Thoughts on “the Art of Fear”: film viewership and why horror?

The first screening of the two-part The Art of Fear series (which will hopefully become a multi-part expanded series) launched last Wednesday to great success with a collection of works by Takeshi Murata, Darren Banks, and Jamie Shovlin titled Pieces. Thanks to all who came out!

Two important strands of thought came out of this initial program (which was also, incidentally, my first foray into exhibiting artist moving images) that I’d like to explore further both in my own curatorial practice and via writing here on TGWKTM…

The first is in consideration of how artist film programs such as The Art of Fear can or should be presented and viewed. My intention with Pieces was to approach in like a gallery context – no seating, no definitive start/stop time, and flexibility of viewership. Meaning, I wanted to embrace the lobby space at Nitehawk not as a dictatorial cinematic space but rather in a manner in which you might approach a static piece of artwork. I’m very interested in an audience encountering a film in a non-time based way, choosing how much time to spend with the work and how entering in different narrative points can alter both the story-line and the audience’s perception of what he/she is seeing. I also embrace the idea of artist films entering into the cinematic sphere, especially as certain artists, like Ben Rivers, produce feature films. It’s simply a matter of context and consideration.

Still, I was surprised the the audience at The Art of Fear was interested in having seating to watch, in its entirety, a program of non-narrative films. In a way I felt as if my curatorial power had been usurped but, in another, it was exciting to see an interest in giving these works undivided attention. This of course has led me to wonder about the sematics of film programming – should this be called a screening? or an exhibition? Are there ways that we, as producers of exhibitions, can set the tone for how the audience will view the artwork or, ultimately, is it that power inherent in the audience? The next portion of the program/exhibition/screening Ghost Stories with My Barbarian, Aida Ruilova, and Marnie Weber is narrative in nature and appropriate for a proper sit-down affair. So the experiment will continue. And it’s going to be amazing so please don’t miss it, whether you sit, stand, or squat.

The other strand of thought involves the question of “why horror?” which is relevant to both my own curatorial investigation and the implementation of horror characteristics by artists. While this question is being visually represented, addressed, somewhat answered in the series of exhibitions I am doing, I believe that an essay series of why horror is of personal, cultural, and political interest is just as crucial. Stay tuned!

The Art of Fear: first program, Pieces

The Art of Fear begins in two days! To satiate your appetite in the meantime, here is the trailer to Jesus Rinzoli’s long forgotten slasher, Hiker Meat and the program for the first screening:

Horror cinema is ripe for the slaughter as Takeshi Murata (Chicago), Darren Banks (United Kingdom), and Jamie Shovlin (United Kingdom) cut, recompose, and manipulate scenes from classic horror films. These works are montages from classic (and not so classic) giallo, slasher, and B-movies from the 1960s-1980s. By re-arranging and manipulating the actions and contexts of films such as The BurningFriday the 13th, and Mask of Satan, these artists apply new meaning to what is familiar in horror. As the first program in The Art of FearPieces is an homage to and de-construction of this influential time period of horror.

PROGRAM

Takeshi Murata, Monster Movie
US, 2005, DVD, 3:55 minutes, Color, Sound

Darren Banks, I’m sure if there were a monster in the midlands we would have seen it on the telly
UK, 2011, Found video footage, 17 minutes, Color, Sound

Darren Banks, Interiors
UK, 2005, Found video footage, 10 minutes, Color, Sound

Takeshi Murata, Untitled (Silver)
US, 2006, DVD, 11 minutes, b&w, sound

Jamie Shovlin, Hiker Meat
UK, 2009-present, Digital Video, 77 minutes, Color Sound

Read previous GWKTM posts on Jamie Shovlin here and here | Darren Banks here and here.

The Art of Fear: artist films inspired by horror cinema

I’m so excited to announce The Art of Feara two-part artist film program I am curating at Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn. Featuring moving image works influenced by horror cinema, it is the first manifestation of my research on horror film and contemporary art presented in New York (look out for a major upcoming exhibition in Los Angeles) and I’mthrilled to be working with such truly incredible artists. Please come support artist film, cinema, and horror this October!

