Songs of Love and Death: The Classical American Horror Film of the 1930s

Songs of Love and Death: The Classical American Horror Film of the 1930s

Songs of Love and Death: The Classical American Horror Film of the 1930s

Songs of Love and Death: The Classical American Horror Film of the 1930s

Synopsis

This book examines eleven horror films in-depth and their relationships to Romantic Gothic literary conventions--mainly, but not solely, found in works dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. To illustrate the use of these conventions in film, Sevastakis analyzes shots from scenes and sequences of all films discussed. Due to the large quantity of horror films produced during this period, the films in this book have been selected on the basis of their supernatural and preternatural content, and on four conventions predicated on fictional literary models dealing with the villain-hero.

Excerpt

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?

--Milton, Paradise Lost

In James Whale Frankenstein (1931), the Romantic trappings are present in its quasi-Germanic village of Goldstadt, in the strong expressionistic mise-en-scéne with its phalliclike tombstones, towers and trees jutting bizarrely out of the landscape, and in huge machines that extend into the night. The concepts mirror the protagonist's soul: the powerful urge to create living matter from dead tissue parallels images suggesting this same paradox, that is, the representation of phalliclike objects that appear on a barren plain. Added to this mise-en-scéne is the mannered acting of Colin Clive and Boris Karloff and the use of low-angle photography to give power to the characters (Clive for one) and show them against an artificially lit sky. Even the atmospheric elements express corresponding states in the doctor's agitated mind. This artistic expression is a Romantic reaction against the Cartesian duality of the world outside and the world inside. The expressionistic decor of Frankenstein (and later The Bride of Frankenstein) is part of an anti-Copernican revolution in the plastic arts by which man again stands at the center of the world he represents, but it is the world of Caligari that the director has copied. So while Romanticism in a broad sense was a reaction against eighteenth-century science which left the world as a mechanical system in which man was a stranger, Whale's . . .

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