Holy Terrors: filming Arthur Machen
“The cinema reveals a whole occult life, one with which it puts us directly into contact”
(Antonin Artaud, Sorcery and the Cinema)
This paper considers the mysterious act of translating the fictional haunted written text into the language of film. The main focus will be my own films of the short stories of supernatural writer Arthur Machen (1863-1947), one of which has already been completed and five others which will be finished in the spring of 2015.
The first adaptation, The Happy Children (2011), is based on a story written by Machen in 1915, whilst stationed as a reporter in what was then the North Riding of Yorkshire. The original story itself is concerned with the uncanny effects of place, geography, time and conflict on the self. Thus, my film adaptation had to try to create a hauntology of the mystical imagination, and of memory, utilising the potential occult powers of the audio-visual film to express the ‘cosmic unconquerability of the natural landscape’ The Happy Children shows how the strange encounters one endures can have a profound effect on territories of the mind and of art.
I wish to address the often mysterious process of rendering onto film ideas, concepts and geographies which are conceived on the printed page. I will address previous filmic attempts at making ‘haunted’ films (many of them failures), and try to propose a methodological framework for making successful occult films.
The paper will also examine how dimensions of the occult can be rendered through experimental cinematic arts, in contrast with more commercial films dealing with horror and the ghostly. I am interested in how aspects of hauntology, how the undecidability of Derrida’s ghosts, can be expressed, revealed or located accidentally in the material of film. It is a discussion about how the immaterial becomes material through various art processes.
Mark Goodall is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bradford and is a specialist in cult and experimental films of the 1960s and 1970s. He is the organiser of the TIMECODE seminar series. He is preparing a second edition of his book Sweet and Savage, about the Italian mondo film. His latest book, Gathering of the Tribe: music and heavy conscious creation (Headpress), looks at the role of the occult through the study of key historical recordings. Mark also writes and records with the group Rudolf Rocker, whose music was used on the BBC2 series The League of Gentlemen, and occasionally DJs.