"Art is not a mirror with which to reflect the world; it is a hammer with which to shape it"

Friday, 9 November 2007

Night Shift

…and so the dread dates have passed, the festivals of larkness and fright, and I ascend once more to my lofty crag, there to stare mournfully into the Heavens…

Actually, I have mixed feelings about Hallowe’en. I like the idea of Hallowe’en far more than the practice. Maybe my feelings are best summed up by the statistics: five years ago Britain spent about £8 million on the festivities; last year it was £100 million. This sheer profligacy tends to irk me to a certain extent. I don’t much like the way that, like virtually everything, it’s been hijacked by the true blood-suckers, the free market capitalists. It seems to have reached the point where nothing is genuinely pure, untainted by the desire to extract the last penny. From love to death, weddings to funerals, nothing is left unexploited.

I have images in my mind of what Hallowe’en should be but the reality always fails to live up to it. I like the idea of Hallowe’en as a breach between our world and the next, a mingling of the Quick and the Dead. I see the Eastern European customs of spending the night in the cemetery commemorating the lives of the departed with food, reflection and celebration and I see a culture more in touch with something deeper. It seems strange that for all the violence in the news and on-screen death has become unmentionable and unthinkable. Personally, I’m not frightened of being dead, merely of the dying.

‘O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!’ For my part in the Hallowe’en revelry I removed the chimes from the doorbell (not that I need worry on my mountain crag… the lengthy climb usually puts off all but the most ardent trick-or-treater) and watched The Blood Spattered Bride (La Novia Ensangrentada) (1972, Vicente Aranda), which has brought my Spanish up to about ten words.

If I’d seen The Blood Spattered Bride earlier I’d have included it on the vampire film list but I hadn’t… so I didn’t. This film caught me by surprise as, while by no means a masterpiece, it was a well-above average genre entry being far more serious-minded than some of the associated lurid artwork. It was made at the same time the Hammer studios productions were starting to wind down, and two years after the studio made their own adaptation (The Vampire Lovers) of the same story, Le Fanu’s Carmilla. The two could not be more different in both execution and outlook. The Spanish production has a contemporary setting, a couple of (comparatively) shocking violent moments and a refreshing lack of obsession with the Lesbian elements (I say this not pejoratively but because other productions have dwelt on these scenes sensationally.) Many of this era’s Euro-horrors tend to portray women as grasping harpies or pathetic victims while their husbands are invariably womanizing sadists; not here, he’s actually a normal human being. And this is possibly where the film really scores, by having genuine sympathetic characters involved in the otherwise strange narrative. The most striking revelation was that the endeavour was interested in a real theme (male fears of female empowerment and female fears of aggressive male sexuality), although I couldn’t quite work out which, if either, side of the fence it chose to fall on. Though the last couple of images give a hint to the makers’ stance. There are some wilfully bizarre decisions including a woman snorkelling under the beach sand and, for no readily apparent reason, they changed Carmilla’s patronymic from Karnstein to Karstein.

I can’t help thinking there is interesting work to be done on Spanish cinema under Franco given what came out during and shortly after the regime: The Spirit Of The Beehive, Cria Cuervos, the Blind Dead series and so on. There’s also probably something to be done with the cultural differences between various different Euro-horrors of the 60’s and early 70’s. Clearly, Italian horror is different from Spanish is different from French is different from British. Of course, it’s probably all been written but I won’t let that stop me from musing.

I hope you liked my rundown of my vampiric treasures. There were a couple of titles I nearly included but didn’t; quickly here’s what and why:

The Mask Of Satan (1960, Mario Bava) a fine looking film and certainly Bava’s best. I probably should have included it!
The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967, Roman Polanski), while there are some marvellous scenes (the vampire ball and the mirrors, the Jewish vampire) for a spoof it is not nearly funny enough (especially when compared with Young Frankenstein) and it’s also quite slow and overlong.
Martin (1978, George A. Romero), perhaps, along with Season Of The Witch, Romero’s least typical film. (The Crazies is more or less Night Of The Living Dead with a different MacGuffin.)
Nosferatu, The Vampyre (1979, Werner Herzog), a fine film yet surely rendered superfluous by the original. However, the line of coffins being carried through the town has a power all its own, Isabelle Adjani is striking and the score has some great moments, the most unsettling and greatest being the choral piece borrowed for Kate Bush’s amazing Hello Earth (buy it!).
Nightwatch (2004, Timur Bekmambetov), this is a great fun film and a lot of care has been taken to fill it with novel touches- even the subtitles are interestingly done- but there seems something missing.

