Tag Archives: LITERARTURE

THE SHINING

4 Aug

           shining

GOTHIC CODIFICATION – THE BOOK/ THE MOVIE

The visual medium of film is the ideal showcase to exhibit those traditional tropes of Gothic literature that are so conventional to the reader. Although imagination is a powerful tool – as King’s writing proves – the addition of quality illumination, professional cosmetology and a score that would make an exorcist quail, are not without their place. It’s the Gothic that’s Chorus to so many great films including “The Shining” and it’s undoubtedly one of the reasons for its immense popularity. The visualization of the unheimlich is a powerful attraction; ominous locations, other worldly situations, uncanny, dark and brooding moments, strange characters and the inevitable parataxis that wrong foots an audience are all part of the well-fingered apparatus of cinematic satisfaction used to excite pliable minds. By using different methodologies to exhibit horror with brilliantly rendered imagery King and Kubrik both succeed in painting imaginations.

 The Gothic Trope of location is paramount to any horror setting and has been astutely applied, although with subtle difference, in both the novel and the film. The image of a ruined dilapidated castle in a remote landscape – as epitomized by Walpole – can take any form. In Bronte’s book it was Wuthering Heights; in King’s it’s the Outlook Hotel. Therefore the rule of thumb to great horror is equivocal to great real estate deals; location, location, location! Prolific use is made by Kubrik of the corridors within an isolated, abandoned, snowbound hotel that lead the viewer down blind cornered passages along a succession of locked doors. His locations are quotidian although because of the tense situations he creates quickly metamorphose into the unheimlich. Coupled with his porosity of time and the fine line between the real and surreal he very quickly invokes the atmosphere of the supernatural. King does exactly the same thing and although not using the maze paradigm as Kubrick does -particularly at the end of the film – constantly takes us down into the bowels of the hotel to the gigantic wheezing boiler that is central to both the life and the death of the Outlook. His use of the ancient elevator is so finessed that that to even imagine looking through its diamond shaped portholes is enough to cause chills to run up and down the reader’s spine. Add to this the dramatic chase sequence across America – think Planes, Trains and Automobiles -of Hallorann who is thwarted at every turn in his efforts to reach Danny. The winding snow filled roads encountered by the cook become the snow drifted maze experienced by the boy that Kubrick so brilliantly captures with the steady-cam at the climax.

The hero is the split personality of Danny which in the book is far better implied than in Kubrik’s production. The imagination in this particular instance is a more capable tool for creating the elusive figure of Tony who we perceive to be a shadowy figure at the edge of peripheral vision, as opposed to the finger puppet association used in the movie. Halloran also exhibits aspects of heroism and in the book is a more determined, dynamic personality than the actor portrayal in the movie. Wendy of course is stereotypically cast as the Gothic heroine. King portrays much stronger characters in the book than Kubrik does in the film; his fight scene between Wendy and Jack on the lobby stairs evokes far more terror, although Kubrik does a fine job with an axe and a bathroom door. Wendy is determined to save her son and despite multiple injuries is able to fend off her crazed husband who – in spite of a knife wound that would kill any mortal man – continues on his quest to hunt and kill Danny. The idea that Jack is in fact the embodiment of the Hotel is better defined in the book than the movie. One could be forgiven for believing that the director’s representation of Jack is of a man suffering from cabin fever – in the book we are continuously referred to the legend of the Donner party– when in fact he’s been possessed by the hotel. Jack according to Grady has always been the caretaker as they were both hired by the same person; the Outlook.

Clearly the anti-hero is Jack Torrance. Rather than Byronic he’s simply a flawed character; a man who has trouble controlling both his appetites and his demons. Although we want to believe fervently that it wasn’t his fault that he was sacked from his teaching post nor that he consciously broke Danny’s arm, we know that Jack is his own worst enemy and that ultimately he will fail. King constantly alludes to childhood and continuously presses all the buttons of nature and nurture, implying that no matter how hard Jack tries – despite the hotel’s influence – he’s the embodiment of his father. From the second he accepts the Ullman’s offer of employment at the Outlook his family are doomed. Despite not drinking and his efforts to finish his play his mind is constantly on alcohol. King describes how he is manically wipes his lips and there’s hardly a moment when he isn’t thinking about booze or the memories associated with it. His obsession with the hotel’s history and the time he spends in the cellar pouring over documentation accurately portray an addictive personality.  In the film we see the physical change in Jack as he becomes more and more obsessive and disheveled and Kubrik takes his failures a step further when he reveals  exactly what it is he’s been spending his hours writing at the typewriter, “ All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

