Wednesday 4 July 2012

Stephen Volk Interview and The Awakening Review

My recent interview with acclaimed writer Stephen Volk has just been published in the latest edition of The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies. The interview covers the range of Volk's work and seeks to make sustained connections throughout these various films and television programmes as well as looking at the traces and evidences of the Gothic within them. Alongisde the interview is a review of Volk's latest film The Awakening. Extracts from both below...

Stephen Volk Interview

Rose: Ghosts dominate your work, Ghostwatch, Afterlife and The Awakening all being obvious examples. What is the appeal of ghosts for you?

Volk: The ghost is a device, essentially. One that enables you to discuss the theme of its fundamental nature, i.e death. For me, a ghost is a prism through which to explore certain ideas in a more vivid way, I think, than, say, a social realist drama ever could.

I think also the beauty of ghosts is that they are a very easy way for the audience to get the idea that the uncanny or unreal has entered the realm of the normal. No further explanation is needed. A more complex supernatural phenomenon (vampires, zombies, aliens) needs a setting up of rules and so on: whereas I think the person in the street has an inbuilt knowledge of what a so-called “ghost” is and how that is expected to work. Which you can conform to or confound, as you wish.

Rose: Do the ghosts that manifest themselves within your work function on a metaphoric level? Do they represent something other than an image of the deceased?

Volk: My approach is very much that the character who sees the ghost is the important thing, not so much the ghost itself. The ghost is there, symbolically, often, to represent or “amp-up” a fatal flaw in the character who sees it, or (in the case of Robert Bridge in Afterlife) to make tangible, or at least bring into focus, an unhealed psychological wound. This is a bit different from the traditional, folkloric idea of a ghost being there to bring a secret crime to justice (as in The Ring), but of course both can occur in the same story, and there are plenty of secrets and crimes in Afterlife too.

The Awakening Review 

The Awakening was written by acclaimed writer Stephen Volk and then reworked by director Nick Murphy. While this indicates a distillation of Volk’s authorial stamp, perhaps a more productive way of reviewing The Awakening is to consider it as a wider part of his growing body of work. Throughout his film, television, theatrical and fictional works, Volk has centred his narratives upon strong female characters and has often returned to the scene of the séance and the two fundamental characters that are implicit in that scenario, the clairvoyant/believer and the sceptic. While it is obvious to state that The Awakening clearly connects with these recurrent motifs, the séance sequence works more to establish Cathcart as a character through her beliefs and her methodology: she is presented as a strong woman, one who is clearly committed to the debunking of the supernatural through an understanding of the charlatan’s trickery and deceitful methods. Her strength and authority is further emphasised when the arresting detective tries tactfully to ask her not to order him into action in front of the constables. Yet this is all counter-balanced by the item she brings to the séance – a photograph of a soldier. When asked by the exposed medium if the man in the picture is indeed dead she doesn’t answer him directly but instead states that “This grotesque charade won’t bring him back.” Her response intimates an acceptance of her loss but, as the narrative progresses, it becomes blatantly apparent that she has not come to terms with it. Whether this loss motivates Cathcart into debunking séances is left ambiguous but perhaps, instead, motivates her to find a truth, as opposed to a deception, in Spiritualism.

Both the interview and review can be read by following this link.

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