Friday, February 11, 2011

Gothic Thoughts, continued

Between the Laird Cregar films and The Castle of Otranto I am still much concerned with the Gothic mood. Today I stole a little time from my other pursuits to put together a few LEGO vignettes illustrating two Gothic set-ups, one Victorian and one more in line with Walpole's medieval nightmare.

Two major themes of the traditional Gothic are pursuit and claustrophobia; people are always being chased by something and usually end up trapped someplace with whatever it was rapidly closing in. We see this in a lot of the early Gothic novels, although the castle chase sequence in Charlotte Smith's Emmeline, The Orphan of the Castle readily comes to mind. The Gothic damsel is sometimes chased by monsters and sometimes by men, although the two types of pursuers often turn out to be the same thing. My princess flees a skeletal menace as she passes down a narrow castle staircase; I wanted to emphasize how little space she has in which to escape and the sense of her eventual doom being more or less inevitable. I have no idea what the skeleton thinks he will actually DO with her once he catches her, but I imagine that his cold, bony fingers will curl about her delicate throat and throttle her, probably in some dark corner of this dismal, haunted tower. If she's lucky she'll turn out to be a Radcliffian heroine and that lurching skeleton is really just a trick of the light or a fever dream brought on by trauma too overwhelming for her delicate sensibility.

Victorian Gothic can be so much more lurid and evocative about the sexual nature of its inhuman horrors. Although technically historical, the Jack the Ripper story makes a perfect example. The Lodger got me thinking about Jack and his frequent film outings. Again we get the idea of pursuit, although the open space of a London street is no more secure than the narrow tower stairs. A deserted street, shrouded in fog, seems equally enclosed, as if the fog cuts the space off from the rest of the world. Years ago I went on a Jack the Ripper tour in the heart of London; we walked through Whitechapel and stood at the scenes of the murders. It was a thrilling adventure and well worth the money we paid for it. I thought about replacing Jack with Dracula just to demonstrate the variations on the theme, but Jack looked so much more interesting there under the streetlight, holding his sharp knife. The streetlight, by the way, is built on a post designed by Brick Forge, and I think it turned out rather well.

I like the black and white idea of Victorian Gothic, especially since I have been watching films from the 1930s and 40s lately, but color has its uses, too, especially in the lurid horrors of Hammer and Roger Corman. Here's what the Ripper street scene looks like in the Hammer style.  You can see the yellow lamps and the red and gold of the girl's gown much better here.