King’s use of the supernatural is sublime. His book paints a realistic picture of animated topiaries, independently operated confetti filled elevators, ghostly inhabitants in the presidential suite and an eternally occupied bathtub in room 217. The constant allusion to the sounds of the ages reverberating through the hotel and the allusion that all time is framed within the walls of the hotel; masks off at the midnight hour and all will be revealed! King writes his book in layer cake fashion by reiterating earlier subjects, adding details and then later compounding them. How it is that Wendy suddenly knows about a masked ball and how does the passenger on the plane know Hallorann’s name? Kubrik on the other hand in visual brilliance shows us what King can only describe. The Grady girls who were murdered by their father, the elevators filled with blood and of course the opulent Gold Room in constant use by the Hotel’s eternal guests. The Gold Room scenes are truly breath taking and the moment when Jack sits at the bar suddenly to be confronted by the mysterious Lloyd – who he apparently has always known – who is either a ghost – as King describes – or simply a figment of an alcoholic brain magnified by cabin fever is beyond brilliant. Kubrik’s use of period music and costume to extenuate the overlapping layers of history adds to the drama of the plot. King attempts this in his writing by adding lyrics – “I see a pale moon rising” – to his scenes but unless the reader is familiar, unfortunately remain simply words on a page. If anything, this is the epitomic difference between the written word and the medium of film. A director manifests that which an author can only describe.

The Special Shakespearian Effect

19 Jul

          sdf

“FORBIDDEN PLANET” AND “THE TEMPEST”

  James Burbage towards the end of the sixteenth century, having built the successful “Globe” using the wooden frame from his original playhouse “The Theatre,” acquired a stone-built hall at Black Friars. The building stood on the grounds of the old Dominican Monastery which had been used variously over the years. Rather than an open air theatre, where the actors were subjected to the elements and limited to a wooden scaffold in the center of the viewing public, Black Friars was the precursor of what we today would consider a modern stage location. The Black Friar’s allowed for performances sheltered from the elements and where for the first time the use of stage magic or, in Hollywood parlance, special-effects could be utilized with full impact. The Hall – according to contemporary accounts – was shadowed and lit by candles; the stage decorated with elaborate screen sets and the plays themselves accompanied by musicians. The ambience of the location along with the atmosphere created by the players would have been beyond anything an Elizabethan audience had thus far witnessed; the development of the play via the utilization of stagecraft undoubtedly stunning.

            There is evidence within “The Tempest” of significant stage-direction which would have allowed a writer a broader scope with regard to character development and so, it’s little wonder that this Shakespearian play, perhaps more than any other, contains evidence of technological manipulation. This giant leap forward one could argue is akin to the C.G.I manipulation of modern film makers. Now the sixteenth century playwright had the facility to bring his characters to life and rather than simply have a Chorus implore a crowd “to make imaginary puissance” or to “piece out the imperfections [of a play] with [their] thoughts.” At last the playwright could do more than just stimulate the workings of the – now comfortably seated – groundling’s “imaginary forces.” Although “Henry V” would have benefitted from close exposition within the confines of Black Friars “The Tempest” would’ve been literally embellished by that which was now possible. Clearly Shakespeare wrote the play with this in mind; hence the numerable sequences which elicit the use of some form of stage manipulation. It’s because of these proto special effects that the play is so easy to conceive within the framework of “Forbidden Planet.” A film which, although loosely based on the play, translates Shakespeare’s magical realism into the technological advancement required of the science fiction genre. Therefore, those special effects which were vital to the success of “The Tempest” have lent themselves to the longevity of “Forbidden Planet” without which it would’ve been impossible.  The technology used to exhibit these effects in both productions is of course planets apart but the results are none the less stunning and are particularly apparent in the characterization of both Robbie the Robot and Ariel.

            The play opens with the supposed drowning of a ship however, with manipulation of torches, swinging ropes and discrete lightning to represent flames it would’ve been an easily achievable scene inside of Black Friars. The fantastical portrayal of the plays characters on the other hand would have been a challenge. Ariel is an ethereal being, a willow-the-wisp character that can fly around the world in seconds, appear at will wherever it chooses and carry out the most arduous task with the greatest of ease. With a system of ropes and cranes Ariel could have been seen to fly to the delight of the audience as with little effort from Elizabethan riggers, the character could magically have be whisked from one part of the stage to another. In an era when magic was considered to be a very real phenomenon and the explanation for the world at large, the audience would have been astounded to see proof of the unseen realm for just the mere price of admission. Ariel is the enslaved embodiment of Prospero’s desire who without him – not dissimilar to the advanced knowledge left to Morbius – would not have been able to achieve the magic he did. Although he has the book, the staff and the wardrobe to paint himself a magician, Prospero is a base alchemist who utilizes the abilities of another to achieve his own ends.

