Sheffield Gothic Profile Blog: Tim Moffatt

Sheffield Gothic’s next installment in our series of profile blogs sees Tim Moffat from the University of Sheffield explore his interest in the Gothic, his favourite Gothic text, and who he would like to invite to dinner!
Tim Moffatt – PhD Researcher in The School of English, University of Sheffield

What do you research:
I am researching the films of Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky through the lens of Hauntology, to determine how his seven films (and the three student ones) are cinematically haunted by Stalin’s policies of the 1930s. In response to the research project I am also writing a play as part of the PhD which is based around Soviet show trials and totalitarian persecution. This play centres around a Soviet film director in the late 30s who finds himself imprisoned for an editing mistake. As he awaits trial he reflects on key moments from his life, only for those moments to appear not as he remembered. The play will see his soul haunted by a constant questioning as to what is reality and what is unreality, as he awaits his inevitable death.

How did you become interested in the Gothic?
I first became interested in the Gothic as a teenager. This was a time when I lived in what was the village of Worrall, just outside of Sheffield. The family home was the last one mid-way up a hill before you were surrounded by farmers’ fields. A convent sat imposingly at the top of the hill. During the winter when the trees were barren you could see the this magnificent Victorian Gothic building on the horizon, and you would hear bells ringing at various times of day, though never seeing any living soul wandering around up there, just the occasional light emitting from a window. I found this mysterious building just up the road a source of fascination; there was a small hidden medieval civilisation there, never to be looked upon by anyone. Though I knew it was futile, I would stand outside and watch for hours in the vain hope of seeing a nun, or indeed anyone. From that point on I had an interest in the mysterious and uncanny. In 2002 I visited Auschwitz, which was naturally a harrowing experience and really opened my mind viscerally to the great evil that human beings are capable of. There is an incredible darkness found in humanity, and this darker side of life also became a source of interest and exploration as it is so alien to my own life’s experiences. It is fascinating to me that if you ask any actor if they would rather play hero or villain then most will say villain, which I say sheds some light on human nature.

What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why?
I read Dracula whilst holidaying in Whitby several years ago and I would recommend doing this as an immersive experience. There is a small fishing town located further up the east coast from Whitby called Staithes which I visited twice. I naively and unfairly used to think this was simply a tiny insignificant place, but there it is in full glory mentioned in Dracula, classic work of English Literature! Standing in the places Bram Stoker describes is an incredible experience due to the unnerving feeling the text emanates, evoking all kinds of Gothic resonances. I was disappointed with the end of Dracula, but in truth that is because I did not want the book to actually end. 

A more contemporary Gothic work I have enjoyed is Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney. This is a book that is peppered with the uncanny where everything about the text just left me questioning what was truly going on beneath the narrative. On the one hand nothing hugely terrifying occurs on the page, but the sub-narrative is one that makes you realise that something potentially very nasty had transpired in the past. The narrator describes a stretch of coastline known as ‘The Loney’ which he would visit as a child. It is through this narration that we uncover potentially strange and disturbing events involving macabre rituals and witchcraft; a young girl may have extraordinary powers to heal the sick… but we will never truly know the truth. 

The theme of the uncanny leads into my film recommendation which has to be The Wicker Man (1973) from Hammer Horror. This is a film that often divides opinion; people seem to love it or hate it. Edward Woodward’s policeman visits the island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a missing girl only to discover a society still in the grip of paganistic rituals. It is these rituals that lead to the film’s incredible yet tragic finale which does leave some viewers a little hot under the collar. 

A piece of music I would recommend is Mozart’s Requiem from 1791. This was the first piece of classical music I ever bought and is an excellent way to embrace the classical genre. It is a piece frequently heard throughout culture: tv, films, video games, and takes the listener on a dark yet also spiritual journey. Rumour has it that Mozart wrote it for his own funeral on his death bed and surely you cannot get more poignant than that? My discovery of the composition came through watching the film Amadeus (1984) adapted from the play by Peter Shaffer which recounts the latter end of Mozart’s life as he forms a bond with the jealous rival composer Salieri, who conspires to damage Mozart due to Mozart’s greater talents. It is a Gothic tragedian tale told through flashback as Salieri is now incarcerated in an asylum. Shaffer’s other famous work Equus is a truly fascinating tale about a teenager called Alan Strang who blinds six horses with a spike. Why he chose to do this is uncovered by psychiatrist Dysart through Freudian psychological discussion. The finale is possibly still the most powerful imagery I have witnessed in a theatre; frightening but also hugely thought provoking.

Who would you invite to dinner:
If I could invite a Gothic character around for dinner I would probably choose Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead. If anything it would give him a bit of relief from the Southern Gothic space he constantly has to occupy, fighting the carnivorous zombie ‘undead’ all day. However, I guess meat would have to be off the menu, as it raises too many issues to mention!