Saturday, 30 November 2013

Notes On Ghosts



001 I don’t generally like anything that starts with a dictionary definition, but I was curious to see how ‘ghost’ was described. The OED answer is –

1. An apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous being – OR –

2. A slight trace or vestige of something – OR –

3. A faint secondary image produced by a fault in an optical system.

At least one of those answers also speaks volumes when questioning what a ghost is, not just what we mean by the word. I don’t know which one is right, but I’d probably say two with a touch of three, but I’m not sure how, in this context, you could have two without one.

002 I’ve never properly seen a ghost, but then I’ve never looked very hard. I once went to the site of Borley Rectory with some friends and we all got stupidly scared at standing on a patch of grass that once apparently had a haunted house on it but it was very dark, we were quite drunk and we were expecting to be frightened, so frightened we were. I have subsequently heard the tale re-told to include a mysterious floating light which could have been a ghost, but I have no recollection of that whatsoever. I was probably peeing up a tree at that point, although you think someone would have said ‘oh, by the way, while you were urinating we saw a ghost’. On a tangential note, why do men insist on pissing up against things? If there is a single tree in an acre of bushes, you can bet that it will be singled out for a visit. Is it shame, safety or the primeval urge to mark your territory? Our animal instincts always assert themselves in intensely personal situations. I need the toilet now.

003 When I was 10, my Nan died. It was terrible, and I took it badly. My Dad tried to make sense of it for me (and perhaps for himself, she was his Mum) by saying that ‘death is just a part of life, and no-one really knows what happens next. Maybe she is in another place, and can see us now – maybe she’s here, sat over in the corner – but we just can’t see her’. It was the single most terrifying thing I had ever heard. It still is, I think. I have to say that I do sometimes believe that my house is haunted, but I think it’s more likely in need of better draught excluders. In any respect, I’m okay with the ‘ghost’ – I’ve lived there for ten years and whatever the intermittent late night presence is, it hasn’t yet tried to touch me up or take me over, so I’m not bothered. Perhaps I’m not its type.

004 Ghosts always seem to me to be figures not of fear, but intense sadness. I mean, what sort of life is that for a dead person? Tied eternally to a single spot, compulsively re-enacting the same rituals, walking the same battlements, rattling the same chains? It’s horrible. And everyone you encounter is scared of you. Perhaps ghosts are like a bad scratch on a record or a locked groove, doomed to repeat the same few seconds over and over again - or like a goldfish, by the time they realise what they are doing they forget what they are doing. I hope ghosts lack consciousness, or at least sentience: the idea that they know that they are ghosts is too awful to contemplate.

005 You may have noticed that I write about ghosts as if they are real. I think they are real. I don’t necessarily think that they are ‘an apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous being’ but they are something, perhaps psychological, perhaps psychogeographical, perhaps a natural phenomenon that we haven’t discovered yet. But then I watch a lot of horror films and TV, I read a lot of horror books, so a ghost to me is like true love for a romantic novel reader, magic for a Harry Potter fan. That said, I don’t believe that vampires or werewolves exist. Mummies, yes.

006 There’s a great deal to say about ‘A Ghost Story For Christmas’, but I’ve run out of steam a bit so I’ll just say that it is one of the greatest things the BBC ever did. These Ghost Stories are not just for Christmas, they’re for life.

007 ‘Ghost Stories for Christmas’ debut at the Showroom Cinema on Tuesday 3rd December with ‘Whistle & I’ll Come To You’, ‘Lost Hearts’ and ‘Stigma’. If that doesn’t excite you, check your pulse, you may be a ghost yourself. On Tuesday 17th December it’s ‘A Warning To The Curious’ and ‘The Ash Tree’. White sheets are optional. More HERE and HERE.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Notes On The Gothic


001 I used to go out with a Goth. She drank Pernod, and only wore purple and black. Her hair was extraordinary, crimped and crenelated and blow dried upside down. The funny thing was how funny she was. I had expected that Goths would be miserable, but, for her, it was exciting, like riding the Ghost Train, or watching a Hammer film or reading a scary book late at night and having to put the big light on: morbid, perhaps, but not maudlin. But Goth girlfriends are not really what we’re talking about.

002 The original Goths were a Germanic tribe who sacked Rome. We’re not talking about that, either. We’re also not discussing architecture, although that has an integral role to play. Our Gothic is a literary style which became a cultural sensation and then a way of life. This Gothic is a heady combination of horror and romance, a kiss before dying. It flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries, where love was inextricably linked to death and to loss – a place where life was constantly threatened by a myriad of illnesses and conditions that medical science couldn’t yet cope with, where every person who survived beyond birth was automatically entered into the lottery of surviving to adulthood.

003 The signifiers of Gothic are many, and some have become clich̩s, a short hand for fear: a desolate or deserted place, an innocent heroine, a tyrant or a monster, a hero; candles and cobwebs, cellars and hidden passages, lives in peril, surrender, succumbing, evil to be overcome. Think of the pale, frail things of Gothic literature Рlives spent in shadow and solitude, in big gloomy houses and partially ruined castles; hard, doomed lives, with love or death as their only solace and, sometimes, a love beyond death.

004 There is not always a supernatural element, but there is always a sense of the unnatural: you don’t need a ghost to be haunted; you don’t need a vampire to get your neck bitten.