            In the 1950’s rendition of the same play, Ariel appears in the form of Robbie the Robot and although light years apart in appearances, performs exactly the same role. Robbie is a sophisticated piece of electronics; a mobile, mechanical being that serves at the behest of his designer and master Morbius. He’s a swirling sophistication of flashing lights and rotating sensors who is able to perform all manner of tasks thanks to the usurped knowledge left by the planets predecessors. Robbie is both a protector and servant; a mechanical being of great strength that can produce any quantity of any material at will. Able to carry tons of sheet lead and yet unable to harm any living being thanks to his programming he is the embodiment of Ariel. An unwitting captive of Morbius’ design who without complaint fulfills every request and performs any task demanded of him. Just as Ariel is unable to free himself from the bonds of Prospero so Robbie is destined to exist only to serve. Robbie is the poster-child of 1950’s prophesized, future, technological development just as Ariel is the manifestation of the ethereal. Both Shakespeare and Wilcox are able to create magic thanks to the application of the special effect. In both instances the illusion for the audience is a persistent one as, rather than merely imaginary, Ariel and Robbie are living, breathing or electricity consuming, stage-crafted phenomenon.

            Using trick photography and film cuts Wilcox was able to create optical illusions that to a 1950’s audience must have seemed very real indeed. His superimpositions of models to show what appear to be highly advanced technology are extremely successful and from an artistic stand point very authentic. In particular, the attack of the Monster of Id upon Morbius’ residence where in order to protect themselves, steel shutters slam – as if by an unseen hand – into place. Likewise his renderings of the underground structure – which in reality are probably plastic models – when properly lit and filmed with superimpositions of tiny human figures, appear to be extremely lifelike. Wilcox presents a film that the audience is able to readily accept thanks to the success of his many special effects. “Forbidden Planet” isn’t particularly well written or acted and yet thanks to its cutting edge sophistication is unforgettable.

            Similarly Shakespeare doesn’t rely on the ability of his actors nor his words to achieve success. In the stage direction we can clearly see the intent of the play was to amaze and surpass that which had already become quotidian. Tales of star struck lovers, revengeful kings and ubiquitous twins surviving shipwrecks were in want of fresh paint and it was the machinations developed at Black Friars that allowed “Theatre” to take the necessary leap. In two places in particular we are shown the ingenuity of the players. In the first instance, the banquet scene, where the survivors of the ship wreck are offered a bounteous table and yet thanks to the harpies are unable to partake. Ariel is seen to suddenly appear in various parts of the stage; finally ending up on the table itself. “Thunder and lightning. Enter Ariel who like a harpy clasps his wings; and with a quaint device the banquet vanishes.” The notes suggest “an ingenious device of stage mechanism.” Shakespeare has included a flying harpy, sound and lighting and to conclude, an apparatus of some mechanical genius that renders the banquet gone. Secondly at the wedding of Miranda and Ferdinand, Prospero is in want of a “corollary” of spirits. This event is preceded by “soft music’ which choruses the arrival of Ceres, Juno and Iris. The stage direction once again bears witness to the ingenuity of the author. “Juno descends;” suggesting some type of winding mechanism. The footnotes even suggest that the direction is given too early and that this may be to take into account the limitations of the “machine.”

            Clearly the utilization of special effects to enhance characterization is nothing new and if one considers the theatre of Ancient Greece then we gain insight into the notion of Deus Ex Machina; where the god would have been lowered to the stage to turn wrongs to rights. Similarly Shakespeare was able to adapt to his new surroundings and given the embarrassment of riches the new location offered was able to adjust his plays accordingly. Likewise Wilcox using the malleability of film was able – without a single advanced mechanism – to make an audience believe that they had landed on a distant planet by means of space ship, only to discover that a far superior intellect awaited them.

             Both creators utilized everything at their disposal to create an illusion that enabled a willing suspense of disbelief. Just as Robbie the Robot is no more than a man dressed in a suit and Ariel a man on a wire, both characters are gilded by the use of special effect. It is the advent of Elizabethan stage craft that has taken Shakespeare’s “flat unraised spirits” from the “unworthy scaffold” and translated them into Wilcox’s “beautiful Cinema Scope” with “Amazing Color.”

GEWITTER – The Tempest

9 Jul

caine

A Rendering of “The Tempest”.

It’s 1918; the First World War is coming to an end. After five years of bloody attrition Europe has been obliterated and trenches stretch from the North Sea to the Alps. Despite the millions who’ve already died, small pockets of fighting still persist in a land ravaged by shot and shell.

In a forward listening post – separated from the German trenches by barely a hundred yards – two British officers stand watch. Their orders are to raise the alarm in the unlikely event the Germans try to make a desperate, last-ditch effort. The soldiers stand ankle deep in mud and filth and peer with their binoculars over the sand bagged trench. As they stare into the early morning mist a biplane – although in radio contact with the officer in charge – buzzes unseen above the clouds. The radio crackles – a static voice breaks the silence – and suddenly the ground in front of them comes alive. An artillery barrage erupts upon the enemy lines, sending huge columns of mud and debris into the sky. The elder of the two men reaches for his cigarettes, smiles and waits for the guns to abate.

