Gothic conference on the radio

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One of our speakers, Hannah Priest, did a special radio broadcast on Saturday 28th May 2016 inspired by the Gothic Feminism conference.

Hannah hosts a regular show as Hannah Kate called Hannah’s Bookshelf and in this episode she talked about Gothic literary heroines. As Hannah points out, many of our speakers mentioned Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), which is of course based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name from 1938. Hannah looks beyond this seminal text to discuss some of her other, favourite Gothic heroines…

You can listen to Hannah’s broadcast here: https://www.mixcloud.com/Hannahs_Bookshelf/hannahs-bookshelf-gothic-heroines-special-280516/

Audio: Hannah Kate (@HannahKateish)

Conference Closing Remarks

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A huge thank you to everyone who presented and participated at the Gothic Feminism conference on the 26th-27th May 2016. We have had a great two days discussing and debating the diversity of topics raised by considering the Gothic heroine on film. We are particularly pleased with the way the papers related to each other within their respective panels, and are grateful to our speakers and audience members for engaging in lively conversations in every session.

There are several points arising out of the conference which should be noted as a record of the event and as a way of inspiring future projects. First, the conference emphasised again the importance of the heroine protagonist to the Gothic mode and how this form of storytelling intersects with wider historical and social discourses, particularly in relation to feminism. This theme was illuminated by the fascinating keynote delivered by Catherine Spooner, which reflected upon the representation and significance of the white dress; a central emblem present in several Gothic texts, including the recent Crimson Peak (2015). Catherine’s talk skilfully encapsulated the underlying tone and themes of the other papers: taken together, the papers acknowledged the long and diverse traditions of the Gothic and the Gothic heroine, and reflected upon the renewed possibilities of furthering such traditions on the cinema screen. The papers all, in one form or another, raised the central questions of: why does the Gothic heroine continue to be such an important and distinctive component to these stories? And how has cinema translated these Gothic traits for the filmic medium?

Opening the conference, Catherine’s paper reflected upon how the Gothic heroine’s white dress does not stay white over the course of the tale and instead becomes marked and stained, with this tainting becoming a trace for the heroine’s narrative exploits. Such physical markings can also be, Catherine argued, read metaphorically within a narrative’s historical contexts. Now the conference has closed we can see how these opening remarks can, in a way, be read as a metatextual commentary on the subsequent papers. The white dress becomes an allegory for the Gothic itself which also does not remain the same: just like the progressive soiling of the white garment, the Gothic has changed or been transformed by external factors, such as differing narrative arcs, political or historical contexts, alternative exhibition practices and the adaptation of unusual genres. The centrality of the Gothic heroine, however, remains the constant. Catherine remarked how the white dress becomes the metaphoric page upon which the heroine’s story is ‘written’. There is an analogy here with the definition of the Gothic widely supported by all the papers at the conference: the Gothic becomes the means through which the heroine’s story is told and the implications of this trend were highlighted in a variety of ways across the presentations.

If Crimson Peak was heralded in several papers as an important contemporary example of the cinematic Gothic, then Rebecca (1940) was widely cited as its starting point. As our first panel ‘Return to Manderley’ aptly demonstrated, discussions of the Gothic heroine in cinema return constantly to Hitchcock’s film and the new Mrs de Winter (or, as Johanna Wagner referred to her, Nameless). There were two major significances arising from the continued reference to the Daphne du Maurier adaptation. First, the film functions as a historical marker which indicates how the Gothic became an important mode of storytelling for cinema but – importantly – to relate such discussion back to this point is not to ignore the wider traditions influencing this form. Indeed, several papers cited how this particular strand of the Gothic originates from the Bluebeard tale and thus this tradition of the Gothic focuses upon the heroine’s relationship to her mysterious and dangerous husband, a reading which can be extended to reflect upon wider societal patriarchal structures. It is interesting that this conference, much like the previous scholarship on the Gothic in film has argued, also observed how such a narrative was adapted and repeated by Hollywood in the period leading up to the USA’s involvement in the Second World War. Maxim’s stately house therefore becomes the metaphoric home for Bluebeard’s translation onto the big screen and into film history.

