Monday, October 29, 2007

That's Why the Lady is a Vamp

by Mr Madelynne Ellis

Blame the ancient Egyptians. They invented cosmetics. Without them, you might all have natural, healthy complexions, unspoilt by foundation, and your eyes would be open and clear, enhanced only by what nature gave you. But where’s the fun in that?

More specifically, blame Cleopatra, one of history’s greatest vamps and serial monogamists (and a legendary fellatrix, according to some accounts). Having married her own brothers, Caesar and then Mark Anthony, as well as notched up an alleged 1000 lovers, she’s left an indelible mark on history and inspired a legion of goth chicks and neo-pagan priestesses. But her legend wouldn’t have endured without a few very special women.

The first official vamp was the silent screen goddess Theda Bara. It was her nickname, and the studio encouraged the image of spooky seductress for all it was worth. If a woman is called a vamp, it’s a comparison to her, the lover and destroyer of men. Unsurprisingly her most famous role was as Cleopatra, although sadly only still images remain. In interviews she alluded to mysticism and witchcraft, and became a powerful archetype of dark female sexuality. Her studio hinted that her name was an anagram of “Arab Death”, but the truth was a little more mundane. Born Theodosia Goodman, she’d never even been to Egypt. But like all vamps, the fantasy overshadows the reality.

A more recently famous Cleopatra, with a similar appetite for husbands if not fellatio, came in the form of Elizabeth Taylor. And boy did she look fine in eyeliner. I should admit at this point that I’ve got a thing for eyeliner and mascara, the darker the better. I can’t tell you how it started – maybe Dusty Springfield had something to do with it, or some inadvertent youthful exposure to seventies porn.

I can tell you how it developed. Heavy eye make-up carries certain, ah, spooky connotations, which is why I offered to write about it. Halloween (or Samhain) should celebrate and address all those dark aspects of the human psyche – movie monsters or half-remembered pagan myths, it’s all the same. And every aspiring vamp should know that make-up can bring out the goddess in you. Anyway, back to the story… by the fifties the iconography of the vamp had been reabsorbed by horror in the form of Vampira,

and given a comic twist by both Morticia Addams and Lily Munster. Throughout the seventies, Hammer wasn’t the only studio to realise that sex and horror go together very well. Barbara Steele starred in a string of Italian horror movies, and mesmerised audiences with her anime eyes.

So what the hell was so sexy about them? What makes so many men sit up and beg at the idea of a little necrophilia? The vampire was already well established as an erotic figure. If sex is a meaningful exchange of bodily fluids that creates life, then the vampire is an exchange of bodily fluids that negates life, or creates anti-life. No wonder it become such a staple of the gothic movement. I always preferred Le Fanu’s earlier Carmilla to Dracula, but maybe that’s a guy thing.

Maybe we need to analyse this. You may love or hate Sigmund Freud, but remember he gave you the word libido, and a whole language of sexuality. He proposed that there’s an opposite force to the life instinct, a death instinct called thanatos. Simply put, humans seek the simplicity and negation of death, or unbeing. AKA Nirvana. We like the idea of it so much that we personify it as various caped, cowled and skeletal figures. Or if you’re a poet drunk on laudanum, you sexualise it.

“Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold :
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Then along came Siouxsie, and everything changed… With the invention of punk and later goth, everyone could look like a vampire or a witch, and Theda Bara’s legacy became public domain. Heavy eye shadow became a manifesto, or statement of intent – one way or another, I’ll suck you dry. You know you want it.

I’m out of time, and there’s still so much to cover. Any suggestions for other archetypal vamps/femmes fatale? Ever vamped it up yourself? What was the effect?

“and I leave you as a souvenir the dark, fanged rose that I plucked from between my thighs…”

Angela Carter, The Lady of the House of Love

Mr Madelynne Ellis


Janine Ashbless said...

Beautiful post Mr Maddy!

Janine Ashbless said...

And surely this has to be the ultimate in necro-sexy vamps?
Thousands of pubsecent children will have been perverted by catching this film while their sexualities are still malleable. Good on you, Mr Burton!

Dakota Rebel said...


I LOVE goth women. I cannot explain what makes them so over the top sexy. But these three women scream gothic sex. And I LOVE them for it. If any woman could get me to change teams, it would be the goth girl.

Not the teen angst "My soul is as dark at my t-shirt" goth girl. But the adult, "this is who I am and I OWN IT." goth woman.

Hooray for the vamp!


Olivia Knight said...

We like the idea of it so much that we personify it as various caped, cowled and skeletal figures. I had a surreal moment in my master's class when we were being taught about printmaking and the lecturer showed slide after slide of woodcuts of the printmaking process. The presence of skeletons at every stage simply wasn't alluded to, like the elephant in the room, until someone eventually burst out, "What's with all the skeletons?"
"Oh, that's to remind us of our mortality," he said dimissively. "Now here you can see how the fibre was softened..."

Imagine computer manuals with occasional skeletons just to remind you, as you try to work out how to mail-merge, that you're going to die.

On vamping it up - I do remember a Halloween party where I won a prize for least-dressed - I mean best-dressed, obviously. (But as I clearly wasn't, and was just wearing a nightie & too much white powder and too much dark eyemakeup & an excess of black gloves and high heels, whereas other people had really made an effort, I've always assued it was least dressed. It was a very small nightie.)

Janine Ashbless said...

We demand photographic evidence, Olivia.

Madelynne Ellis said...

Mr Madelynne is currently doing the day job, but I'm sure he'll be along later to check out all the goth women. If you're lucky he might even show you his bat wings.

kristina lloyd said...

