Hallowe’en Night divination game.

This is a repost from OCTOBER 28, 2011.

 

Halloween is one of the oldest holidays still celebrated in modern times, and can be traced back to the Druids, a Celtic culture in Ireland, Britain and Northern Europe. Its roots lay in the feast of Samhain (pronounced SA-WIN), which was annually held on October 31st to honor the dead. Much like Christmas, the pagan traditions of Samhain were later co-opted by the Christian church and replaced by All Saints Day (Nov. 1) as a means to align the Christian feast with the already well-established pagan festival. According to Wikipedia, “The word Halloween is first attested in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows-Even (“evening”), that is, the night before All Hallows Day.” Hence, we have the modern day Hallowe’en.

In keeping with its pagan origins, a belief arose that during Halloween the barrier between the realms of the living and the dead are at their most permeable, allowing for dead spirits to enter our world. A corollary of this belief is the traditional Scottish practice of Halloween-night divination. Though little known these days, the practice of various forms of “divination games” during Halloween was wildly popular in the late 19th-century and early 20th-century, a popularity commemorated in the divination-themed Halloween greeting cards above. One of the most popular of these was a form of scrying or mirror divination, in which an unmarried woman was instructed to sit before a mirror in a darkened room on Halloween night. Purportedly, if she gazed long enough, she would see a vision of her future husband reflected in the mirror. If, however, she was to die unmarried, a skull would appear instead — which just seems incredibly creepy. A common thread exists between this Halloween practice and the Bloody Mary game, in which the participants dare each other to look into a mirror and repeat Mary’s name three times, thus possibly summoning the folkloric witch.

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VAEFF 2014 in New York, recap.

At the beginning of October, I travelled to New York City to participate in the 2014 instalment of the Video Art & Experimental Film Festival.  My short animated film Domestikia, Chapter 3: La Petite Mort screened both Thursday and Friday nights, with a filmmaker Q&A following the Friday screening. Above are a few photos from the event, and below a snippet from the festival review at the Videoart.net blog:

Over three nights in early October, as the New York fall seemed to be taking its grip on the city, filmmakers, artists and film enthusiasts huddled outside Tribeca Cinemas and engaged in animated exchanges and heated discussions – excitedly picking apart the films of this year’s Video Art and Experimental Film Festival. Now in its fourth year, the festival once again presented a challenging and arresting program of short films, showcasing the diversity of moving image work being created today.

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This process of breaking down unproductive delineations and creating a vocabulary with which to grapple with the question of what can be understood as video art was present throughout the festival, offering the entire program a palpable vigour, though it was perhaps Thursday night’s screening, playfully dubbed ‘Beauty, Sex, Shame’ which most captured the exciting landscape of video art today. Beginning with Rino Stefano Tagliafierro’s BEAUTY – an elegiac reimagining of classic paintings which delights in the effervescence of beauty, luring us in with its promises before revealing its inherent ephemerality and inevitable decay – the program examined the seductive nature of images, throwing light on the perpetually fraught relationship between sex and death. In its masterful re-appropriation of classic painting, Tagliafierro’s film set the tone for much of the program, as a common thread throughout the program was a kind of filmmaking which utilizes cinematic and art historical references with unabashed candor, repurposing familiar footage and well worn tropes to create refreshingly current work. With its knowing nods to the cinema of the French New Wave, Canada’s wonderfully tongue-in-cheek film, Crème Caramel, creates a highly stylized visual language allowing it to reference classic cinema, while simultaneously reconfiguring the often narrow view of sexuality and femininity which exists in these films. Similarly, Jennifer Linton’s Domestikia, Chapter 3: La Petite Mort – a surreal exploration of female sexuality – draws on a tradition of illustrated Japanese pornography often referred to as tentacle erotica, imbuing the film with an awareness of the inescapable darkness and perversion hiding beneath the glossy kind of beauty we are conditioned to consume.

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You can find the full review here, and more photographs from the festival here. Oh, and in case you don’t know already, I’m the dark princess dressed all in black.

 

 

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Lady Lazarus’s 2014 Halloween List: Scary Movie Moments.

Hello, my Darklings! It may be a relatively balmy afternoon in Toronto, but the warm weather’s not fooling Lady Lazarus.  It is undeniably mid-October, which means it’s that time of year to carefully craft a horror-themed list in anticipation/celebration of Hallowe’en.  While the tagline for this blog “musings on the macabre” indicates my year-round fascination with all things spooky and disturbing, come Hallowe’en, this fascination finds full expression in mainstream culture. In short, I can hoist my horror-freak flag up high.

This year, I decided to go with the theme of “scary movie/TV moments”, meaning those scenes that, for me, contain particularly potent images of horror. As always, this is a highly subjective list. Your list will likely vary. One curious thing I noticed when crafting my list is that all the scenes share a common element. Read on to discover what that would be.

