taken from Amazing Heroes No. 174, December, 1989

Clive Barker: On the Beauty of the Beast

by Mike Maddox

Part 2

AH: Sex is this overhanging backdrop to so much of your work.
BARKER: Yes. Mea Culpa.
AH: How far are you playing around with the idea of sex being repulsive? That everything can be viewed from a variety of moral and aesthetic angles?
BARKER: Yes. That's intriguing, but I also feel that the whole sense of what we decide is beautiful.. .what we decide is worth looking at. You know, "I love looking at that," or "I don't want to look at that" are some extent pressed upon us early on. And what happens is that a number of images which we are actually fascinated by, and in fact rather arbitrarily dis-patched into the realms of the unpleas-ant. We are clearly intrigued by all kinds of forbidden sights, by all kinds of forbidden experiences. I don't think I would be alone in thinking that all kinds of images which would be classified as forbidden are in fact some way or other attractive. At the same time, this culture has as the most extraordinary image of transcendence, and for many, or beauty; a man nailed to a cross. So, whence beauty, then? I mean, my personal favorite depiction of the crucifixion is the most tortured, the most extraordinary rendition. It's as far from the elegant pastels of Raphael as it's possible to get. I mean, here is the flesh of a man who has been scourged and filled with thorns, and is actually turning into putrescence, he's actually green. Immense-ly beautiful to my eye. The paintings of Francis Bacon to my eye are very beautiful. The paintings of Bosch or Goya are to my eye very beautiful. I've also stood in front of those same paintings with people who've said, "let's get on to the Botticellis as soon as possible." I have lingered, of course.
AH: This whole idea of forcing people to watch things. No, forcing people's the wrong word. People can always put a book down or leave the cinema or switch off This thing of inviting people to watch things they'd rather not see, peeling back various layers, I mean, in some ways this seems to ally you more with the freedom of the press people than with the magic realists or whoever. I mean, is this a conscious political thing?
BARKER: .... Yes. In the very broadest sense. Every time you show something that Mary Whitehouse or whoever says you shouldn't show, you are making some sort of political state-ment. But it would be pushing things if I were to say that every time I did this I was making some political point. I do see myself as being pretty much out of step with what a lot of the up-holders of this country's morality would think of as being valuable. Artistically, one of the great things about being populist to me, are the reasons why the vox populi is the…has to be the most valid indicator of why I'm actually doing something. The responsibility of anyone who spends seven days a week creating a work of cinema or whatever, the responsibility isn't simply to one's own ego - "I want it to be that way, and if you don't like it, then you can just go fuck off" - it's got to be, in no small part it seems to me, to the people you're trying to communicate with. It seems to me that there are a large number of people-a very large number of people in this country - who genuinely want to be presented with something more in their lives in terms of fiction or film than the next slice of Indiana Jones or Thora Hird's Hymns on Sunday. More power to their elbow.
What always startles me is the range of people who are fascinated by this kind of material. The people who I meet at signings, or who send fan mail, it's not just young who turn up at these things. There's certainly a kind of horror writer who's audience consists almost solely of heavy metal fans and so on, and so be it, that's fine, but I think that well over 50% of the letters I get come from women. Which is 'very nice, because the assumption is that this kind of fiction is essentially a male preserve. A lot of the collectors of my work seem to be people in their 30s, 40s, 5Os, and even occasionally into their 60s and 70s. I think that if you can keep your imagination intact past the age of 10, then you've probably got it intact for the rest of your life. There is just no reason why a mortgage should beat the imaginative impulse out of you.
AH: Talking of which, how much of your work has you as the small child who watches the processions go past, and who shouts out that not only is the emperor naked, but that he's also got a tattoo on his dick?
BARKER: Yes, probably a great deal. But it's not only that the emperor is naked, but that you prefer him that way. It's not the nakedness, but the clothes that are the embarrassment.
AH: Will you ever write comedy, do you think?
BARKER: I thought I did! There's certainly some outrageous stuff in Nightbreed. I think there're - a lot of things that are funny. The Damnation Game has characters who are essen-tially comic.
AH: I cracked up in Hellraiser when I saw Frank sitting there with no skin, smoking a cigarette.
BARKER: Well, good. You were supposed to! This is what intrigues me about critics. When I do something funny they'll always try, and point out several times that this was clearly un-intentional humor. I mean, I don't know how much more obvious you could be with this resurrected cadaver whose first instinct after coming back from the dead is to light up a cigarette! I love those kinds of jokes. Great.
I mean, we're in the business of enchanting audiences, of bewitching audiences, having audiences take pleasure in the material. I think humor is a very pleasurable experience. It's good to laugh. It's good to take pleasure in humor, however dark it is. The only thing I don't like, and unfortunately there's a lot of this in some dark fantasy, is when it's done as some self-defensive thing, as though the creator has said, "Well, I'm going to put this joke in because things aren't working anyway," so it's a nudge nudge, wink wink to the detractors of the genre. You know, "look, I'm a serious individual, and I know damn well that this can't be taken seriously." I don't like the Freddy Krueger pictures like Nightmare on Elm Street, simply because they don't take what was once a very interesting and dark and moody conceit seriously. I think that if you're going into the business of dark fantasy, then the humor has to be supportive to the fantasy, not detracting from it.
AH: I saw a clip the other day of Freddy as some DJ scratch-mixing records with his knives. I mean, this guy's a child murderer!
BARKER: I know, I know. Absolutely. And there's always been an element of that.. .uh.... Well, in the latter part of their careers the great monsters of Universal ended up sharing a bill with Lou and Bud. And that's always happened. towards the end of the Hammer series a campy humor crept in which was highly regrettable. There's a lot of humor in Nightbreed, it's a very dark humor, but there's a lot of it. It's because some of the characters have a very wicked sense of humor. Like some of the characters seem to express themselves with this kind of wild humor.
AH: Talking of wild and wicked char-acters, how did Neil Gaiman and John Bolton end up playing the part of the cowboys in the film?
BARKER: It was just nice to have Neil and John come along and dress them up. It remains to be seen if that scene will remain in the picture, but I'm a great admirer of them both, and it was just kind of fun.
AH: Are you enjoying Sandman?
BARKER: Uh… I'm enjoying it more than I was.
AH: Since issue #6 perhaps?
BARKER: Yeah. I think Neil's a fine writer. He's got this wonderfully perverse quality in his imaginings which is most welcome. I'm still more of an admirer of Black Orchid than I am of Sandman. I think that basically he did something really rather wonderful with Black Orchid. I mean, one of the great things about Neil is that he tells stories. What's more, he knows how to tell stories.
One of the things I've not liked about the deconstructionists amongst us, and we all know who we are, is that a self-consciousness about the act of storytelling has crept in, which has been regrettable. Alan Moore is a great storyteller, a real scruff-of-the-neck storyteller. I think you've got to go back and back and back to that. I think your final responsibility over and over again is to tell a damn good story. Get that right, and you can then in fact load your material with as much theological and philosophical insights as you like. But if you haven't got that right-if you haven't got a fist-flowing river in the first place-if the narrative isn't sweeping you along, then those insights, references to Blake, Kant, and Joyce are going to be leaden.
AH: You mean you might as well write an essay?
BARKER: Or else just go on some street corner and show off.
AH: The image of the outsider in your work.
AH: People who just don't fit in, as it were. I mean, I know a lot of die-hard punks who're big fans of your work.
BARKER: Yes. Well, I think it's a very conscious thing for me. It's also a very inevitable thing given the kind of take I have about what this fiction is for. It's basically about how we view the. strange, and how for me, the strange is something to be pursued, enjoyed, celebrated-and the normal, the natural, the conventional is pretty synonymous with the banal.
AH: But do you not think that that banality itself can be a very funny thing? I heard an incredibly banal joke the other day that I think is hysterical I've been saving it for this very occasion.
BARKER: Okay, what's the banal joke?
AH: What's black and white and eats like a horse?
BARKER: Don't know.
AH: A zebra.
BARKER: Well, that sort of banality has a perversity of its own, doesn't it? My brother has an extraordinary recall of terrible jokes. They become massively funny after seven or eight of them in a row, because it becomes a cumulative activity.

