Alien (1979) Showing at the Gulbenkian Cinema on the 24th of Feb

Posted by Sarah

The fourth film in the Gulbenkian Cinema’s Gothic Season – Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) – screens on Monday 24th of February at 9.15 pm. It will be introduced by Melodrama Research Group member Frances Kamm.

Alien

The Gulbenkian Cinema’s description of the film:

Ridley Scott | US | 1979 | 113mins | Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, John  Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm

“In space, no one can hear you scream.” Ridley Scott’s (Bladerunner)  1979 modern classic stars a never-better Sigourney Weaver (Gorillas in the Mist) as Ripley, one of  several scientists on board the spaceship Nostromo, on the return leg of a  routine mission when they detect a mysterious transmission from a nearby  planet. Investigating the source, they find the remains of an alien creature  and crew member Kane (John Hurt) is attacked by the creature in one of its  eggs. Back on board, he has seemingly recovered when an uninvited guest  arrives, in gloriously gory fashion, in one of sci-fi’s most memorable  sequences.

The undisputed best of the Alien films, with a cerebral slant  alongside the thrills and gore, and an iconic feminist heroine in Weaver’s  preternaturally cool, tough Ripley, it’s a shocking, seamless ride.

“It  remains a benchmark of extra-terrestrial horror, and gave us a bona fide A-list  star in the shape of Sigourney Weaver” Film4.com

“One  of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made” Jamie Russell, BBC

For more information and to book your ticket please go to: http://www.thegulbenkian.co.uk/events/cinema/2014/February/2014-02-alien.html

 

Melodrama Screening and Discussion, 19th of February, Keynes Seminar Room 6, 4-7pm

Posted by Sarah

All are welcome to attend the fourth of this term’s screening and discussion sessions which will take place on the 19th of February in Keynes Seminar Room 6, from 4pm to 7pm.

We will be screening The Awakening (2011, Nick Murphy, 107 mins).

TA 4

 

Frances has very kindly provided the following introduction:

Following on from Kat’s screening of Black Christmas last week, this week’s film The Awakening is another example of the intersection between horror and melodrama in the
Gothic tradition. The Awakening picks up many of the Gothic tropes present in Black Christmas, such as the woman-in-peril and dark house motifs, but uses these elements for a very different effect.

The Awakening TA 1is a 2011 British horror film starring Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton and directed by Nick Murphy. In many ways the film contributes to the popularity of the haunted house and ghost story narratives which have been featured and revived in many recent horror films, such as the Paranormal Activity series (2009-present) and, in particular, The Woman in Black (2012 and another British horror film). The Awakening also shares many similarities with The Orphanage (2007), as it seeks to combine a classic chilling story of a house haunted by a supernatural presence with the aftermath of traumatic historic events: in The Awakening’s case, Britain in 1921 after World War One. The Awakening tells the story of writer Florence Cathcart who has made her name as a paranormal sceptic and now helps the police in exposing and arresting charlatans who host spiritualism meetings and séances which promise to reunite paying customers with family members and the soldiers who did not return from the war. A war veteran and teacher, Robert Mallory, meets Florence and requests she return with him to his boarding school in the countryside, where he believes a real ghost of a former schoolboy is haunting the premises. Although initially reluctant at first, Florence agrees to return with Robert and prove the ghost a fraud, and thereby restore order to the school and the boys who believe the recent death of their school friend to be caused by a malicious spirit. With the help of her scientific equipment, Florence quickly believes the mystery to be solved and the ‘ghost’ exposed as a childish prank, until further paranormal occurrences begin to take place and Florence is forced to question her beliefs…

TA 5The film incorporates many of the major themes and tropes of the Gothic, as   established by the Gothic literature of the 18th century and the Bluebeard tale, which in turn inspired the Gothic cycle of films in Hollywood in the 1940s beginning with Rebecca (1940). Florence is the Gothic heroine of the film who is compelled to investigate the mystery of an old, dark house: in this case, the boarding school. In unlocking the secrets of the house, Florence becomes the woman-in-jeopardy conventionally at the heart of these stories: Florence is imperilled by the supernatural presence in the house; by the threats posed by the shady groundskeeper Edward Judd; and by her own stubbornness to question her rationalist convictions. In keeping with the traditions of the Gothic, the film’s narrative hinges on the revelation of a hidden secret which comes to light through Florence’s investigation. In The Awakening this secret is not contained within a single secret, locked room (as conventionally seen in such Bluebeard-inspired tales) but rather the house itself is the mystery to Florence, which must be discovered and understood in order to reveal the building’s – and her own – troubled past. As such we explore the house and experience the supernatural sightings with Florence and this identification with the female protagonist shows the film’s correlation to the conventions of horror established by films like Black Christmas, as discussed last week. The film adheres to other horror generic conventions, particularly in respect to low key lighting and the threat conveyed through effective editing and camera movement, but The Awakening is not just concerned with shocks and jumps. In his 2011 review of the film, Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw describes the film as a ‘supernatural melodrama’ and this description becomes very apt. The film’s horror elements work to illuminate andTA 3 frame the personal (and often private) melodramas which affect each character. The teachers of the school fail to conceal these tragedies as these secrets are also revealed within the course of Florence’s investigation. Central topics include shell-shock, child abuse and death.