*some inadvertent youthful exposure to seventies porn*

So that's why I have a fetish for mullets and moustaches!

In the 1980s I had a friend whose big sister was vampishly New Romantic. She had a haircut with a fringe that slanted across half her face, covering one eye. Her make up was always very dramatic and elaborate but, because of the hair, she would only bother applying it to one eye.

Olivia Knight said...

I like that. Some days when I'm feeling lazy I only put make-up on half my face then just make sure I sit in profile all day.

Portia Da Costa said...

I used to be very gothy, but now I'm just a very mild semi demi goth in that I always wear black. Used to wear trowels full of black eyeliner and all that, and sport crimson lips, but am now far too old for that stuff.

I once won a fancy dress prize dressed as a very effective and rather cute disco zombie, but that's not quite the same, is it?

Nowadays I could probably be in with a shot without the makeup... sigh...

Jeremy Edwards said...

And don't forget, if you only wear make-up on half your face, you're helping the environment.

angell said...

I love goth girls - the men, not so much.

I hang out at a club here in T.O. that is mainly goth with a punk undercurrent. On Fridays, it's a wonderful place to go and people watch, and get horny and pray you go home with someone. :P

I've never gothed it up majorly. Mainly because I can't put on eyeliner.

But one of my best friends is total goth chick and one of the hottest women I know. If I could figure out how to link to her pic, I would share her with you.

Anonymous said...

[a href=]my friends picture or any text you like[/a]

with angle bracket < or > substituted for [ or ]
and a proper web address

NB your friends picture has to be *already* uploaded onto a website or photobucket or something

Deanna Ashford said...

I love lots of eye-make up and black clothes, but Mr Ashford always thinks it depressing and says I should wear more bright colours.

What's a girl to do please herself. or please her man?

Needless to say I'm wearing black today.

Olivia I once wore a nightdress to a fancy dress party but it was a virginal white frilly concoction. It was very skimpy however.

angell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate Pearce said...

Of course-here I am the ultimate anti-goth girl...
The only time I ever dyed my hair black was after it was pink and I had to get rid of the color somehow. It was almost to my waist and made me look like Morticia Adams complete with the pale face, no make up necessary-except bright red lipstick of course :)

Great post-loved all the pictures especially Siouxie Sue!

Madeline Moore said...

I think ALL the boys like heavy eyeliner on women, maybe not on the women they want to take home to mama, but on the ones they just want to take home for the night.

I used to wear a ton of eyeliner and grey eyeshadow, to wonderful effect.
I still will, on occasion, but not everyday, anymore. I never did get the knack of applying it inside the lower lid, though. Tricky, that.

Gee all these halloween costume winners...well, my ex won best costume once, and I was with him. He was Rod Stewart and I was 'his old lady'. My costume was so over the top a guy asked 'Are you a woman or a man?' I was insulted. The ex was over the moon at winning, especially when they played 'Do you think I'm sexy?' as he claimed his award - a chit for twenty dollars free gas from a local gas bar. WOW! He really wanted to explain to the gas attendant the circumstances under which he came to win twenty dollars free gas, but the attendant, sadly for the ex, wasn't particularly interested. "I'm Rod Stewart!" hoho. But as I say, I was only his old lady...

angell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
angell said...

(SIGH - trying this ONE MORE TIME.)

This is my gothic princess

And I swear, if she was ever willing to give up on men, I would gladly play for the home team permanently for her.

Mr Madelynne Ellis said...

Janine: I thought about animated vamps, just like I thought about mythical figures like Lamia, Lilith or even Kali, but in the end I had to narrow the field. My CGI choice, however, would have been this captivating creature.

I'm sure either Jilly Cooper or Erica Jong referred to single eye make up in some manual of man-handling or other..

Not to devalue anyone's self-expression, but modern goth is largely just a sub-genre of metal, and a black t-shirt just doesn't have enough style. Besides, white, purple, grey, red and deep blue were just as acceptable, preferably in crushed velvet or satin ....

Angell, your friend is completely bewitching. Tell her that from me.

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

Ohhhhhh, goth girls! I had this topic on my "possible Lust Bites articles" list! Love them...lust for them...

Current favorite goth girl: Gina Holden from "Blood Ties." (Of course, I'm hot for just about everyone on that show...)

Plus Eliza Duskhu (especially as Faith on Buffy), Angelina Jolie, Catherine Zeta-Jones...Dita Von Teese anyone?

[fans self]

Alison Tyler said...

I'm still not done staring at Siouxsie.

So glad Halloween is on Wed. Although I don't really need a reason to wear too much eye makeup. I grew up hearing quite often that I looked like a raccoon. Thanks for the thrilling post, Mr. Madelynne Ellis.

Alison "confirmed make-up junkie" Tyler

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

I used to be a goth girl, but now I'm just a pale lady with dark hair and red lipstick.

Still love the look, but I no longer have the patience to do it any more... Being unable to see my face makes putting on eyeliner properly damn hard. (I'm very, very nearsighted and can't wear contacts.)

Melissa Heywood said...

I have a good friend who is the ultimate Vamp. She's sexy in such a way that when she walks down the street all men turn to look at her and I would say some women would too.

This is a pic of her:

(Sorry I can't link it). Tell me what you think?

Mr Madelynne Ellis said...

It says This album is private. Please login. Password required?

Mr Madelynne Ellis said...

PS Dayle (and others) - it wasn't my intention to make this post solely about goth girls, and I deliberately stopped with Siouxsie, so why not pick up where I left off some time? Seems to be a popular topic for bringing out everyone's inner (or outer) dyke :)