1. Hospital hallway scene from Exorcist III: Legion (1990). William Peter Blatty’s novel Legion is the true sequel to The Exorcist, and not that ridiculous, let’s-cash-in-on-the-original Exorcist II that starred a somehow “re-possessed” Regan (with Linda Blair reprising her role) and a bunch of locusts. When I heard that Blatty himself would direct Exorcist III: Legion, I was actually hopeful that the movie wouldn’t suck. Well, it did. Except for this scene, which is a classic jump-scare moment, expertly done. I don’t want to spoil the moment if you haven’t seen this film, but I would like to point out how well the slow pacing, the static camera, and the everyday banality of the moments leading up to the jump-scare serve to underscore the horror.

Bob2. There are two things that creep me out about the character of Bob from David Lynch’s cult TV series Twin Peaks. Firstly, it’s his appearance. He’s a bedraggled, denim-on-denim denizen of a very seedy underworld, with wild eyes and a maniacal grin. His long hair, toothy grin and feral nature casts him in the role of the Big Bad Wolf, only the world that he emerges from is not one of fairytales, but of nightmares. The second, even more chilling aspect of Bob is how he always just appears, seemingly out of nowhere. One moment, there you are sitting on the broadloom of your parent’s tastefully decorated, circa 1980’s suburban home — complete with floral arrangements and throw-cushions — and suddenly BAM! There he is, climbing over your Mom’s couch with that sinister grin, making his way directly towards you. Whatever his plans, you know it’s not going to end well. Much like the psycho-killer in the scene above from Exorcist III: Legion, it’s Bob’s sudden, inexplicable appearances that always freaked me out.

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3. I first saw Ju-On (2002, dir.Takashi Shimizu) at the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2003, and it still remains one of my favourite J-horrors of that era. While I have to admit that the latter half of the film is mainly comprised of a relentless succession of jump-scares, Ju-On still offers up some great visuals, such as the image of the ghost-woman Kayako slooooooowly crawling down the stairs towards the horrified heroine Rika. The image that has always stuck with me, however, is the one depicted above — with Kayako suddenly materializing underneath the bed covers, and directly on top of her victim. Can you imagine lifting your bed sheets to see that face staring up at you? NO.

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4. Yes, ok, The Exorcist (1973, dir.William Friedkin). I know it’s a given on any horror movie-related list, but there’s a really good reason why that would be. It’s just that good. I’ve already mentioned in a past post the freaky demon-face that haunted all our childhood dreams — if you happen to be of a similar vintage to me — but the image I’d like to address is the one with Father Karras’s mother suddenly appearing on Regan’s bed during her prolonged exorcism. Other than the fact that the scene cuts to this image so abruptly, eliciting a jump-scare moment out of the audience, it’s the sad, questioning expression on her face that I find so unnerving.“Why, Demi? Why?” Indeed.

So, that’s it. Have a safe and happy Hallowe’en, kids. I hope to, as long as nothing sinister suddenly appears around me.

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The Toronto Raccoon.

Work-in-progress photo from my animation project "Toronto Alice" (ETA Spring 2015).

Work-in-progress photo from my animation project “Toronto Alice” (ETA Spring 2015).

Any native of Toronto is well acquainted with our large and active population of urban raccoons. What many Torontonians may not know, however, is that Toronto is unique in Canada for its abundance of these intelligent — though often troublesome — critters.

Unlike cities such as Montreal, Edmonton, and Ottawa, Toronto winters are milder and we typically don’t get buried by the kind of snow that makes it hard for raccoons to forage. The city’s network of ravines also connects neighbourhoods, MacDonald says, which offers raccoons a safe place to retreat, if necessary. And unlike Vancouver (where, historically, there have been more condo buildings in the downtown), Toronto has residential neighbourhoods with leafy backyards, garages, and easy access to garbage. Urban raccoons have flourished here because of their ability to adapt to our environment, forage in our waste, and find shelter in easy-to-break-into older downtown homes.
— from http://www.chfi.com/2013/06/13/why-toronto-has-so-many-raccoons/

While indigenous to North American wooded areas, urban raccoons only exist in large populations in the cities Washington, DC, Chicago, and Toronto (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raccoon#Urban_raccoons).

The gigantic raccoon pictured in the video still above hails from my upcoming animation project Toronto Alice. This creature is loosely based on the raccoon/s who habitually take a large crap on my back porch [grimace].

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Update on “Toronto Alice” project.

Hello Gentle Readers. Hope you’re squeezing out every last bit of enjoyment from these last few weeks of summer. I’ve spent most my summer in my basement studio, working away on Toronto Alice — well, ok, I did go camping, too. I’m gearing up for the Fall semester at the schools at which I teach, so Alice will go on the back burner for a little while. ETA for completion is Spring 2015.

Thought I would share a few screen captures from the project thus far. Enjoy!

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The Artist in Horror Cinema.