The film is set during the First World War. The character uniforms are those of the protagonists of the period, the location the trenches of Flanders. The scenario touches on the events of the “Tempest.” The premise is that a small group of German soldiers evacuating from the front lines are caught in the final barrage of the war. Despite casualties the men manage to escape but because of the mist and the utter desolation of the environment they become increasingly disoriented. This leads to their desperate quest to escape the dangers around them and their eventual encounter with the British.

Rather than just another well-worn, mud-drenched soldier epic, this particular film will be filmed with lashings of psychological fantasy where each soldier is drawn, despite his personal demons, to relive episodes of his pre-war existence. These episodes will be similar to the scene in “The Shinning” when Jack Nicholson walks into the ball room at the Overlook Hotel, which although supposedly empty, is filled with the ghosts of a bygone era. The men will all experience surreal episodes that will make them question their sanity, as well as the nature of perceived reality; an allusion to the absurdity of the carnage experienced during the war.

After all, what could be more absurd than total annihilation?

Character List

Major P.

 Michael Caine – who else?

The Major is a sympathetic realist in his fifties who although, battle hardened, clings to the notion of a universal morality; that there’s more to life than blood and bullets and that by living one day at a time and soldiering to the best of his ability he will eventually earn the right to return to his beloved England.

Leftenant Graves.

Jude Law

Graves is a public school boy – that’s English public school – who thanks to conscription has been forced into the ranks during the final months of the war. A good looking boy from a well-to-do background who, although maintaining the pretense of a stiff upper lip and filled with faux “Boys-Own” bravado, is on the point of mental break down. Hand tremors and occasional outbursts are softened by the affection he holds for the Major who – through their shared experience and his protection – he’s come to appreciate as a virtual father to him.

 There’s a nagging question of barely-perceptible homosexuality, but this is never satisfactorily resolved.

Ariel

Is a disembodied voice that alternates from person to person. The spirit is the pilot in the unseen aircraft, the voice on the end of the telephone and the static in the radio. There is constant contact between the Major and the entity with regard to the observation, discovery and eventual capture of the enemy. The voice is everywhere and nowhere; the ghost in the machine and yet Major P’s only contact with the outside world.

German Soldiers

Schmidt, Gruber and Schuhmaker

 Liam Neeson. Tom Hardy. Peter Falk.

The soldiers are foils to the British characters; Neeson to Caine and Hardy to Law.

Falk is the chorus and embodiment of Trinculo and Stephano and offers comic relief.

Hardy like Law is a young man drawn into conflict and the pseudo love interest in the never declared homo-eroticism.

Neeson is just as grizzled as Caine; a man who’s been forever changed by what he once perceived as a just crusade.

Various walking shadows

Every good war movie needs a few death scenes!

Psychological episodes

•        Falk lost in the mist turns a corner and suddenly find himself on the “Reeperbahn” in Hamburg. Girls and good times are everywhere and we experience the surrealism of pre-war Europe.

•        A monster made from the corpses of all the dead of all the wars rises from the mud. Barbed wire hangs from its body. It chases the soldiers and although never catching them is constantly an entity at the corner of their eye and a perpetual threat.

•        Law meets and chats with an airman who – to everybody apart from himself – is obviously a ghost.

•        Caine finds himself – fishing rod in hand – at the edge of a mud filled crater reliving civilian life.

•        Neeson reencounters his wife who was killed in a bombing raid by the British at the beginning of the war; the reason he joined the army in the first place.

•        Random vehicles are seen to drive through the trenches, ice cream vendors appear alongside other tradesmen. The occasional prostitute is seen leaning against the side of the trench.

The idea is to create sheer terror with absolute ridiculousness. The trenches aren’t just filled with the dead but also their memories. The Trenches as it were are;

“  ….full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Denouement

The men finally unite after their horrors whilst lost in the trenches.

 Law and Hardy have their brief, yet obvious moment of affection.

The men despite their different uniforms and political ideology come to a tacit understanding of universal brotherhood.

As the radio sputters to the sound of victory the air is filled with the roar of twelve-cylinder-Fokker- aero-engines. Machine gun fire rips through the trench killing them all.   

The radio breaks into a music hall ditty.

The camera pans the bodies and lingers briefly on the outstretched hands of Law and Hardy.

The trench slowly transforms into the Reeperbahn which Falk witnesses – cigar in mouth – in his last living, breathing moments.

The paradox of reality and dreams is left unanswered.

The Intent

Although the film parodies the book there is no intention of staying absolutely true to it or of using Shakespeare’s language. Although there will be allusions to the play – possibly in conversations between Law and Caine – there will be no direct link to it. The intent is to subvert the original play and at the same time doggedly adhere to it. By relating to it in the loosest of terms and without obvious reference the allusion will be maximized.