Second, it is poignant that Rebecca denies its central heroine a name as this conference demonstrated the shifting parameters of identity afforded to the Gothic’s female protagonist. Many factors may impact the representation and reception of the heroine’s identity. For example, as the panel on ‘Mothers’ highlighted, transforming the Gothic heroine from the childlike naivety of Nameless in the 1940s into the role of mother central to the films later in the century (and into the 21st Century) radically reforms the power dynamics between the heroine and the structures of oppression highlighted by the Bluebeard tale. In this instance, the heroine may not fear her husband but, instead, her motherhood becomes a potential tool of oppression, with the child (or children) embodying the physical danger present in these films.

The heroine’s identity may also be effected by the story’s context and relationship to space. This was a consistent theme which ran through the remaining panels. The interpretation of the Gothic heroine is inextricably linked to the context of the narrative’s setting and time of production, and these factors may vary quite considerably. In fact, the conference demonstrated how the Gothic may be adopted by a broad range of genres, from the western to science-fiction to 21st Century urban dramas. The Gothic may continue to be relevant to US context but is also present in film texts emerging from Britain, Germany and Australia. The physical dimensions of the archetypal old dark house may alter in these instances but its function remains the same: the Gothic heroine explores these physical spaces and the course of her investigation will expose how such locations can be both repressive and liberating. Interestingly, the conference also highlighted how it is not just the space on-screen which is important: the implicit off-screen space – in the form of alternative sites of exhibition – are also relevant. The conference revealed how the more recent articulations of the Gothic heroine have been adapted for the television drama, comedy series and film festival circuits. The mutability of the Gothic form in film was underlined again by the videographic works which showed how the Gothic narrative may be subsumed into the short film format, or extrapolated for the purposes of a film essay.

The Passages of Gothic work is, in a sense, emblematic of the research which inspired the organisation of this event. As I mentioned in my opening address, Gothic Feminism is the culmination of years of work researching, teaching and studying the trends and tropes of the representation of the Gothic heroine in cinema by Tamar and myself, as well as other researchers in the Film department at the University of Kent. This conference is our first major event to communicate this research with an external audience, and begin a wider conservation about this topic. As Tamar noted at the end of the conference, these thoughts do not constitute concluding remarks so much as indicate the beginnings of new avenues of research and the inspiration for future events. Gothic Feminism is not a one-off event but rather an ongoing project we will continue to explore here on the blog and in the future conferences we are now planning. We hope the delegates who were present last week, and other Gothic scholars, will be able to join us again for events which explore the representation of the Gothic heroine in cinema.

Watch this (Gothic) space…

 

Text by: Frances Kamm

Image: based on Crimson Peak (2015); logo by Frances Kamm

 

Vicious

Vicious

The final film which was shown – as a surprise! – at Gothic Feminism was Vicious (2015) by Oliver Park. Here is some more information about this terrifying and superb short film:

Vicious is written and directed by Oliver Park and is his directorial debut. It tells the story of a young woman dealing with the death of her sister who comes home late one night to find her front door unlocked… Vicious was released to much acclaim and has won eight awards internationally, including Gold Award for Best International Film at Toronto After Dark and Platinum Award at the LA Horror Competition. It was nominated for a further seven awards, including Melis d’Argent at Molins in Spain. Vicious is the first of three short films Oliver plans to make, with his next short film Still due for release soon.

Oliver has worked as an actor in independent film for over 10 years and having written horror for most of his life he has been waiting for the right time to start making his ideas. Oliver says: ‘Vicious is just the beginning, I have so many ideas that I’ve been working on over the years and I cannot wait to get started on making the rest’. Having had a long admiration for horror by M.R.James, H.P.Lovecraft and directors like Hitchcock, Carpenter, Craven, Kubrick, Barker and Fincher (to name but a few) Oliver’s style is suspense and creepiness – ‘It’s what you don’t see’.