The two-part screening features works by Takeshi MurataDarren BanksJaime Shovlin (October 5) and My BarbarianAida RuilovaMarnie Weber (October 19).

View complete program and artist information here. 

The Art of Fear: Bluebeard

In Edgard G. Ulmer’s brilliant and beautiful film Bluebeard (1944), artist Gaston Morrell deals with the failure of finding pure beauty in his paintings by killing his muses. The Art of Fear on the artistic practice of a serial killer…

A spectacularly dark mixture of noir and horror, much like Ulmer’s previous film The Black Cat (1934), Bluebeard is a revenge story. John Carradine plays Gaston Morrell (aka “Bluebeard”) in one of his rare leading male roles, an artist so scarred by the revelation that his ultimate muse is a “loathsome creative” that he kills her. This woman, whom he had rescued and nursed back to health after an accident, was the source of what he believed to be his greatest achievement in painting. After her murder, Gaston becomes fundamentally broken. Unable to escape the pain she had inflicted, whomever else he painted turned into a representation of her…and so he killed them too. She continually haunted him, controlling his downward spiral in artistic practice, ability to love, and mental stability.

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The Art of Fear: Profondo Rosso

The presence and absence of artwork in Dario Argento’s giallo classic Profondo Rosso (1975) act as puzzle pieces to solve the murder mystery. The Art of Fear puts it all together…

Profondo Rosso, aka Deep Red, depicts a series of gruesome murders committed by an unknown person (who turns out to be the mother, take that Friday the 13th!) as well as bits of the supernatural, childhood/psychological trauma, and an insane score by Goblin. Like some of the other films included in The Art of Fear, the art featured in Profondo Rosso act as clues or markers to finding the source of horror rather than being the source itself. These clues function in two parts: one as a painting and the other as a child’s drawing. As the narrative evolves, the initial perception of these artworks becomes more complicated for the characters and the audience. However when the revelations contained within each work finally emerge, they reveal not only who committed the murders but also the personal history as to why all this carnage began.

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The Art of Fear: Crucible of Terror

Women, money, and revenge are all expressed through art in Crucible of Terror (Ted Hooker, 1971). The Art of Fear explains…

Crucible of Terror is a weird mash up of characters tied together through art and antiquities (paintings, vintage clothes, ancient weaponry) who wind up dead as a result from their relationship to art…and the artist. Unlike our dear Walter in A Bucket of Blood, Victor Clare (played by Mike Raven)* is a true artist who can channel his emotions into paintings, sketches, and into one very mysterious sculpture. In the film’s very first scene we see Victor making this piece, forming a lifeless female body into a seductively lounging pose, covering her in a sealant, and then pouring liquid bronze all over her. Voila!

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The Art of Fear: A Bucket of Blood

Who says the art world isn’t scary? The Art of Fear takes on Roger Corman’s classic A Bucket of Blood.

If there’s a better satirical film on the art world than A Bucket of Blood (1959) then I certainly haven’t seen it (Pecker and Untitled come close-ish). Corman’s hilarious jab at the beatnik artist types of the 1950s easily translates into the ridiculousness of today’s contemporary art world. Though made by the ‘King of B-movies’ and reportedly made for a mere $50k, A Bucket of Blood is a thoughtful and provoking look at the beginning of contemporary art as cultural phenomenon. It owes a lot to House of Wax in its relationship to revenge and the frustrating experience of creating artwork whether the artist is deformed as in House of Wax or without talent as in A Bucket of Blood. However, it quite cleverly mimics the capriciousness of the art world. As Sarah Thornton writes in her enthnographic study Seven Days in the Art World, ‘It’s [the contemporary art world] structured around nebulous and often contradictory hierarchies of fame, credibility, imagined historical importance, institutional affiliation, education, perceived intelligence, wealth, and attributes such as the size of one’s collection.’[1] More than fifty years after its release, the satire in A Bucket of Blood is still relevant and relatable.

