A couple of tweets caught my eye this week. I have the uncanny ability to pick out the word ‘wolf’ from a page of text. Not sure if this is something that should go on my CV but it is a by-product of the PhD.
Anyway, the two tweets were about films which thematically fitted within the Company of Wolves conference. The first is called The Wolfpack (2015) which was shown at this year’s Sundance film festival. This documentary follows a group of six brothers who have lived in isolation despite residing in New York. Their father, an old-school hippy, has brought them up away from the influence of the outside world and they have been encouraged to never leave the house. These young men have learnt about the outside world through iconic films and television. The action in this movie is based around the brothers’ decision to move away from their father’s household.
In a review in The Guardian, Jordan Hoffman suggests that the film consciously plays on the theme of feral children by capturing the brothers dancing to Baltimora’s Tarzan Boy and playing with the trope of the ‘noble savage’. Now, I haven’t seen this film and I probably never will as it doesn’t feature a) werewolves, vampires, zombies, et. al; or, b) a high school during the 1990s. But the name caught my attention because it links back to calling children who had been brought up with minimal human contact, ‘wolf children’.
This is in some part because many of the early cases of ‘feral children’ appeared to involve human infants being brought up by wolves – the classic example of this being the case of Amala and Kamala who were ‘discovered’ in India. Over the years, the variation shown in these types of cases has caused the terminology to evolve.
This documentary appears to celebrate the possibilities of such isolation – as long as it leads to you dressing like the lead characters in a Tarantino movie. The title also plays on the idea of the ‘wolf pack’ as a way of describing a group of men with penchant for action (see: The Hangover).
The next lupine film that caught my eye was a request for animators/ artists to collaborate on a short animation called WolfBlood. The production company behind this are called HitRecord and they specialise in open collaboration in order to create their works. What really struck me about the request for artists was the repeated use of the word ‘dark’ to describe the atmosphere of WolfBlood rather than the term Gothic – despite the overt fairytale feel of the piece.
The almost pointed absence of the word ‘Gothic’ was intriguing in light of some of the reading that I have been doing on American Gothic. The relationship between American writers and the Gothic is strained. Whilst there is no denying that a huge number of influential Gothic authors have emerged from America, especially in recent years, the appropriation of the term has taken some time. Certainly early American authors seemed to be unwilling to take up the mantle Gothic.
The reasons for this intertwine practical and stylistic issues with notions of taste and decency in regards to genre. On the one hand, Gothic draws on the idea of the past returning as haunted and haunting history. For this you need a landscape replete with castles, abbeys, and blood-splattered history – things which were seen to be lacking in the newly form USA. (Clearly turning a blind-eye to the War of Independence, the Civil War, and slavery). Part of creating the national identity of the USA, as with any country, is drawing on sources of national pride especially through the arts. The Gothic was redolent of the corpulent, gentrified, and overly-refined Western Europe. If American authors were to create a literary heritage of which to be proud, it would be untainted by the Gothic.
This attitude was shot through with the fears, insecurities, and ghosts that haunt any nation – established or not. Thus the Gothic found its way into many example of American literature regardless of attempts to prevent its entrance. The lack of crumbling castles was made up for by the extensive wilderness; a wilderness that was described as ‘howling’, voiced by the sound of wolves. More recently American authors have been at the forefront of Gothic in YA literature and culture. (Pause to think about Buffy the Vampire Slayer). It is this form of the Gothic that WolfBlood appears to draw on without consciously using the term.
The short clip, or animatic, that was posted uses tropes from ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, especially with the red hoodies, and I was again struck at the relationship between wolves and feral (masculine) children. Lycanthropy was alluded to in the idea of taking the wolf’s skin and wearing in order to ‘become wolf’. The bullied child loses control releasing his active masculinity so that he can take on and, by extension, become the bully. The references to lambs and other herbivores versus the Big, Bad Wolf continues to pit domesticated, human-owned animals against wild, untamed animals embodied in the wolf itself.
The soundtrack, lyrics/ poem, and imagery of the piece tie in with a more urban type of Gothic especially in the use of hip-hop. This draws on recent music videos by Kanye West, A$ap Rocky, Jay-Z and Rihanna which feature a Gothic urban landscape that is as much a wilderness in its spirit as the wolf-infested forests on the outskirts of the city.
It is interesting note how the trope of the wolf can be adopted and adapted in a variety of forms to give an untamed, feral, or wild feeling to an artistic endeavour. These two examples show both the idea of the noble wolf untainted by human desires and the malevolent wolf who has crept from the dark corners of childhood fairytales into newly Gothic spaces.