Do I have to mention that my idea is protected by copyright and that I’m also available for shooting next week?

JEKYLL and HYDE

17 Jun

Famous Fantastic Mysteries 42-08_Page_006

GOTHIC FANTASY or THOUGHT CRIME?

The duality and multiplicity of the Victorian era is implied in the reflectionism of Stevenson’s text. This includes the rise and fall of empire, the adoption of empirical science, the ascension of the middle class and the advent of the modern era; the list goes on and on. Consequently to try to coerce the figure of Mr. Hyde into any one of these positions would not be difficult. Likewise the idea of Lombroso’s anthropomorphism can be applied to the British attitude towards subjugated nations, gender roles  and class differences; the beerage as oppose to the peerage, as they were laughingly known by the blue bloods. Similarly the new Victorian sciences of phrenology, psychology and evolutionary theory could also help to explain from a contemporary perspective what it is that we think Stevenson’s novel is trying to tell us. I am not persuaded by any of these as I do not believe that this is analogous to the period nor a Gothic tale but that it’s a fantasy instead. Stevenson is renowned for other fantastical and adventurous works including “Treasure Island” and more in line with this particular story “The Bottle Imp,” and consequently “Jekyll and Hyde” is a work of pure escapism. Of course it embodies the tropes of Gothic literature but what modern story of suspense and mystery doesn’t?

Rather than discovering untold wealth in a “Rider-Haggard” novel or the perpetual youth of “Dorian Gray” we’re granted license to live out our wildest fantasies with impunity. Given the darker side of human nature and the masks we choose to wear in public, how many of us haven’t wished to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior and escape the bondage of social conformity. This is also a Romantic notion and something to which Blake alluded to in the “Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” Whether it’s the demise of one whom we despise, or robbing the local bank without fear of retribution what wouldn’t we do? This I believe is the true underlying message of Stevenson’s writing and is supported in the lack of specificity regarding the debauchery enjoyed by Hyde. Yes, we’re told of the trampled child and the murder but everything else is left to our imaginations. When Jekyll freely admits that he has done those things which go beyond the pale and which are inadmissible in a polite society, what goes through the readers mind? What is it that we as individuals desire but would never hope to get caught doing? This creates reader intimacy as – although we live the tale as written – we envision the acts personally and so embellish Hyde with our own true natures.

In the immortal lyrics of Billy Joel:

Well we all have a face that we hide away forever

And we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone.

Some are satin some are steel, some are silk and some are leather.

They’re the faces of the stranger,

But we love to try them on.

The nature of pseudo-science – just as in “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” – is again explored. Despite what was fast becoming a mechanical society – where everything operated within the bounds of natural constraints – there was still an irresistible urge to scrutinize the inexplicable. The old ways of the alchemists still adhere – hardly surprising as modern science had only existed for about a hundred years- and therefore there is a continuous attraction towards the fantastic. Written in 1886 “Jekyll and Hide” is only ten years younger than “The Time Machine” of H.G. Wells. It would seem that the progression of modernity is simply allowing for the fulfillment of ancient enlightenment if only between the pages of the novel.

THE MARX OF EMPIRE – DRACULA

14 Jun

MARX

Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” opens on the heath with the three wicked sisters and the immortal line “something wicked this ways comes.” Stoker borrows the idea in his portrayal of the three voluptuous women at Castle Dracula and without direct allusion allows his readers to conclude the same. Arata suggests that something indeed is arriving and instead of a Scottish King with a crisis of ambition it’s the end of empire and the dilution of the British soul. This ignorant implication is not only one that was incorrectly applied to the Victorian period but is a contemporary fear attributed to British tabloid xenophobia as an alleged consequence of membership of the European Union: modern federalization which will enable a huge influx of Eastern Europeans into Britain. Scaremongering politicians allege – as Arata does – that open border policy – alluded to in Arata’s treatise on Dracula  – has created a contemporary Transylvanian exodus of alleged millions that mirrors to some degree Stoker’s one man on a boat scenario in Whitby Harbor, accompanied by several tons of earth. This is of course without merit.