The film extends the Gothic trope of the house revealing secrets to include Florence herself, as The Awakening ultimately performs an in-depth analysis of the heroine and her psyche as well. This commingling of the paranormal or the mysterious with scientific and rational reasoning is a TA6reoccurring trend in the narrative and becomes key to unlocking the secret of Florence and her past. This is evident from the film’s very first frames, when we see a quotation from Florence’s popular book about the debunking of spirits informing us of the high death rate in Britain recently and concluding: ‘This is a time for ghosts’. This sentiment is supported by the opening scene which sees Florence attend a séance. Yet this first ghostly encounter is quickly revealed to be a fraud by Florence, who has the proponents of the meeting arrested. Florence maintains her sceptical, rationalist ideals through the use of advanced technological devices to prove the boarding school’s sightings of ghosts to be a hoax, only to have this same scientific equipment ‘prove’ the opposite is true. The narrative’s vacillation between incredulity and belief highlights the importance of the film’s setting in post-war Britain. The years following the First World War – a conflict which would radically re-define modern warfare and the devastating impact of technology – saw an increase in the popularity of spiritualism and belief in the paranormal. It is important to note that Freud’s essay on the uncanny was also published at this time, in 1919. The uncanny has a long history, which is interwoven with the Gothic tradition and literature of the 18th century, but the fact that Freud should choose to publish his work on the uncanny at this time is significant. Just as the world was recovering from the shock and trauma of the ‘modern’ – in this case, modern warfare – Freud muses upon the affect a displacement from the world, like an experience of the uncanny, has upon the mind. Like Florence, Freud hopes to offer a scientific explanation for these occurrences although, by his own admission, he ultimately fails. It is therefore important to view the film in terms of the uncanny as well, because the concept helps contextualise the historical setting for the film and The Awakening effectively incorporates many of the motifs which Freud identifies as ripe for an uncanny experience. These include representations of the double; the slippage between what is known to be alive or dead; and the unheimlich or the unhomely nature of the house. In testament to Freud’s work, The Awakening reveals that the secret behind the melodrama, the cause of the horror and ‘the uncanny is that species of the frightening that goes back to what was once well known and has long been familiar.’

When watching the film we can think about:

–          How The Awakening fits into this Gothic tradition

–          Why the film has this historical setting

–          Florence’s characterisation

–          The ending: what does it all mean?

Do join us if you can for this chilling screening!

Summary of Discussion on Black Christmas

Posted by Sarah

Kat has very kindly provided the following summary of our discussion on Black Christmas (1974):

HalloweenDiscussion began with acknowledgement of how the film could be interpreted as the forerunner to the Slasher subgenre. The traits of lone stalker and aspects of cinematography are recognisable when one considers Halloween (1978), especially the opening of Halloween with the POV camera work associating the killer with the viewpoint. There was general agreement on how underrated Black Christmas appears to be, as it is a superior horror film. Focusing on the nihilistic ending, some of the group were surprised and disappointed in how little academic focus there is on this film. Considering writers such as Robin Wood who focus on the nihilistic aspects of 1970s horror, yet fail to mention or reference Black Christmas. Many wondered whether this was because the horror films that define the 1970s were directed by individuals that are now considered ‘horror auteurs’, unlike Bob Clark who went on to direct Porky’s and concentrated on TV work.

There was further discussion on the ending to Black Christmas. We were all slightly incredulous that Jess was left alone in the house (especially as Mr Harrison had only fainted and he was taken to hospital!). However, we were generally in favour of the nihilistic ending as it seemed quite fitting to the rest of the film.

Attention turned to the voice on the phone and consideration was given to whether itMacHenry sisters was more than one voice, or whether the stalker was meant to be schizophrenic. Sarah brought up two points. Firstly, whether Billy was related to the Sorority mother, as in the attic were photos of her and her sister. Secondly, whether there was a vaudeville connection (and related to the multiple voices) as the photos (as well as the comments made by Mrs Mac) indicated to a life on stage.

