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 clich├ęs, 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 – lives 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.

1 comment:

  1. For some months I have been listening to and enjoying Stuart Maconie's The Peoples Songs on Radio 2. A few weeks back there was a program on Goth http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qqczy
    Def worth a listen.

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