     The idea that the British are a pure bred race has always been anathema and is generally a foreign misperception that although Britain is an island – a sceptered isle – it’s somehow the source of some original seed. One only has to look at the history of Britain to understand that the concept of a melting pot, which America so readily adopts for itself, applies equally to the British. After centuries of invasions by Saxons, Danes, Goths, Romans, Normans and not forgetting the Scots – Celts – who famously, unlike their Irish neighbors who prayed on their knees, preyed on their neighbors. Political and social turmoil throughout the centuries has seen countless inundations of refugees to its shores; in particular during the reformation of the Church in the sixteenth century with the usurpation of Protestantism over the hearts and minds of the islanders and the juxtaposition of Catholicism on the Continent. Britain has always been about place not race where within a generation those who have chosen to come to the country adopt its attitudes and language and as multicultural as the country is – even during the period Stoker was writing- there is a unity that tethers the country more efficiently than genetic glue. One only has to observe the names and faces of the England football squad to understand that Britain is not about being a white protestant born within the sound of Bow Bells. To make this analogy a Victorian one, Arata conveniently forgets that Victoria herself was born of Germans and therefore of German lineage who spoke German, who married a German and who was the head of the Saxy- Coburgs. What Arata also neglects is the link between the European Royal families and their lineage that descends from the Romanian. He, not unlike Professor Mellor, cherry picks his causation and wrongly applies his defense.

Britain was not a country filled with racial tensions as he suggests and fearful of alien exsanguination, as for century upon century and principally because of Empire, the nation had become adjusted to the idea of the foreign – other – and the benefits the Empire brought with it, rather than a fear of foreign inundation. There are countless examples of, rather than wishing to travel to England, those countries that fell under Empire wished to emulate the practices of the British and apply those in their own countries. The empire didn’t encourage immigration however, it did promote Britishness and all that it entailed

To suggest, “Stoker thus transforms the materials of the vampire myth, making them bear the weight of the culture’s fears over its declining status,” is asinine. Famously Daniel Defoe wrote ‘The True Born Englishman” in 1701 which completely mocks the notion of racial purity and therefore Arata’s misinformed contention. This satirical poem was written to defend the coronation of a Dutch King and to defend the House of Orange “against xenophobic attacks and to ridicule the notion of English racial purity.” Defoe writes:

“A true-born Englishman’s a contradiction,

In speech an irony, in fact a fiction.

A banter made to be a test of fools,

Which those that use it justly ridicules.

A metaphor invented to express

A man a-kin to all the universe.”

     Arata claims that Stoker’s writing – especially Dracula – is central to the concept of reverse colonization and sites his various works to justify his argument. Is this really true or are we reading the novel with 21st century sensibilities and applying the principals of political correctness or rather social compartmentalization? How can one possibly decry the foreign entity of Dracula and yet accept the foreignness of Van Helsing a Dutchman and his extremely enunciated accent. Is this a case of Dutch good and Romanian bad; can we possibly distinguish between separate and distinct nationalities?  What of the American and his state of the art Winchester rifles and his indelicate slang? Again is would seem obtuse to welcome one without the other. What is more apparent throughout the novel is the difference in class as oppose to difference in race, a concept that Americans seem to find hard to understand. In a nut shell, if one is not born to a certain lineage then one will never belong. In Dracula the foreigner is exulted whilst the lower classes and indigenous populations are ridiculed.

     The great homogenizer in Britain is not money but blood. This given the Count’s penchant for that most sanguine of beverages would have been a better argument; that Dracula by drinking the blood of mortals is diluting class boundaries and destroying aristocratic hegemony. One only has to read the descriptions of the ordinary folk to understand how Stoker considers his few central characters to be of better breeding than the masses and therefore worthy of fawning respect. This is particularly apparent towards the end of the novel with the search for the coffins and the pursuit of Dracula back to Romania when we meet working class people who are continuously – to the point of overt repetition – derided for their physical status, the nature of their lowly employment and their barely comprehensible accents. According to Stoker, they’re always thirsty and in need of alcohol and easily won over with money; the commodity they the proletariat, despite the fact that they are the workers, don’t possess. Stoker stridently elevates the hegemonic principals of class distinction as even Dracula is praised as coming from an ancient family; a “distinguished” man who just happens to live in a castle. Despite his debauchery he is still one of them.  One could argue that revolution which once again was rearing its head – especially in the East – was a serious concern to the ancient dynastic families who because of their blood line alone held the delicate balance of power in Europe and therefore, the reason why sanctity of blood is so important to the central theme of “Dracula.”

     Money and race play no part in aristocracy nor do they affect ancient lineage. One must therefore conclude that “Dracula” isn’t about the destruction of empire and the influx of the foreign, but the dangers presented to the tenuous nature of centrally held power by dilution and the fear of the inevitable demise of false class consciousness.

Initial “Dental” Impressions; Dracula

12 Jun

christopher lee

Dracula doesn’t just fit the Gothic genre but embodies the entire theme. Every trope available to the Gothic author is apparent within its first few chapters; a naïve young man journeys to a strange country at night in a darkened stagecoach to meet with an aristocrat who is feared and shunned by the local population and who just happens to live in a ruined castle in a darkened forest, filled with wolves and who is randomly disturbed by itinerant gypsies whilst trying to grab forty winks in his own crypt. (Did I mention that he sleeps in a coffin filled with the earth of his homeland, consorts with the undead and is petrified of crucifixes?) If it wasn’t for the fact that this story is an original, one could be forgiven for pulling the cliché card. The beauty of the story lies in the authentic imagination of its author who has not only captured the mood of the Gothic narrative but embellished it. Stoker has stolen the Gothic football and not only run with it but kicked it through the dilapidated twin towers – bat ridden and ivy enveloped of course – explaining the enduring popularity of the novel and the fact that it reads as contemporary.