We all have an idea in our minds of what constitutes the “Artist”: a tormented, misunderstood outsider, compelled by an almost otherworldly drive to create. We recall images like those of Vincent van Gogh’s famous self-portrait with bandaged head, concealing the wound that resulted from severing his own left ear, or we envision the distorted figure of Edvard Munch’s magnum opus The Scream, it’s creator checking himself into a private sanitarium later in life after hearing voices. While these biographical details of Van Gogh and Munch are true and verifiable, this notion of the Artist as a mad, tormented genius is a cultural construction originating from the 19th-century Romantics, as described by scholar Pamela Fletcher in her Victorian Studies text Rebels and Martyrs: The Image of the Artist in the Nineteenth Century:

[Michael] Wilson’s title essay traces the myth of the artist as a unique genius, alienated from society both by his own commitment to the demands of his art and a philistine public’s inability to value or understand it. Wilson rightly notes that the idea of the artist as a melancholic genius dates back to the Renaissance, but he locates the full flowering of the myth in the Romantic era. — excerpt from “Rebels and Martyrs: The Image of the Artist in the Nineteenth Century”, by Pamela M. Fletcher.

The Romantic era (approx. 1800-1850) reconfigured the artist as a tragic hero who, in the best case scenario, is a darkly brooding and cynical Byronic hero or, in the worst case, is a half-lunatic hermit who lives on the very fringe of society. Though most-assuredly a myth, this notion of the artist as a crazed — and possibly even dangerous — outsider has persisted even into the modern era.

The genre of horror is fed by our psychological and cultural fears. One of our collective fears is our fear of the Other: those individuals who, whether through a transgression of gender, physical deformity, or mental illness, deviate from the “norm” in terms of their appearance and/or behaviour. (See my previous series of posts on Deviance, gender and the ‘aberrant female’ in horror, which addresses the topic of women as the Other). These types of individuals tend to make the majority anxious, and therefore they are ideal to occupy the role of the “monster” in horror fiction. Given the Romantic notion of the “mad artist”, it’s hardly surprising that artists have served in this role of the feared Other in horror cinema. Below are a few examples of horror films that have featured visual artists in such roles.

Film still from "Blind Beast" (1969

Film still from “Blind Beast” (1969, dir. Yasuzô Masumura).

1. Blind Beast (1969, dir. Yasuzô Masumura) is a masterpiece of ero guro nansensu from Japan that is based on a story by Edogawa Rampo. A blind sculptor kidnaps a beautiful young model and takes her back to his home to act as his model and muse. He and his mother live in a warehouse which he’s transformed into a surreal sculptural installation of giant body parts, dedicated mainly to the female form. At first, the model only wants to escape from this bizarre scene, but eventually she succumbs to his strange vision and even surpasses his obsession. In true ero guro style, they develop a curiously erotic, sadomasochistic relationship that eventually leads to the crazy, horrific and over-the-top violent finale. Below is the entire film posted on Youtube, though regrettably it lacks English subtitles. Worth watching, if only for its beautiful and bizarre visuals — such as the two protagonists cavorting atop a giant (foam rubber) sculpture of a reclining female nude.

2. As an artist myself, I can fully understand the urge to find the exactly correct hue for a project. On many occasions I’ve paid a princely sum for tubes of Cadmium Red paint because, well, no other pigment is as brilliantly, intensely red (the toxicity of the metal cadmium notwithstanding). Hershell Gordon Lewis, the notorious exploitation-film director who singlehandedly created the splatter-gore film, used this notion of the dangerously obsessive artist to splatter his signature gore in Color Me Blood Red (1965).

"Color Me Blood Red" (1965, dir. Hershell Gordon Lewis.

“Color Me Blood Red” (1965, dir. Hershell Gordon Lewis).

Artist Adam Sorge struggles to find critical and commercial success when he accidently discovers that blood smeared across his canvas provides his paintings with the vibrancy they previously lacked. This discovery provides the rationale for Sorge (and Lewis) to bloodily dispatch a couple of bikini-clad beauties in this lesser offering from Lewis’s “Blood Trilogy”. Low-budget and poorly acted (Lewis often relied on non-actors), what this film lacks in craft, it makes up for with its campy, rough-hewn B-movie charm. You can watch the entire, uncut film on Youtube. Considering that it was made in 1965, it truly is subversively gory.

3. Cauldron of Blood (1970) is a terrible film. That said, I kinda have a soft spot for it. Also known under the title Blind Man’s Bluff, it was cobbled together over a few years, repurposing footage from different films. One reason for this cinematic mess is the fact that its star Boris Karloff was in very poor health, and couldn’t appear in a number of scenes (he died in 1969, before its release). Thus, its creators were obliged to pad the film with previously shot footage. Karloff appears frail and sadly diminished — but even a diminished Karloff is still pretty good. Here’s the short synopsis from IMDB: “A blind sculptor works on his magnum opus unaware that the skeletons he has been using for armatures are the remains of the victims of his evil wife and that he is the next target”.

Again, the entire film is available on Youtube (one assumes distribution companies don’t care about these older films). My advice is to forward to the 1:27 mark and watch the final showdown between Karloff and his gloriously evil wife, where she meets her comeuppance in a vat of acid.

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“La Petite Mort” at the VAEFF in NYC.

VAEFFlogo

My last animated short film, Domestikia, Chapter 3: La Petite Mort, will appear on the big screen of the Tribeca Cinemas in New York City during the Video Art & Experimental Film Festival 2014. The festival runs October 2-4, 2014. Details to follow.

http://festival.videoart.net/

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