the fox sequences are cringeworthy, it would be good to see the entire film released commercially one day. Isn't gonna happen, though. Whether this venture, obviously a Don 'n' Lin produced effort, rather than being financed by Sony/Epic Records, was ever issued commercially, even for the merest nano-second, must be open to doubt.

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