Naturally, because we’ve been spoilt with production after production of “Dracula,” it’s hard to form an original image in one’s mind as continually – at least in my own imagination – I see a pale skinned man dressed in a high collared cloak with exaggerated widows-peaks. The only thing remiss is the Eastern European lilt of, “I vant to suck your blood!” Because one cannot escape the modern appeal of the story one has to try to appreciate the novel as a genre archetype and in doing so admire its obvious quality and recognize the immediate differences from those we’ve read thus far. To date we’ve read of the abusive, the ghostly, the uncanny and the unthinkable however, Dracula refreshingly embodies true horror.

There are several instances of pure genius that erupt from the pages. The first is the disembodiment of Dracula into a cloud of particulates; something with which we are now overly familiar with in Hollywood productions; the seemingly solid individual who suddenly disappears in a puff of smoke only to re materialize from thin air. This imagery is sublime and I believe without having experienced this via the medium of film I would still have been taken aback – as it did stun me when I first read it – as the description was so immediately recognizable. The image of Dracula crawling – as the author goes to great pains to describe – down the perpendicular wall of the castle. This is not only unheimlich but also super natural. Dracula isn’t just a bad seed he also possesses super-human powers – the first Romanian super hero perhaps? The shock at the lack of reflection in the looking glass and the over eager excitement generated by Harker’s blood are also vivid in description and although familiar are none the less remarkable from the point of view of the Victorian Fantastic.

Rather than romance as we experienced in “Frankenstein” and “Wuthering Heights” there is an undisguised sexuality that permeates the story; in particular, the three voluptuous and overtly sexualized women we initially meet at the castle. The poignant kissing scene when Harker chooses to sleep outside of his bed chamber could very easily be construed as something quite different. This theme of sex is constant throughout the novel and there are manifest portrayals of female lust. Stoker attempts to show us through the letters and diaries of Mina and Lucy exactly what women really want. More traditionally the women are continuously objectified by the admiration and wooing of their male counterparts from whom Lucy has a hard time choosing and who wishes, quite scandalously, that a woman should be able to marry more than just one. Disturbingly the beauty of the corpse is not free, even in death, from the licentiousness of the living as it grows page by page more ample and zaftig to the point of unhealthy admiration by those who view the body. Clearly sex sells and “Dracula” as well as archetypally Gothic incorporates many of the tropes of a bodice-ripper as well

WUTHERING HEIGHTS – “ELEMENTARY GOTHIC MY DEAR WATSON”

6 Jun

GOTHGGG

“When the sublime is impossible Watson, then only the Gothic is possible”

      Bronte’s novel is everything one would expect from a Victorian Gothic; a third party fireside tail related by a servant who can only reveal that which she believes to be true. This lends the story a mythical quality as the falling action is merely perceived truth, as we never truly see into the minds of the protagonists. Set in a bleak Yorkshire landscape an ancient house, that dates back centuries, is battered by the elements on a wind riven, snow gusted promontory, arousing both the sinister and melancholy. Small enclosed windows allude to ominous shadowed interiors shielded by a stalwart stone construction that has allowed the house to endure the passing of countless seasons. Wuthering Heights is no castle but with a maze of wooden stair cases, dark hallways and locked rooms it is a foreboding location. The atmospherics are enhanced by a room, in which nobody is allowed to sleep, that conceals long forgotten books containing clues to the families strange and dramatic past. To compound the horror and suspense there is the foreshadowing of names penciled into a window frame. From the outset the reader is acquainted with a supernatural dread and an expectation that worse is to follow. This suspicion is confirmed by the appearance of the ghost at the window and perhaps more disturbing, the figure of Heathcliff barging through the door “with candle wax dripping off his fingers” who then pulls open the casement windows to scream insanely at the tempest raging outside. One might be forgiven, that rather than a sedentary Northern English farm house, that one had entered a lunatic asylum. From the uncanny and mysterious, to the downright diabolical, the novel contains it all; including obligatory, incomprehensible yokels. Bronte brilliantly achieves an element of the unheimlich; the ghost at the crossroads, the hanging dog, the sounds of horse’s hooves and unseen riders escaping into the night all margin the immediate and thrill the reader. Could anything be more Gothic? 

