This weekend Netflix released its latest series Maniac starring Emma Stone and Jonah Hill. I haven't watched it, but when I saw that episode 5 was set in an old mansion in the 1940s at a seance I had to scrub through for some aesthetic gratification. You guys, I honestly don't know where I picked up my understanding of how seances work and the visual vocabulary associated with it, so it's a bit uncanny that my work is so closely aligned with work I'm just now discovering or that is being released. Have I been fascinated with turn-of-the-century occult curiosities more than I realized? Is this the universal subconscious at work?
Although it's set two decades earlier, my most recent play, Halloween Moon Rising, shares so many trappings with this Maniac episode and old Kay Kyser films (You'll Find Out) that I'd never seen. These all draw from a spiritualist trend that begins before the turn of the century, which explains the holding patterns in tropes and aesthetics. (The Victorians are responsible for so much of what is considered "classic literature", even if pieces were thought of as popular pulp at the time.) Still, I'm racking my brain trying to figure out how I learned what I know. Was this in True Blood? More likely Penny Dreadful. Maybe The Prestige? I saw some of it parodied, surely, in Ghost Busters ("ectoplasm") or Hocus Pocus. Possibly I dug up much of this during some Jack the Ripper-era or Houdini-adjacent flights of research? When we discussed Svengali and Trilby in that 300-level 19th century British Theater course, did I absorb more details than I realized?
I can only conclude I have had an undeclared love for this content and aesthetic for a long time that I have been so consistently, quietly attentive to it, or that it's still a deep part of our Western cultural DNA even if it doesn't get explicitly acknowledged outside of October. In any case, I find myself hungry now for more stories of seances, more mysteries, more tales of solitary spirits and double-crossing. I'm open to your recommendations for further immersion, just in time for Halloween...!
(Who knows what more writing may come of it?)