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The Art of Fear: The Fall of the House of Usher

Family portraits in The Fall of the House of Usher encapsulate the Usher’s ‘plague of evil’.

The second film for The Art of Fear is Roger Corman’s vibrant The Fall of the House of Usher or House of Usher (1960) starring the estimable Vincent Price. Like The Picture of Dorian Gray the film adapts a literary classic, Edgar Allen Poe’s short story of the same name published in 1839. It is the first of eight movies Corman would use Poe, sometimes adding a little H.P. Lovecraft into the mix, and besides The Masque of the Red Death it is the best of the bunch. Paintings actually factor in many of the Corman/Price/Poe movies – remember the watchful painting of the ‘dead’ wife in The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and the looming ancestral portrait in The Haunted Palace (1963). Considering Corman’s original A Bucket of Blood (next feature on AOF), perhaps he has an art fetish!

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The Art of Fear: The Picture of Dorian Gray

In The Picture of Dorian Gray – a young man’s debauchery and vice manifests in his portrait after his wish to remain young is mysteriously granted.

We’re starting off The Art of Fear with one of my personal favorites and one of the strongest examples of art in horror cinema, Albert Lewin’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). It’s based on Oscar Wilde’s delicious 1891 novel of the same name and, with some small variations, stays pretty true to the original narrative.[1] On that note, I want to clarify that this discussion is on the 1945 film version so any deviations and changes from the literary language or subsequent remakes are not considered.

The story goes like this: Dorian Gray is a young man so distraught after realizing that his portrait, painted by friend Basil Hallward, would always exist in a beautiful youthful moment while he would eventually age and whither that he manages to magically transmit the residue from his ‘lust for life’ experiences onto this painting. Meaning that the painting would bare the brunt of these actions, turning ugly and old while Dorian remained the same. His decades-long reign of the 19th century’s version of ‘sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll’ (and murder) leads him down many regretful paths. He tortures himself by viewing each of the portrait’s new evil transformations but revels in his cheating of death. It’s only until a young woman believes in his goodness that he, rather forcibly, expels his history from the painting back onto himself and dies a hideous old man.

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The Art of Fear – an introduction

The Art of Fear is a writing series on horror cinema’s prolific usage of art as the focal point of fear.

I’m happy to announce the launch of a new writing feature on The Girl Who Knew Too Much called The Art of Fear. Titled in homage to Vincent Price’s BBC radio programme The Price of Fear and subsequent biography, The Art of Fear focuses on horror cinema’s prolific usage of art as the focal point of fear. Below is an introduction, in the very simplest of terms, to what I hope will become a lively, thought-provoking, and entertaining discussion on two of my favorite things: art and horror.

That horror films frequently feature artwork is not a startling revelation but this noticing this brought my individual obsessions with horror and art together, kick-starting my research on horror’s influence on contemporary artists. Now, by delving into arts role in horror I can further map out connections between the two. It also raises significant questions: Why is it that painting and sculpture can easily incorporate into horror narratives? What is it about art and artists that adapt so readily into the horrific? And since visual art and cinema are two different ways in which to tell a story, how can the collation of the two in the context of the horror genre, establish a more in-depth visual and narrative experience?

Here I’ll address these questions through a discussion of films such as Picture of Dorian Gray, House of Usher, Daughters of Satan as well as the television series Night Gallery in the terms of how artwork is used as the motivating force of horror. I’ll also be looking at how the conservation and preservation of art is an integral part of apocalyptic films like The Omega Man, I am Legend, and Children of Men. This ongoing process becomes more profound and fun with each new discovery I make and I hope it’ll be the same for you!

The plan is to publish an entry for The Art of Fear each week until the series concludes (if it ever does) but, of course, this may vary from time-to-time. First up will be… Albert Lewin’s Picture of Dorian Gray (1945).

Featured so far:

The Art of Fear: Picture of Dorian Gray
The Art of Fear: The Fall of the House of Usher

Image: Rod Serling introducing an episode of Night Gallery where the artwork told the story.