By Emily Oldfield
It was an evening of imagistic intensity featuring a film which explored the more forbidding aspects of the fashion industry, as an audience gathered to watch a free screening of the Nicolas Winding Refn-directed film The Neon Demon at Number 70 Oxford Street this week.
The event formed part of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies’ Gothic Manchester Festival, a city-wide (24-29 October) celebration of gothic culture and inspirations, and was organised in partnership with Manchester Met’s Research in Arts and Humanities programme (RAH!).
This year the focus for the festival is ‘gothic fashion’ and The Neon Demon provided a highly engaging perspective on this subject. The film is a 2016 psychological-horror film which stars Elle Fanning as an aspiring model in Los Angeles, who becomes subject to cruelty, corruption and craving within the industry.
The film was introduced by Manchester Fashion Institute’s Jennifer Richards, who is also a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, specialising in gothic subcultures and mysticism in popular culture. She told Humanity Hallows: “I am really pleased with the turnout for this evening. It shows there is a clear appetite for the Gothic. The film’s combination of style, fashion and horror certainly is interesting… and people do tend to have either a love or hate relationship with it. I think this is a good thing, and great to be part of a festival that is encouraging people to embrace it (the Gothic) from a different point of view.”
Jennifer also advised the audience in the auditorium that there were certain striking symbols and motifs in the film, testament of Nicolas Winding Refn’s approach to gothic style. These symbols included eyes, the use of shape – particularly triangles – and colour.
“The cycles of life and death are also explored,” she continued, before giving a resounding statement which led the evening into the screening itself: “This is a film based on beauty and sexuality… and that will eat us alive.”
The film ran for nearly two hours, with an intensity which left many audience members speechless in the moments after. With themes including necrophilia and cannibalism, this film has divided critics since its release and remains a highly relevant piece of culture for consideration, especially in light of the Gothic. Fanning plays a young model, who slowly, and seemingly literally, is being consumed by the fashion industry and those around her, including a malicious motel owner played by Keanu Reeves.
The screening was followed by the launch of 2017’s Manchester Gothic Arts Group exhibition ‘Black is the Happiest Colour’ – complete with a wine reception and a number of the artists available to speak to.
The exhibition was arranged by Manchester Gothic Arts Group, known as M:GAG, a group who celebrate both the darkness yet also the unitive qualities of gothic culture. This year they are marking the 10th anniversary of their first ever exhibition.
For 2017, M:GAG marked the continuation of its ongoing work with Manchester Metropolitan University by developing new art as part of the Gothic Manchester Festival, with a celebration of the diversity of gothic style. Featured artists include Kolyn Amor, Matt Carson and Liz Watkin, the three original founders of The Manchester Gothic Arts Group.
Kolyn, who is passionate about combining spirituality with creativity, as well as working as an actor and director, told Humanity Hallows: “It’s great to be here. The three of us who founded the Gothic Arts Group originally just thought it a natural expression of ourselves. We didn’t see anything else around fulfilling that need for expression. I’m looking forward to seeing people’s reactions.”
Also involved is Julie Dawson, a mixed-media artist who is also an active member of steampunk and gothic communities. In the Gothic Styles Exhibition, artists provide a range of imagery, especially photographs and layered pieces.
Guests at this event were treated to an evening of exploration and engagement, marking continuing progress for Gothic Manchester Festival in its encouragement of creative interpretation.
Gothic Manchester Festival runs until Sunday 29th October. Find out more here.