All commented on how well constructed the film was and some admired the linking between scenes – how sound and images were utilised to build continuity between scenes, build suspense and lay suspicion around the different characters, especially the male characters. Some of us mentioned how at different points in the film, our suspicions turned on different characters and this was due to the structure of the film. It was generally agreed that Black Christmas is a genuinely creepy film, especially the image of Clare suffocated in plastic, rocking in the rocking chair while the cat licks her face.

Many thanks to Kat for choosing the film, introducing it and providing the above excellent summary of our discussion.

Do, as ever, log in to comment or email me on sp458@kent.ac.uk to add your thoughts.

Melodrama Screening and Discussion, 12th of February, Keynes Seminar Room 6, 4-7pm

Posted by Sarah

All are welcome to attend the third of this term’s screening and discussion sessions which will take place on the 12th of February in Keynes Seminar Room 6, from 4pm to 7pm.

We will be screening Black Christmas (1974, Bob Clark, 98 mins).

Black Christmas

Kat has very kindly provided the following introduction:

Black Christmas (also released under the titles Silent Night, Evil Night, and Stranger in the House) is a 1974 Canadian independent horror film directed by Bob Clark and written by Roy Moore. It stars Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, Marian Waldman and John Saxon.

The reason for choosing this film is that it bears the hallmarks of the ‘woman in peril’ Gothic melodrama, only in this film, it is somewhat multiplied to numerous women. There is also an uneasy ambiguity surrounding the men, most notably the character of Peter, as well as the house containing a ‘secret’ within its walls and history.

There has always been speculation as to what the film is based on, and there are two strands of thought. Firstly, that the narrative takes its cue from the urban legend of ‘The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs’, that dates back to the 1960s and involves a babysitter who begins to receive crank calls from a mysterious man who asks her to continually ‘check on the children’.  The second strain of thought is that the source of the film is sorority murders that took place in Quebec around Christmas time in the years prior to the film. However, there is little evidence to establish this claim and Moore died without ever being interviewed on the subject.  However, it is interesting to note that sorority killings occur in the second episode of American Horror Story: Murder House, and these took place within the 1960s and are meant to be based on actual events (although I am not suggesting a link between American Horror Story and Black Christmas).

The Story

Black Christmas 2Originally written by Roy Moore (and re-written by Clark himself), Black Christmas takes place  just before  Christmas break at a large college, where a group of sorority sisters are making plans for one last party before they all head off on holiday. Jessica (Olivia Hussey), the  serious-minded beauty of the group,  isn’t in such a celebratory mood. She’s just found out that she’s pregnant and she’s struggling with whether or not she wants to keep the baby while also dealing with near constant badgering from her temperamental boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), who wants  her to keep the baby and commit to marriage. As Jessica contemplates her future, her friends plan their party oblivious to her plight and to the fact that the night is about to take a very ugly turn. The house begins to get a rash of obscene phone calls, that at first seem like a harmless prank but quickly turn serious as the caller starts to delve into each girl’s personal life and one of the sorority sisters goes missing. When it becomes clear that Jessica is the caller’s primary target, the police place a wire tap in the house only to find out that the real culprit is closer than anyone ever imagined!

The Significance

Over the years, the phrase ” the calls are coming from inside the house!” may have become somewhat of a punch line thanks to urban legends about babysitter stalkers  and campy movies like When a Stranger Calls (1979), but back in 1974, Black Christmas established this now seemingly normal horror convention in a way that hasn’t been used quite as effectively since. There’s still some speculation about whether Roy Moore actually based the initial idea for the Black Christmas screenplay on those old babysitter stories, but what is clear is that whatever formula he used  proved influential to many classic horror films that followed. Billy, the film’s main menacing force, roams through the sorority house at will and the audience sees everything through his point of view, a technique that hadn’t been used so effectively  in mainstream cinema up to that point. On the Canadian DVD extras, it’s revealed that although the steadicam wasn’t introduced to filmmakers until 1976, camera operator Bert Dunk created the fluidly roaming “Billy” camera shots by designing a rig that attached to his head – this is especially impressive considering the shot where Billy climbs the trellis outside the house all the way up to the attic. That killer-POV shot went on to become standard in soon-to-be-classic slasher films that followed like John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) . In fact, many of the Black Christmas eyeelements present in Black Christmas – including its holiday-themed setting and feminist subtext  –  may seem like a cliché when viewed through a present day horror fan lens, but Black Christmas arguably influenced the slasher cycle that began with Halloween and dominated the horror genre in the 1980s and beyond.

Do join us, if you can (and dare!)

Gaslight (1940) Showing at the Gulbenkian Cinema on 9th of Feb

Posted by Sarah

The third film in the Gulbenkian Cinema’s Gothic Season – Thorold Dickinson’s Gaslight (1940) – will screen on Sunday the 9th of Feb at 3pm.

