Thursday, 17 March 2011

Chris Port Blog #126. Here’s Hoping the Chinese Still Like Ghost Stories: Why I Love Gothic Horror Films

© Chris Port, September 2010

The balance of world power is shifting. Tectonically. We can feel the ground move apart beneath our feet. We are in the dying moments of a fin-de-siécle - like the Moulin Rouge before the Great War, like the Roaring Twenties before the Great Depression, like Cabaret before Hitler.

As the Big Boom has collapsed into the Credit Crunch, our universe has gone into reverse. The Western postwar world has been revealed as a fiction in need of a new narrative - China.

We are about to enter a new, unknown and terrifying age: the post-postmodern era. What is this era and what are some of its emergent themes?

To what extent will Western forms, contents, ownerships and ideologies be changed by engagement with perhaps the world’s first economic ‘hyperpower’?

To what extent will China allow, tolerate, choose, promote, edit, suppress, censor or merely discourage Western ideologies implicit in drama and media products, our ‘ideological exports’?

To what extent will Western media producers need or choose to identify China as a new target audience wealth-producing opportunity and craft new output to take account of the Chinese import market?

In brief: what new films, TV programmes, books, plays, writers, directors, designers, actors will be needed for this new ‘Hollywood Jerusalem’’ about to open up in the Far East?

What will the Chinese mind, wit, heart and eye take a shine to?

What social memes will be allowed to live on in the New Chinese era? What will be suppressed and die out?

What effect will China’s ‘upwards move’ have on the emerging ‘sweatshop’ economies of the Indo-Asian geographic areas and their ability to undercut labour costs in the credit-swollen, increasingly irrelevant economies of the Indo-European geographical areas.?

To what extent will China feel compelled to intervene - culturally, politically, economically, possibly even militarily - as the post-postmodern world realigns itself into new power blocs with growing populations and dwindling resources?

What effect will the Religious Fundamentalist movement in Islamic countries have? Is it the dying gasp of male patriarchy and feudalistic societies? A sort of embarrassing last stand by intellectual oafs against the smart money? Or will the bombed peasant weddings eventually tell against us?

What of targets? Weren’t the Americans always trying to win in Vietnam with the numbers game? The infamous ‘body count’ of enemy dead measured against our numerically smaller (but emotionally superior) own dead and maimed. Look at what happened there. Disillusionment, drugs, moral squalor and artistic and intellectual nihilism.

The motivated Mujahaddin must look at the West as a sick Sodom and Gomorrah cancer, to be ruthlessly excised and cleansed in the name of God and Humanity. The average roadside potshot suicide-bomber will usually be a bullied gullible martyr-type, someone who believes that they are dying for a noble cause, leaving the world a better place by a pure act of sacrifice to God.

That’s a powerful force to be reckoned with - one that, in many ways, our own culture has identified and celebrated. King Arthur and Camelot: the Knights of the Round Table; justice, chivalry, purity, friendship, love, passion; the betrayal of Arthur by his most trusted allies - Lancelot and Guinevere; the manipulative treachery of Mordred and Morgana; Arthur’s agonizing rage held in check; pain and forgiveness; Lancelot’s epic quest for the Holy Grail and redemption; the terrible Civil Wars that ravaged the land; Arthur’s Golgotha and the death of a Golden Age; the triumph of the forces of darkness - like Saruman’s Orcs in Mordor, like the Nazi New World Order, like the White Witch in Narnia. We wait for the return of Aslan.

Our heraldic coat of arms, the lion and the unicorn, courage and purity, say more about us than we sometimes think. We can also smile in wry recognition at our grumpy silly Bulldog spirit - a plucky ugly underdog stamina, a stubborn refusal to give up, adorably obstinate, quaintly decent, sticking up for what’s right.

There is no greater courage than that of the lone individual against the panic-stricken mob, no greater purity than that of selfless self-sacrifice.

To the suicide bomber it is the peace of a martyr’s paradise. To me, it is standing alone against the Nazi forces of darkness. Jihad, Crusade, Holy War, Just War. Strange how these deeply powerful emotional instincts seem embedded in every culture’s artistic DNA. Our Darkest Hour, our near collapse to mechanized, messiah-driven evil, also found it’s place in the national identity as our defining moment.

