A cold dungeon crawling with vermin, statues or portraits endowed with a mysterious life, a ruined castle or estate, instruments of torture left over from the Inquisition, sadistic criminals marked by peculiar deformities, incestuous or forbidden desire and mad pacts with the forces of evil—these are the tropes we associate with Gothic fiction, and it is no secret that the classic tale of terror has provided some of the richest material for film narrative and aesthetics. What is perhaps less often remarked is the Gothic’s enduring presence in the world of experimental film, with all its possibilities of visual distortion and atmospheric intensity. The image of the monster is the most visible sign of horror, but in its very obviousness tends to mask the actual workings of desire and dread, the sensation of tunneling through an endless corridor, that cinema so vividly dramatizes.
A special event in two parts, Magic Lantern Cinema’s “Experimental Gothic” presents a series of short works that display the hallmarks of Gothic style, charting an underappreciated strain in the history of avant-garde cinema. Night one will showcase the films of Peggy Ahwesh, and will take place at AS220’s Black Box Theater. The second program, “Romantic Agonies,” will screen at the Cable Car Cinema and will feature works by Andy Moore, Stan Brakhage, Lloyd Williams, Patrick Bokanowski, Kayla Parker, Mark Abramson, Sarah Pucill, and Larry Jordan.
PART ONE: FOUR FILMS BY PEGGY AHWESH
A trilogy of lust, murder and other transgressions by one of America’s darkest talents, with a bonus short featuring little girls in monster costumes.
The Deadman, 1989. 16mm, b&w, sound. 40 mins.
“THE DEADMAN charts the adventures of a nearly naked heroine who leaves the corpse of her dead lover in a country house, goes to a bar and sets in motion a scabrous free-form orgy before returning to her house to die. The film manages to approximate the transgressive poetic prose of Bataille (a mixture of elegance, raunchy defilement and barbaric splendor) while celebrating female sexual desire without the usual patriarchal-porn trimmings” (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader).
The Color of Love, 1994. 16mm, color, sound. 10 mins.
“The last word in ready-mades, Peggy Ahwesh’s THE COLOR OF LOVE … is a slightly slo-mo, optical reprint of an obviously ill-treated ’70s porn movie in which the chemical rot that’s already eaten away the edges of the image threaten to censor it entirely. … An ur-text for Ahwesh’s work, THE COLOR OF LOVE is an almost Rose Hobart for the ’90s” (Amy Taubin, Village Voice).
Nocturne, 1998. 16mm, b&w, sound. 30 mins.
“A psychological horror film based on fear, disquietude and the anticipation of violence … among the shadows of the night and the lurid dreams of the imagination, with no clear division between fact and hallucination, between life and death, between dread and desire. Combines plot elements culled from Italian horror films and texts from Acker, Shaviro and de Sade” (Canyon Cinema).
The Scary Movie, 1993, 16mm, sound, 9 mins.
“Ahwesh’s two young actresses, Martina and Sonja, cross-dress in vampire capes and werewolf claws, re-enacting familiar horror tropes. A roughly corresponding soundtrack of stock screams and “scary” music suggests that the girls’ toying with gender roles and power dynamics may have dire consequences” (EAI).