Gaslight UK

The Gulbenkian Cinema’s description of the film:

Thorold Dickinson | UK | 1940 | 82mins | Anton Walbrook, Diana Wynyard, Frank  Pettingell, Robert Newton

A powerful Gothic melodrama of domestic sadism and  psychological suspense, now presented in a sparkling digital restoration. Not  to be confused with George Cukor’s film of the same name – the second  adaptation of novelist/dramatist Patrick Hamilton’s play, and more well-known  until now, as MGM famously tried to suppress the competition – this suspenseful,  stylish classic from Thorold Dickinson (The  Queen of Spades) is an absolute treat.

Diana Wynyard  and Anton Walbrook are Bella and Paul, the young couple settling into a new  house when Bella begins to lose things and becomes fearful when the gaslights  go dim in the middle of the night and she hears footsteps above her head. Fer  husband begins to question her judgement, and Bella herself begins to feel that  her sanity is slipping away. But there is a deception in play – and the key is  in the history of the house itself.

“Walbrook [gives] a brilliant, seething performance” David Thomson, The Guardian

“Sadism propels Thorold Dickinson’s exquisite Victorian  thriller of 1940” Graham Fuller, Artsdesk.com

For more information and to book your ticket please go to:

http://www.thegulbenkian.co.uk/events/cinema/2014/February/2014-02-gaslight.html

Posts on the Melodrama Research Group’s discussion on this film and the Hollywood remake:

https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/melodramaresearchgroup/2013/03/14/melodrama-screening-20th-march-jarman-7-5-7-pm/

https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/melodramaresearchgroup/2013/03/26/melodrama-screening-and-discussion-3rd-april-jarman-7-5-7pm/

https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/melodramaresearchgroup/2013/04/05/summary-of-discussion-on-gaslight/

https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/melodramaresearchgroup/2013/04/05/gaslight-links/

Summary of Discussion on The Wicked Lady

Posted by Sarah

Kat has very kindly provided the following summary of our discussion on The Wicked Lady:

Wicked Lady costumeAfter much expressed delight at this Gainsborough romp, the discussion began with reticence over the time period that the film was representing. Many of us thought the costume, especially the wigs represented differing time periods. Internet searches confirmed the film was set in the Jacobean period. Indeed, it was agreed that the film was not overly concerned with accuracy on period costume. There was a suggestion that Hollywood had requested certain scenes be redone as the line of costumes on the women were too low and showing too much flesh for the Hays Code to approve. As was pointed out in the introduction, both Pam Cook and Sue Thornhill have written extensively on costume, identity and nationality in Gainsborough melodramas. These topics were carried over to the discussion afterwards. Apart from noting the possibility of historical accuracy concerning costume, there was some focus on Margaret Lockwood. Thornhill speaks of how Lockwood’s hair is styled into a vulva shape, and that some of her costumes compliment this phallic design.

Following from observations of Lockwood’s costume, further discussion focused on Margaret Lockwood’s acting and her character. Lockwood’s haughtiness was decidedly apt and appeared to add to audience identification. There was general agreement between us we would prefer to be Lockwood’s character than Patricia Roc’s. There was vitality to Lockwood’s character which the group found appealing. There was a mention too of a possible reference to war time women, when Lockwood declares she deserves to “do things” as she’s attractive, capable and intelligent. The camera also, rather clumsily at times, focused on Lockwood’s expression whenever an opportunity to kill someone, or undertake an evil deed was presented to her. These shots did appear somewhat heavy handed and caused much laughter in the group. However, one extreme close up of her eyes was a compelling shot. This reference led to further talk two interesting scenes due to their camera work. The first discussed was the scene where Lockwood is kneeling in front of Hogarth seeking forgiveness, by a roaring Wicked Lady firefire. The camera switches to behind the flames, as if in the fireplace. The framing gives the impression of Lockwood already in hell, surrounded by flames. The other unusual shot was when Lockwood’s character is dying and the camera travels backwards, away from Lockwood and out through the window, focusing on the smaller and smaller body of Lockwood. These two shots were the most distinctive in the film.

Lockwood Mason

There was much (delighted) surprise at the bawdiness of the film and many felt that you could sense how The Carry On films came about, that there was a sense of a distinctive Britishness in this film. Many commented on the excessive use of innuendo in the dialogue and how this added to the viewing experience.  Innuendo was prevalent in the exchanges between Lockwood and Mason, who were electric together onscreen and oozed unbuttoned sexuality. All in all, it was universally agreed that this period romp was an excellent screening choice for the group.

Many thanks to Kat for choosing to show this wonderful film, and for the great introduction and summary of discussion.

Do, as ever, log in to comment or email me on sp458@kent.ac.uk to add your thoughts.