Yeah, I've always loved vaudeville. I love a good stand-up comedian. My favorite kind of comedians are the people who aren't actual joke tellers, but the ones who come out with this incredibly bland thing. I mean, look at Frankie Howard. And Rik Mayall at the beginning of his career, when he was doing Kevin Turvey. Wonder-ful. He was just so fucking banal, you know? Yeah, there is something funny, something very funny about that. The trouble is that those people who come up with characters like that absolutely know what they're doing. The prob-lem is that many people... I don't .... your average game show host on TV, for instance, doesn't believe himself to be banal. He actually thinks that he's quite interesting. And if you look at the viewing figures, so do an enormous number of people in this country.
AH: Yeah. But then again there is a slight sort of existential terror behind all this stuff I mean, with Kevin Tur-vey-this amazingly boring guy - I was sitting there watching him drink tea, or go shopping, or have argu-ments with Keith Marshall, and I was thinking, "Oh, Christ! This is my Life. These are things that l do every day of my life, and they're so boring! I'm sitting here laughing at my own life.
BARKER: I think that's true. And I think that moments in things like Eraserhead, where you're seeing apparently very conventional things, and you're playing this boredom element up deliberately. You know, there'll be these very conventional interiors where people are sitting down with their girlfriends….
AH: Have you ever seen Combat Shock?
BARKER: Yes. Perfect example. Exactly.
AH: You see him drink a glass of milk at the end, and that's it, the rest of your day is ruined.
BARKER: Yeah.. ugh! But the thing about that is that it's actually using the limitations of finance, the same in Eraserhead I would expect. There are other takes on that, of course. The shopping mall sequence from Dawn of the Dead would be another example of banality played with a half-twist, with muzak. It turns into comedy.
I think I'm after something quite different. I'm after really sizing up the banal things in our culture and really giving them a good kicking. Hard. I think there are wonderful films where things can be extremely witty and clever people who know exactly what they're doing. The bulk of our culture is just bland and terrible. The average Paul Nicholas sitcom doesn't seem to know that it's banal. The average chat-show doesn't seem to know it's banal.

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