For the Gods and Monsters issue of Incognitum Hactenus, I wrote the following text on Darren Banks’ 2011 video piece I’m sure if there were a monster in the midlands we would have seen it on the telly. Watch the video here.
Cry Me a River: Darren Banks’ I’m sure if there were a monster in the midlands we would have seen it on the telly
Sweeping aerial shots, panoramic images of rivers and lakes, and close-ups that push outward towards barren landscapes, Darren Banks’ I’m sure if there were a monster in the midlands we would have seen it on the telly shows nearly every possible way of looking and experiencing the forest as a literal outsider. It is an examination of non-places, obscure in their absence of the human, begging the questions: What lurks beneath? Who is hiding in the shadows? Why is this nothingness so frightful? In this world abandoned by people, I’m sure if… becomes a cinematic spectral space in its depiction of the world without us but a site where our fears are still very much present.
The conglomeration of numerous outdoor scenes from horror movies in I’m sure if there were a monster in the midlands we would have seen it on the telly establishes a singular, large-scale, atmospheric landscape; a filmic version of Frankenstein’s monster through sourcing the benign body parts from Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971), The Burning (1981), Antichrist (2009), and The Wicker Man (1973) amongst nearly twenty others. Further referencing horror history, Banks gleans the title from the hospital sequence in John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (1981) in which the doctor refuses the boy’s claims that a wolf has attacked him saying that if it were true then it would be on television. Banks therefore positions our culture’s submissive reliance on media sources to collectively prove/disprove facts and fictions above our ability to trust our inherent knowledge of the world. Allegorically this gets to the heart of “man” in that desire to rely on our instincts while maintaining to control the sleeping animal/monster buried within each of us (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and George A. Romero’s Dead series).
However, any literal representation of the “monster” is denied in Banks’ version. The “telly” is not proving to us that it exists. Instead, the figure of the “monster” is implied strictly through the landscape and through the omission of any human presence or any significant action. These multiple and disparate landscapes are at once peaceful and foreboding, familiar (through the recognition of films) and strange (a world for us, but not with us). Therefore, while we don’t see anything or anyone we can still sense that something is amiss. Whom or what can we trust? Visualizing this liminal boundary between a place of sanctuary and terror through the manipulation of media sources (and Banks does this throughout his body of work) he establishes a productive tension. This tension works precisely because the concealed yet explicit absence constructed through television, film, and music ultimately becomes a revelation of the unrepresented.
I’m sure if there were a monster in the midlands we would have seen it on the telly subscribes to influential producer Val Lewton’s theory that the simplest suggestion of horror onscreen will ignite the audience’s imagination to conjure up something far more horrific than could ever be physically represented. Think of Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Like any good old-fashioned horror narrative, Banks’ video relies on editorial selection, suggestion, and sound to cultivate the necessary and desired feeling of dread within the viewers. This visual journey through the “midlands” is a guided one where the framework Banks employs allows us to be privy to this world, experiencing it through his exacting means, but ultimately at a safe distance.