Vicious can be viewed online here: https://vimeo.com/143537386 For further information on the film see: http://www.viciousmovie.com/ Contact: oliverpark.co.uk Twitter: @Oliver_Park / @ViciousFilm

Copyright Oliver Park

Text by: oliverpark.co.uk and viciousmovie.com

Image: Vicious (2015)

Film by: Oliver Park

2015, 13 mins

Rites of Passage

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The third film to be shown at Gothic Feminism will be Rites of Passage by Catherine Grant, University of Sussex.

Rites of Passage is a video essay on the liminal moments of the protagonist of Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940), played by Joan Fontaine. This is a low resolution, educational, remix compilation, featuring sampled music originally composed for the film by Franz Waxman. This work was completed in memory of Joan Fontaine (22 October 1917 − 15 December 2013). Further information on the video is discussed in: ‘The Remix That Knew Too Much? On Rebecca, Retrospectatorship and the Making Of Rites of Passage’ in: The Cine Files, 7, Fall 2014. Online at: thecine-files.com/grant/). Extract from ‘The Remix That Knew Too Much?’:

‘Looking back on it a year later, Rites of Passage clearly marked a shift in my experiments with videographic film studies, most notably heralding my growing confidence in the use of explicitly creative (and not always primarily informational, or scholarly) approaches to research and videography. It is clear to me now, also, that in the context of this work feminist and psychoanalytic theories not only offer an additional intertextual axis along which to “read” my video, as well as its process of making, but they actively contributed to it by forging similar kinds of personally and historically contingent phenomenological frames as the film(s) that inspired this work: Hitchcock and Fontaine’s Rebecca (and Robert Wise’s The Haunting). Like films, we don’t just come to know theoretical readings, or any other discursive frames for our viewings, we also have conscious and unconscious experiential, affective and also retroactive relationships with them, which become inseparable from our acts of spectatorship and retrospectatorship. As key parts of this, the activation of curiosity or the exercising of epistemophilia are also sensuous (not simply cognitive) activities; there is certainly many a queer pleasure to be had in the cinematic or cultural experience of not quite knowing for sure. Perhaps exploring these pleasures, and their attached poignancies, using the kinds of videographic parameters and techniques I have been describing, can enable us to get in touch with important aspects of film spectatorship that seem to be less accessible or even inexpressible in other (differently constrained) forms of scholarly work.’

Catherine Grant is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Sussex. Author and editor of numerous film studies videos, as well as of written studies of intertextuality, film authorship and adaptation theories, she runs the Film Studies For Free, Filmanalytical and Audiovisualcy websites and, in 2012, guest edited the inaugural issue of online cinema journal Frames on digital forms of film studies. She is a founding co-editor of [in]TRANSITION, a new videographic film and moving image studies journal. Rites of Passage can be viewed online here: https://vimeo.com/82092389 Contact: C.Grant@sussex.ac.uk

Text by: Catherine Grant

Image: Rebecca (1940)

Film by: Catherine Grant

2013, 8 mins

It’s written by the dress. Gothic sleeves, Gothic worlds

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The second film to be shown at Gothic Feminism shall be It’s written by the dress. Gothic sleeves, Gothic worlds by Katerina Flint-Nicol from the University of Kent. Here is Katerina’s abstract for the piece: 

‘I’d risen this morning,

determined to break,

the spell of longing,

and not to think.’ Silence, PJ Harvey

‘Those solo show dresses were fitted and intricate and armour-like’ Maria Mochnacz.

I first saw PJ Harvey at The White Swan in Hampstead. Playing one of her first sets in London before the release of Dry, I was an immediate fan. Struck by the sheer force, potency and maturity of her music, the small crowd, I especially, were mesmerised by Harvey’s slight frame. How her body did not buckle under the weight of her cherry red Gibson guitar was seemingly an act of enchantment. My admiration (or obsession) for Harvey has grown with every album release and visual transformation since that first encounter. However, there has been one moment of wavering. Listening to Harvey’s 2007 release, White Chalk, I was taken aback with the bleakness and the extent of departure from her previous work. Listening to it just the once, I put it away.