         We join Lockwood in what should be a familiar domestic setting but instead find ourselves in an alien and uncanny environment; the novel immediately sets the reader ill at ease. The assumptions made by Lockwood regarding the interfamily relationships presented to him are all incorrect and so, like him, we stare around a room at a group of characters of whom we know absolutely nothing. The rapid confusion of shared and similar names adds to the initial disorientation of both the reader and unwanted guest. Who is who, and why on earth would Lockwood decide that he needed to revisit a house that was initially so inhospitable to strangers? Bronte places her reader at a deliberate disadvantage so that from the outset they are back-footed, causing them to suspect the worst of what is obviously a dysfunctional situation and search for the natural yet nonexistent clues in an attempt to comprehend what is clearly incomprehensible. This oppressive if dynamic suspense is neither welcoming nor does it encourage one to read further and yet, the introductory intrigue is so dense that one is forced to plough through the chapters at a blistering rate in an effort to garner clarity. “Wuthering Heights” is a novel which at every twist and turn reveals or rather conceals yet another hidden truth. Just as Lockwood is eager to hear the fire-side gossip of Nelly Dean, the reader too is on tenterhooks to discover whatever truth she may reveal.

        Thrushcross Park and marriage to its owner gives Cathy the ability to save the man she herself cannot save; a manifestation of true love where one lover cares more for their partner than they do for themselves. Cathy surrenders her own feelings for the benefit of Heathcliff – by marrying Linton a man she doesn’t really care for and who is the antithesis of the childhood friend – who’s been brutally crushed by Earnshaw to the point where only the memory of her erstwhile companion is left. Despite the financial benefits of her union with Edgar she’s optimistic that her elevated position will rescue Heathcliff from his untenable existence. Recognizing that they’re kindred spirits, she realizes that they can never be together as due to the lack of care and education at Wuthering Heights – enjoyed whilst favored by Earnshaw senior – Heathcliff is doomed to a life ignominy and misfortune. It’s only upon his escape and return to the moors that she begins to question her own position.

       Selfish regret and egotistical revenge exhibited by both protagonists late in the novel lend clarity to the true natures of Cathy and Heathcliff. Cathy clearly on a path to self-enrichment has finally bitten off more than she can chew and despite her avarice discovers that her fatal flaw is her love for the Byronic hero Heathcliff. Unfulfilled by material acquisition the objects of her desire – be they physical or emotional – always seems to inflict distress on those supposedly closest to her. After barely a thought to Heathcliff – except the terse explanation that he is now beneath her thanks to his neglected education – her few weeks at Thrushcross awaken her inner narcissist and after sampling the good life abandons everything she allegedly holds dear in order to maintain it. No longer the wild, care-free, moor-roaming child she’s quixotically content to enjoy the confines and luxuries of the grange. Rather than a portrayal of a capricious child we are offered the mind of a devious anti-heroine who doesn’t give a damn about anybody else except herself. Her explication on the notion that marrying Heathcliff would degrade her speaks volumes and yet she is frivolous with her Husband’s affections in her continued correspondence with him. Cathy cares about one thing and that’s Cathy. If anything she mirrors Heathcliff more in later life than she did in her youth as she contends her “lovers” one against the other. Cathy has nothing to lose and everything to gain from their rivalry. Should Heathcliff have killed Linton then Thrushcross would have been hers. Her husband prevailing on the other hand changed nothing. It was only the unforeseen effects of weak constitution coupled with pregnancy and exacerbated by her hysteria that eventually killed her. This mirroring is seen in the Heathcliff’s marriage to Isabella whose only design is to put him one step closer to owning Thrushcross and destroying those – as he’d already done at Wuthering Heights – he considered to have done him ill. One could almost believe that the love they purportedly share for one another is secondary to their ulterior desires. Theirs is a dysfunctional attraction which ultimately destroys the lives of those around them as well as their own.

      The sentiment of nature versus nurture was a key question in Frankenstein: whether or not the creature was truly terrible or made so by circumstance. This applies equally to the Heathcliff character who for all intents was an innocent – foundling child – who receiving the love of old Earnshaw thrived and when abused by Hindley became the black-hearted villain and seminal destructive force in Wuthering Heights. The notion of “other” is ubiquitous as reactions to him despite his physical differences were dependent upon those who both loved and hated him. Instead of analyzing the notion of “other” in Heathcliff, perhaps we should consider the discrepancies in his nurturing. Was it “other” that made him different or the perception of him – as either a blessing or a threat – by those with whom he interacted? Heathcliff is a product of the limited society he enjoyed and therefore judging him a villain by his degree of “otherness” would be mendacious.

      Alternatively one could debate the notion of free will and that by choosing to follow the path he did, is responsible for his own actions. In the vein of Eastern spiritualism one has to experience the darkness in order to appreciate the light. The idea that the consciousness grows form each experience clearly does not appear to apply to Heathcliff and therefore one has to conclude that his lack of humanity is innate. Attempting to perceive Heathcliff as a victim and therefore forgive his indiscretions is disingenuous of the consummate villain that he is.