Then there’s the fun Razor Blade Smile (1998, Jake West); the fascinating Wisdom Of Crocodiles (1998, Po Chih Leong); the strange Australian Thirst (1979, Rod Hardy); the lovably daft Love At First Bite (1979, Stan Dragoti); Kiss Of The Vampire (1964, Don Sharp) and Queen Of The Damned (2002, Michael Rymer), which is just a guilty pleasure…

Of course, all this fangtastic vamping around (*feel free to groan*) has made my mind wander back to the vampire films I’d like to write. This is a very bad thing. I’ve thought on the one many times before and it always defeats me. It’s probably a novel rather than a film and yet the images that come to me seem so rooted in the cinema. I have vast quantities of notes, more ideas than a single film could support and yet at heart there is a giant problem… I can’t decide on the focus of the story. Do I go with the main character’s past or stick to their present? Do I risk comparisons with Blade or Interview With The Vampire? In my head it works, but on paper it would only ever be like Ives’ Universe Symphony*, a monumental conception probably never intended to be performed. It looks absolutely beautiful in my head but it doesn’t really make up for a lack of a coherent plot.

“O friends, no more of these sounds!
Let us sing more cheerful songs, more full of joy!”
-Friedrich von Schiller

*The Universe Symphony was intended to be played by three full orchestras each on top of a hill or mountain top and augmented by steeple bells. There is now a recording available but it was recorded in the same manner as Stockhausen’s Grüppen. Grüppen was supposedly ground-breaking with its three orchestra line-up but was predated by Ives’ nigh-on unperformable work by some 30-40 years.

6 comments:

Valentine Suicide said...

What's your view on Salem's Lot? I found this terrifying as 14 year old, and still has power. Some of the fright scenes are outstanding.

Have you seen the remake, with Rob Lowe as Ben Mears?

Tom said...

As far as Queen of the Damned being a guilty pleasure goes, it should also be one of those things you keep to yourself. ;)

Did you see Daywatch by any chance?

Chip Smith said...

Jon - re. your third paragraph - you are Conal Cochran from Halloween III, and I claim my £5!

Jon Peacey said...

Valentine- I first saw Salem's Lot only a couple of years ago and so it didn't hit me particularly hard. You'll have to forgive my memory being sketchy (there are reasons!) but from what I recall the overwhelming impression it left was of being very, very long for the story, looking quite cheaply made though with some decent scare sequences and with James Mason seeming to be quite out of place. I'm not the world's biggest Stephen King fan though which probably doesn't help much! For some reason, in my memory, Salem's Lot always reminds me of Hammer's The Reptile. I haven't caught the remake yet but HMV have got both versions on offer so I may be doing some catching up soon!

Tom- Queen Of The Damned? Probably should have kept it to myself but just two words... Lena Olin!

Daywatch didn't get to my town (or even county) for it's cinema run so I'm waiting for the DVD release in late January. From what I'm hearing it's not that good though, which seems a shame. I believe there's meant to be a third in the pipeline. But what will they call it? Middleoftheafternoonwatch perhaps?

Chip- Busted... will you accept it in milk bottle tops?

Tom said...

The cinema release of DayWatch seemed to be about 2 cinemas in London for a week. It didn't even make it to where I am and that's only about 30 miles from London.

The third film is going to be called Twilight Watch. Plus I haven't read anything bad about Daywatch - no more than I did about the first one. Just annoyed I didn't get to see it myself.

Jon Peacey said...

Bizarre situation on the cinema release... though I can't recall the situation on the first film as that didn't make it here either!

Twilight Watch... I like that. But then again Dawn and Twilight are my preferred times of day: love to just look into the skies then.

Daywatch got bad reviews in the newspaper reviews (Sunday Times, Mail [ugh], Guardian- if I remember correctly). Mind you they didn't like the first either. Ah well, January's not that far away...