Since that time, there have been many ‘returns to Victoriana’ appearing on TV and on film; Ripper Street (2012 – ), Penny Dreadful (2014 – ), The Woman in Black (2012), and Crimson Peak (2015), to name a few. Watching, I began to notice the sleeves in the female costume, images that kept on reminding me of Harvey’s dress in the photos for White Chalk and her live shows. Returning to this album, it was hard not to observe the prominence of sleeves at the shoulder were to Harvey’s dress, a design that found correlation in films and TV series I had watched. Since Rid of Me (1993), PJ Harvey has always drawn upon differing female identities to visualise her music. Predominately, these have been camp reconfigurations such as her ‘Joan Crawford on acid’ look for, To Bring You My Love (1995). For White Chalk, Harvey dresses as a Victorian governess, a costume with heightened sleeves. It is sleeves that are the focus of this video essay.

In collating the clips, I have not only searched for the obvious examples (no one can ignore sleeves in Crimson Peak), but also variations. This approach allowed for the inclusion of works that fall outside of a Victorian setting, whilst inviting consideration into the historical evolution of sleeves and their developed employment in costume on TV and film.

In constructing this piece, I considered many approaches but finally decided on shaping it by harmonising image with the music. Listening to White Chalk, you can’t help but be struck with how Harvey animates a sense of Gothic. She sings of longing, death, murder and solitude. The world of White Chalk evokes Wuthering Heights (1847), Northanger Abbey (1817), and Jane Eyre (1847). Talking of her work, Harvey has consistently described the writing process as the desire to create cinematic universes in her songs. Keeping this as a line to follow, many of the images carry a certain resonance with the songs, either by emotion or through the lyrics.

As a final word, this is very much a work at its inception! In pulling Harvey’s music together with costume, I am considering the cultural currency of this costume not only as a resource to approach the construction of female subjectivity, but also how costume functions in creating gothic worlds.

Text by: Katerina Flint-Nicol

Image: The Wolfman (2010)

Film by: Katerina Flint-Nicol

2016, 15 mins

Passages of Gothic

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Passages of Gothic is the first film which will screened at Gothic Feminism under the Videographic Works section. The film was originally projected as a multi-screen installation for the University of Kent’s International Festival of Projections on Sunday 20th March 2016 in Eliot College. Extract from the film’s programme notes:

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) is often cited as the first in a cycle of films emerging in Hollywood in the 1940s labelled as ‘Gothic’. These films – which have also been called ‘melodramas’, ‘women’s films’ and ‘female film noirs’ – feature similar narratives focusing on the central female protagonist: the Gothic heroine. In all these films, the Gothic heroine encounters the old dark house which harbours a sinister secret which the heroine must investigate, often in fear for her life. This threat usually emanates from a male love interest, or is sometimes presented as the oppression of a larger patriarchal society. These films – which also include Gaslight (1944), Secret Beyond the Door (1947) and Sleep, My Love (1948) – feature remarkably consistent motifs, including keys, staircases, images of the heroine alone in the dark and the threat of the domestic space. Significantly, the study of film history reveals that these tropes are not isolated to the Hollywood Gothics of the 1940s but, in fact, continue to inform and appear within the Gothic cinema of today. This installation shall highlight and explore these similarities.

This project focuses on the female performance in these films in order to show the narrative and visual agency given to characters who are often seen as passive subjects and victims. Whilst the Gothic heroine may indeed be threatened by her male counterpart or dangerous environment, these stories encourage us to identify with the female lead, admiring her bravery. We engage with these films’ narratives by aligning with the Gothic heroine and her experiences. In particular, our exploration of space is mediated by the Gothic heroine’s actions. This project will illuminate how such investigation consistently takes place within the domestic space: the safety of a home is transformed into the mysterious and dangerous space of the old dark house. Comparing these films demonstrates how the Gothic heroine is often framed within the in-between places of a house: the stairwell, the hallway or the doorway. These thresholds are spaces which blur the boundaries between the public and private spheres of a home, in much the same way these Gothic narratives present a slippage between the real and the imagined; the everyday and the supernatural.