However, before we get too messianic about our manifest destiny, we should also tip the wink to comedy. Self-deprecation, the pricking of pomposity, are deeply embedded in the mud and shit of our medieval peasant psyche. Again, it should be of little surprise that the Germans episode of Fawlty Towers is up there with Churchill and the Spitfire. Monty Python’s Holy Grail and Life of Brian outraged the church and its horn-rimmed glass watchdogs - while reducing their straying flocks and packs of teenagers to tears of laughter.

‘Naughtiness’, witty triviality, is needed to fill the gap between Being and Nothingness. The French got Sartre. We got Python.

Philosophically, I’ve always smirked at all that logical Germanic turgidity with a fag-smoking shrug of gallic ennui. They’re both right in their own way (analytically anyway), but also a bit anal too. Whereas the British obsession with tits and bottoms (à la Carry On and The Sun) seems, to me, perfectly healthy and normal. Not good. Just healthy and normal. Like taking a shit in public. At the most fashionable Roman dinner parties, senators would piss into a pot - without break in polite chit chat or affairs of state - while servants shielded them with a blanket. Toilet etiquette may change, but the instinct will always find a way. How British of us to put the Bible’s printing press to work selling politics and pornography. There’s a lot to read there.

I increasingly like to think of myself as being ‘happy’ in some Bletchley Park-style Enigma-cracking madhouse of writers, all hollow-eyed from their last breakdown and skirting the edge of a relapse as they uncover the fathomable secrets of human nature and behaviour, like divers finding fragments in the seabed murk, an obsessive quest - staring at hieroglyphics, codes, clues.

A trusting nature is true happiness. But a healthy skepticism is also advisable. Most people wish you no harm. And some wish you well. But some, for murky reasons, wish you ill. You can be childlike with people you trust. But, as you grow up, strangers become ciphers, books to be read; for they rarely seem to say what they mean or mean what they say. Except for those intense moments of life: either relaxed trust and joy or raw pain and sorrow which, for me, are becoming increasingly the same feeling. Indistinguishable, you could say. No wonder the artistic soul hangs around misty morning lakes brooding a lot, looking for some Lady in the Lake. Life is the pain of betrayal, the loss of innocence, the ruin of a Camelot.

Why I Love Gothic Horror Films

All Gothic Horror films deal with repression. Repressed fears, repressed desires, all connected with childhood nightmares, sex and death.

Gothic horror focuses on the misfit - the bitter loneliness and hurt of the outcast, the unloved child, the fallen angel, the monster in the rain. 

The style has certain recognisable textures to it, colours, light, shadows, tastes, narratives, themes: epic romanticism, gloomy fatalism, morbid obsession, gallows humour - all these dark lurid flavours splash around on the artistic palette.

But there is a deeper satisfaction underneath. A dinner party where everybody just silently chomped through the food and gave verdicts on their host’s culinary merits or lack thereof would not really be a very good evening with friends. It is the sharing that makes some evenings linger fondly in the memory long after food and friend have gone. To break bread with another human being, to share the pleasures of their mind and company, these are transmutations of base appetites for food and sex into something more aesthetic, something more human and beautiful than the animal accidents of reality.

There is a real love and respect for the tender moments that make us all human - a pain shared is, in some ways, also a liberating and comforting joy. This is the real beauty of gothic horror films. They disturb, but they also reassure. And what was terrifying becomes quite sweet and childlike.

When Aristotle wrote about tragedy and catharsis in his Poetics, for me he was also writing about horror. Gothic Horror with a touch of camp humour and a fond reference point for warm-hearted homage is the true postmodern successor to Classical Greek Tragedy. Only much better. Invigorated with wild new meanings. A whole new language to be shared and explored.

1 comment:

  1. English Haiku
    © Chris Port, 8th June 2012

    Oh English summer…
    “You’re shit and you know you are”
    the thuggish wind chants.

    Neil Razor Ruddock 'you're shit and you know you are' chant

    Football is the passion equivalent of watching a group of men grimly masturbating over a biscuit on a rain-swept beach somewhere in Norfolk.

    Apart from Monty Python...

    The English are a strange breed - a miserable damp little island that once ruled the waves. They're mostly trivial and unpleasant, but with a few saving graces that other languages would kill for. A nation of hidden shallows...