005 I always meant to write something about the 1,225 episodes of extraordinary US goth soap ‘Dark Shadows’, but then Jonny Depp and Tim Burton came along and ruined it all. Those two need shooting. Or at least stunning. Perhaps they’ll then make a film that has a spark of something in it that isn’t all flip, facile, ironic hipster bullshit.

006 Gothic is easy to parody, indeed, it parodies itself. It has a sense of humour, it needs one, in case it becomes overwhelmingly grim. Gothic is popular, so it renews itself from generation to generation – it’s always the new black. It fulfils the primal instinct to reach out into the darkness, never knowing quite what your fingertips will touch first.

007 The Gothic Season starts at The Showroom Cinema, Sheffield, in November. ‘Hammer Bites’ starts on the 1st of December with a screening of ‘The Curse Of Frankenstein’. ‘Dracula’ and ‘The Mummy’ follow on the 8th and 15th. I will be presenting the films, with Gothic expert Andrew Smith on hand to stop me banging on about my ex-girlfriends. On the 15th of December, there will be records played in the bar, and I will be debuting my soon to become world famous horror themed disco set. Beware, I have a record called ‘Sexy Dracula’ to play.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Notes On A Certain Tendency In British Films, 1961-1967


001 The Kitchen Sink was a watershed for British cinema, as well as a crucible in which a number of great careers were forged. Would a watershed put out a crucible, do you think? In any event, wet or hot, it was a big deal. Within a few years, however, these films exchanged youthful defiance for decadence and, finally, disillusionment. In this, they reflect the arc of the sixties, which started so brightly and optimistically but, in the end analysis, turned out to be more complex and dark than popular cliché would allow.

002 ‘A Taste Of Honey’ is a film which resonates with love and kindness, not least in its ground-breaking choice of main characters (a teenage single Mother, a homosexual, a black man) and the compassionate, sympathetic way they are presented and played. The film that launched a thousand Smiths songs, it is, ultimately, a hopeful film, especially given that, outwardly, the circumstances and surroundings are so grim. Rita Tushingham is great, and Murray Melvin is brilliant. He always is. The sixties worked for Rita Tushingham, and she worked the Sixties. In a previous decade, her options would have been limited: even assuming that she could have made it into films, her career would have perhaps been confined to playing a succession of comedy barmaids, or silly housemaids, perhaps the odd murder victim. But – in the sixties - she is a star. Funny looking, gawky, unashamedly Northern, unapologetically working class, very talented, Rita took her chance and surfed the zeitgeist to Hollywood. She came back, of course, most did, but what a ride it must have been.

003 The Swinging Sixties! Oh, for a time machine and a few hundred quid in old money. You jump in your MG and cruise to Carnaby Street to buy some new gear: you’re going out tonight – you go out every night. But the reality is that for millions the Swinging Sixties only swung for others. And what props up the dream for the select few? What underpins their new liberties, new freedoms, the new opportunities for a few lucky people at the epicentre? Alfie might be having a ball, but he does it at the expense of his girlfriend’s, who he treats like shit. In ‘Smashing Time’, Rita Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave arrive in London from t’North and spend a frantic few weeks at the vanguard – they model, make records, have sex, get fucked; used up, worn out, they get the next bus home. Alfie ends up feeling like shit, too, like a little boy who has eaten too many sweets. Charlie Bubbles knows that feeling, and Joe Lampton, and Diana Scott and George Best and Tara Browne and Brian Jones and Marianne Faithfull. By the end of the 60’s, a great many people will have tummy ache.

004 ‘The Knack (& How To Get It)’ is a very swinging film – fast, wacky, hip, stylish – but the main theme is threat, with Rita Tushingham as Little Red Riding Hood and Ray ‘Mr. Ben’ Brooks as the big, bad wolf. His character wears leather gloves, for fuck’s sake, like a mod Dr. No . Brooks is at the epicentre of his own scene, but he needs a constant supply of mugs, victims, consumers, consumables – he’s not fussy, they are disposable items, there’s always more where they came from. He’ll wear himself out, eventually, but not before he’s worn out everyone else around him.


005 ‘Charlie Bubbles’ is perhaps the personification of what I’m fumbling around trying to say – working class talent is recognised, leading to fame and riches. But, for Charlie, it’s just not all it’s cracked up to be, the playground has become a prison cell. Not of the new world, no longer of the old, Charlie ends up slumped in a chair, barely a thought in his head apart from to try and get away somewhere – anywhere. From delight to disillusionment: it’s slightly too dramatic to say that the dream has become a nightmare, but it’s certainly become a massive pain in the arse.

006 Films that could have made the arc a little clearer: ‘Billy Liar!’, ‘Darling’, ‘Life At The Top’, ‘Alfie’, ‘Nothing But The Best’, ‘Smashing Time’, ‘Straight On ‘til Morning’. Just watch them at home in date order and draw your own conclusions, perhaps staging a Q & A with your family acting as an enquiring audience. Don’t forget to use the word ‘zeitgeist’.

007 Subverse Britannia 2 takes place at The Showroom Cinema in Sheffield on consecutive Sundays from the 10th of November, and will feature ‘A Taste Of Honey’, ‘The Knack’ and ‘Charlie Bubbles’, plus Q + A’s and records. Full details HERE.