It is for these reasons that Passages of Gothic is presented within Eliot Dining Hall. Eliot College is a building which is also both a public and private space, containing professional forums for study (lecture halls, seminar rooms and offices) and private rooms (student bedrooms and kitchens). The Hall is at the heart of the college and provides passageways between these distinct locations. The Hall’s distinctive appearance has also historically made it the site for public and private events, and its scale is evocative of the intimating houses the Gothic heroine explores in these films. As the name of this event suggests, Passages of Gothic therefore invites you to immerse yourself into the Gothic heroine’s world.

The film is divided into six ‘chapters’. Together, these chapters create a narrative which is reflective of the fictional journey taken by the Gothic heroine: the heroine enters the house; she is forced the investigate strange occurrences; she is threatened by someone or something; and she may or may not survive her ordeal. In Passages of Gothic these six chapters are:

1)         “I dreamt I went to Manderley again”: Gothic introductions

2)         Inside the house

3)         “I should go mad if I stay!”

4)         Lights in the darkness

5)         Women in peril

6)         “Why?”

Passages of Gothic is the culmination of the research conducted by the Melodrama Research Group at the University of Kent into female performance, stardom, genre conventions, Gothic tropes and the representations of the heroine on-screen. This installation showcases the re-emergence of Gothic tropes – in a remarkably consistent fashion – across film history, highlighting the importance of the Gothic heroine within this. Our celebration of the Gothic’s strong, brave, and active heroines contributes to an important, broader research question: why, after 75 years, do these representations of the Gothic heroine persist in the 21st Century?

Text by: Frances Kamm

Image by: Lies Lanckman and Ann-Marie Fleming (image from The Innocents (1961)

Film by: Sarah Polley, Frances Kamm, Alaina Piro Schempp, Lies Lanckman, Ann-Marie Fleming, Oana Maria Mazilu, Katerina Flint-Nicol & Tamar Jeffers McDonald

2016, 26 mins

Videographic works at Gothic Feminism

We are excited to announce there shall be four video essays/short films screened as part of our videographic section at the conference. These works all explore representations of cinema’s Gothic heroines in a variety of ways and contexts. These works are:

Passages of Gothic (2016, 26 mins) By: Sarah Polley, Frances Kamm, Alaina Piro Schempp, Lies Lanckman, Ann-Marie Fleming, Oana Maria Mazilu, Katerina Flint-Nicol & Tamar Jeffers McDonald

It’s written by the dress. Gothic sleeves, Gothic worlds (2016, 15 mins) By: Katerina Flint-Nicol

Rites of Passage (2013, 8 mins) By: Catherine Grant

And one other mystery screening which shall be revealed on the day…

More information shall follow soon.

Door

 

 

Registration is now closed!

Thanks to all for registering!

Here are some tips to help you plan your visit to Gothic Feminism at Kent:

– The conference will take place at Keynes College. The address is: Keynes College, University of Kent, University Rd, Canterbury CT2 7NP.

– Keynes College is located very close to the main bus stop on campus. When getting off the bus, turn right and follow the path towards the main campus. Take the first turning on your left and you will see the front of the college, with glass doors. Registration will be taking place in the foyer area just inside.

– Further details on travelling to Kent can be found here: https://gothicfeminism.wordpress.com/travelling-to-kent/

– Registration shall take place at 9am on Thursday. The conference shall begin at 9.30am.

– Finally, we are very excited to have two stalls at the conference. One shall feature books from Auteur Publishing, including titles from their Devil’s Advocates series (http://auteur.co.uk/?p=354). The other shall be Hic Dragones, a press run by one of our speakers, Hannah Priest (http://www.hic-dragones.co.uk/). So do remember to bring some spending money with you!