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Art for late October

Wednesday 10/27/21

Thought I'd touch on some works of various stripes that I've been watching, reading, or listening to of late. Highly recommend the BBC Sounds series, The Battersea Poltergeist. I'm not a poltergeist person. As I've written, I find The Exorcist to be unintentionally funny. I can't conceive of being scared by it, and I remember even when I first saw it, around fifteen or so, I laughed. The families-being-haunted-in-their-house genre doesn't much appeal to me. It's just not interesting in my view. By the same token, possession works don't move me either. There are exceptions. One of the best horror novels one will read is Ray Russell's The Case Against Satan (1962).

I think I will write about it in my book, Athena's Annex: Notes on Overlooked Masterpieces That Shouldn't Be, which will consist of probably 100 items across all of the art forms--prose, poetry, drama, TV, film, rock, classical, jazz, sculpture, painting, film, animation, dance, architecture, radio--with each entry being 600-800 words long. (Who else could write that book? Who else has the expertise in all of those areas?) The book is presently 1/10th of the way done. But I like this radio series in part because of how it's presented. The "host" is ingratiating, this guy doing a podcast kind of deal, going out to the shed behind his house. He's likable. The man and the woman who are part of his investigative team are also likable. They're investigating, in the present day, an alleged haunting near London in 1956, which a ghost hunter had himself been investigating at the time, off hours from his day job. I like this period in English history. You have rock and roll just starting out. Kids like John Lennon and Paul McCartney are first getting into skiffle and very early rock and roll. The key to something like this is making the living people compelling. The living people always need to be the most compelling forces, in my view, in a ghost story. It's one area where I think almost all ghost story writers go wrong. That doesn't mean I can't love that "wrong" work. But it won't be more than what it is--a piece of atmosphere. (Atmosphere is great; but atmosphere alone is not art.) That's something that makes my own The Ghost Grew Legs: Stories of the Dead for the More or Less Living such a departure, an entirely new form of ghost story writing for a world that is now largely populated by human ghosts, and also a unique work. Definitely would recommend The Battersea Poltergeist, though, which I listened to in its entirety this week.

With the nor'easter, and the cold, the gray, the swirling leaves, I've also turned to Seance on a Wet Afternoon, from 1964. It's probably more thriller than horror, but it does have elements of the latter. I'd say that it's a mood movie; chills the bones. You can't really imagine the sun coming up in it, which is how the last few days have been here. I'm also usually not a fan of seances in films and books. I think they're hokey, this patch of the proceedings to get through which I almost always wish would go faster. An Ouija board can be different. I'll like when those scenes are done well, as in The Uninvited.

Next we have the Dead on Halloween night in Columbus, Ohio in 1971. Wouldn't it have been fun to be going out to see the Dead on Halloween? I think that would have been pretty exciting. "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad" has become the unofficial anthem of this part of my quest/journey, because the implication, to me, anyway, is going down the road feeling bad, and then coming back up it and destroying you.

I'm reading Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1859 story "The Haunted and the Haunters." He's a pretty good ghost story writer, but usually maligned today for writing "It was a dark and stormy night." I say unfair, because this is just a portion of an opening sentence that really isn't that bad at all, and is better than any of the garbage the MFA people turn out. Here's the sentence in full:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

Solid Victorian scene-setting. And now one could imagine, on a blustery October or November evening, settling in with a story that begins thusly. Snoopy, of course, uses the "It was a dark and stormy night" line to start the novels he never finishes atop his dog house. Anyway, none of this is in "The Haunted and the Haunters," and I am reading that now.

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