Who would have imagined that what began as a short poem 30 years ago by then-unknown artist Tim Burton would become the greatest Gothic romances and holiday-spanning works of all time?
Released in 1993, Tim Burton’s iconic masterpiece, The Nightmare Before Christmas, took the world by surprise. Before the film, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was probably the spookiest holiday tale in existence. That all changed after years of pushing the idea, and repeated edits as not to completely traumatize Disney’s overwhelming young audience. It is a film that spans not one but two holidays, and now ranks as a staple Halloween and Christmas flick, an achievement not seen by any other major motion picture.
The Nightmare Before Christmas also serves as a go-to film for young Gothic culture. For the last 20 years, it has not only turned all the fluffy Christmas hype on its head, but told a tale of dark twisted romance, the ultimate teenage fantasy. Along with his genius visual art, Burton is also a master story tellers, with a glimpse of childish innocence piercing through the dark.
Two whole decades after its release, the film continues to inspire young artists and poets. Featured this month are various pieces of fan art discovered through hash tags across the web. These are true testaments to The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ impact on not only modern counter-culture but genre-spanning multi-platform film, visual art and poetry.
Giger designing the iconic creature from the “Alien” franchise.
Hans Rudolf Giger, better known as H.R. Giger, is a Swiss-born conceptual artist who’s designed some of Hollywood’s most terrifying images. Giger, born in Chur, Switzerland in 1940, is also behind some of the music industry’s most eyebrow-rising album art. Taking inspiration from the horror-fiction works of H.P. Lovecraft and images associated with the Necronomicon, as well as his own night terrors, Giger has been Hollywood’s go-to artist for the gruesome and macabre for over 40 years.
Giger began his career in the movie industry as a director, making small horror-tinged sci-fi films in his native Switzerland. He broke on to the international scene most notably for his work on the 1979 blockbuster, Alien. He designed the notorious monster after sketching down one of his own night-terrors, an ailment of which he frequently suffered. The Alien monster has become synonymous with the multi-million dollar franchise.
The Alien monster created by Giger.
Aside from the Alien franchise, Giger has been involved in several major movies over the decades. He’s responsible for the most terrifying imagery in the horror flicks Poltergiest II: The Other Side and Killer Condom. He’s also credited for designing the Batmobile from 1995’s Batman Forever. Most recently, his original designs were credited in the 2012 horror/sci-fi Alien-precursor, Prometheus, and has been a creative consultant behind the computer game, Dark Seed.
Giger is also well-known in the music industry for creating some of the most controversial album artwork ever released by major labels. He’s the mastermind behind Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery, which had to be edited due to its overtly sexual explicitness. He also designed the limited edition poster (rows of copulating genitalia) that was included in vinyl copies of the Dead Kennedys 1985 release Frankenchrist, which resulted in the arrest of the band’s frontman, Jello Biafra. More recently, Giger has designed a custom microphone stand depicting a naked woman for KoRn frontman Jonathan Davis and has a line of custom-designed signature guitars from Ibanez.
Giger believes that despite the dark and menacing tones behind his work, beauty can be found.
“Some people say my work is often depressing and pessimistic, with the emphasis on death, blood, overcrowding, strange beings and so on, but I don’t really think it is. Some people would say my paintings show a future world and maybe they do, but I paint from reality. There is hope and a kind of beauty in there somewhere, if you look for it,” said Giger in an interview with TIME Magazine.
By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)
The often misunderstood (or mystified) Goth genre has roots in the darker and/or unexplored Glam Rock and of the course early modern European historical definition. While many rock journalists have cited Jim Morrison the first Gothic Rock singer with his low, intriguing baritone vocals and previously unexplored lyrical themes which were often disturbing both psychologically and artistically in the 60’s, The Velvet Underground achieved the complete backdrop instrumentally and via arrangement including stylistic contributions.
Lou Reed, singer/songwriter, along with Sterling Morrison, the explorative guitarist and velvet-voiced songstress, Nico probably had more in common with darker art rock of their day but this is in fact why they were astounding as an ensemble to the genre’s infancy.
Into the 70’s, Nick Cave and The Birthday Party continued to travel the uncharted territories with his own brand of improv and perceived madness. And while Ian Curtis of Joy Division did much of the same, he examined personal and rugged emotion, no matter the sort. The depressed Goth myth can begin here unfortunately.
Obvious Jim Morrison influences in lower vocal register were apparent, staggered lyric-focused melodies (like Reed’s) were also highlighted. But instrumentally, The Birthday Party and Joy Division embodied not only the “sound” but also arrangement which as again revamped but with a focus on bottom register as a whole (i.e. bass guitar and other instruments which include a lasher/velvety bottom end or even guitars with deeper timbre). These elements were explored and solidified. The style and name of the genre was being defined.
In September of 1979, Tony Wilson, journalist and host of the British show, So It Goes, used the term Gothic to define Joy Division’s stark and eerie style.
“Dancing music with Gothic overtones.” he explained.
By the time contemporaries such as the longstanding Sisters of Mercy which spanned, and spawned many other subgenres such as Goth-Industrial and Goth Metal. Eventually, contemporaries such as Souxsie and the Banshees and The Cure added their elements and developed their more otherworldly, ethereal take on the genre lyrically and instrumentally. Often sporting an odd mash up of the darker corners of the Glam Rock movement and a sort of Post-Punk irony, the aforementioned acts delivered and stamped Goth Rock into the psyches of any sub or sub sub-genre.
While some sub-genres are often thought of when many people nowadays think of “Goth,” there is no substitute for the root and its purposes; examining universal dark themes (not evil, but dark).
Dark is defined in the Free Dictionary as “Lacking or having very little light: a dark corner. b. Lacking brightness: a dark day. 2. Reflecting only a small fraction of incident light.” Such is the very definition of Goth in ANY medium dating back to Medieval and Renaissance visual art and architecture.
While acts such as Bauhaus are often praised and many worthy modern Goth acts (especially Industrial acts) such as ThouShaltNot are overlooked, modern dark ambient and ethereal examples especially from the Projekt Records label are strongest overall “GOTHS.” Acts such as Black Tape for a Blue Girl, This Ascension and Unto Ashes, as well as the solo projects from Mortiis from the Black Metal band, Emperor, own this era of the genre and have kept it strong and genuine since the 90’s via label owner and musician, Sam Rosenthal.
In addition to my “Picks of the Week” which spanned a proto- Goth to 80’s Goth timeline, I also offer for your consideration the aforementioned classic acts and the following modern often overlooked examples of the best of the genre. Enjoy! And do try and pick up or legally download these independent artists’ records.
Black Tape for a Blue Girl – Across a Thousand Blades