“The Day of the Locust” (1975)

“The Day of the Locust” is an edgy take on lust, greed, fame and Hollywood. It takes place in the 1930s, but remains relevant today. It is also a successful adaptation of an accomplished novel of the same name by Nathanel West (named one of TIME’s “the 100 best English-language novels 1923-2005”).

Poster_of_the_movie_The_Day_of_the_LocustI cannot say I remember many “grand” novels who were turned into amazing movies. It is an even rarer case when I like a movie more than the famous original (and I read the book first). This is such an exception.

Because of the overabundance of masterpieces in 1970s American cinema, some great movies are a bit forgotten nowadays. Let’s look at the movies of 1975. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Jaws. Dog Day Afternoon. Three Days of the Condor. Nashville. 1975. Just one year. Can you wonder why “The Day of the Locust” could feel a bit outdated compared to those movies, taking place in 1930s?

Why West’s novel should matter today?

“By paying homage to the Hollywood machine and its invisible workers, West was able to illuminate the film business from the bottom up. There is not much beauty to be found in what he called the ‘Dream Dump,’ or in his chronicle of American life in the Thirties. It’s all violence all the time, with sickening scenes that still retain the power to shock. W.H. Auden would call West’s people ‘cripples.’ They weren’t cripples to West, who lovingly described his excitable characters as ‘screwballs and screwboxes.’ His original title for the book, The Cheated, accurately reflected their frustration”

(read the whole review by Marion Meade here).

The novel’s protagonist is a young man named Tod Hackett. I think many young people could identify with him: a true artist compromising himself for money. A Yale graduate could starve as a painter or earn some money as a designer in Hollywood. He chooses the second option, but remains aware of vanities and emotional void that surrounds him. Todd is an outsider and an artist which gives him a unique perspective to see what’s going on. He becomes infatuated with Faye Greener, an attractive starlet without talent but with high aspirations.

rathaus in munich gargoyle
I just felt like contrasting these two images. Here we see the gargoyle in Munich.
scream mirror day of the locust 1975
And here the desperation recreated by Tod when observing himself. Art and commerce meet in this shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many grotesque figures appear in the book, the most important ones are: Homer Simpson, a lonely and inhibited businessman exploited by Faye; Faye’s father, an ex-vaudeville clown who sells homemade silver polish door-to-door; and Adore Loomis, a cruel young boy whose mother has been stylizing as a child star.

Jackie Earle Haley as Adore day of the locust
Jackie Earle Haley plays Adore. He will be known much later for his roles as Rorschach and Freddy Krueger. This is what dressing as Shirley Temple does to a young actor.

The movie was directed by John Schlesinger (“Midnight Cowboy,” “Marathon Man,” “Billy Liar”) and follows the book closely. It is actually extremely faithful towards the book. Paradoxically, it is to its disadvantage at times. Although the novel is very short, it drags for its first one third. As the movie does not skip anything, it repeats this mistake. I feel that at least a few episodes could be cut for the sake of brevity (total 144 minutes is too long in this case).

But the acting is without a miss. Karen Black and Donald Sutherland are perfect in their roles. Jackie Earle Haley is amazingly creepy in his early role as Adore. But it is William Atherton’s acting that impressed me most, as you can just read Tod’s thoughts on his face (instead of hearing voice-over). You see that he realizes how phony Faye is but he falls for her anyway. And it’s acted with just a slight change in his facial expression. It’s a shame I never paid any attention to William Atherton before.

Tod Hackett  coffin mirror day of the locust 1975
Tod Hackett (William Atherton) getting ready. There is no such coffin-like mirror in the book, but it suits Tod’s obsession with self-destruction.

1970s. You have no CGI, but stunts, make-up, fake blood, real fire. And real crowd, not multiplied individuals which were created at movie studios. Very risky movie to fund as it looks very expensive. It is a shame no such risk would probably be taken today.

The movie depicts people pursuing dreams and fantasies. They fool themselves and ignore reality. Everything in Hollywood is attractive for the crowd. A place of somebody’s suicide is a tourist attraction. A funeral house is a great hideout when waiting for Clark Gable to arrive at the cemetery.
It’s far more interesting to see members of this crowd than attractions they are waiting for. In any other job they could be happy if they could pay their rent, etc. But everybody desires something more. Their need of power, success, money and sex is killing them.

It is not a film about some wannabe actress/actual prostitute and all the fools that want to sleep with her. Nor it is a movie about failed actors, performers and filmmakers. It rips the covers of human beings and shows what hides underneath: human desires, animalistic forces, the utter need to either copulate or destroy. It is not only a movie about Hollywood but about the mob mentality and the repressed individuality.

The last moments will reward you for your patience with some unforgettable images.

Just to give you the glimpse of what a ride the ending is I give you two pictures.

people at bus stop day of the locust 1975
People at a bus stop during the day, in the middle of the movie.
mob people at bus stop day of the locust 1975
People at a bus stop during the night riot at the end of the movie.

I cannot remember reading so many comments/reviews/etc. such as “this movie was the scariest movie I’ve ever seen” about a non-horror movie before. Consider yourself warned. And invited to see this movie.

“Jeepers Creepers, where’d ya get those peepers?

Jeepers Creepers, where’d ya get those eyes?”

“Jodorowsky’s Dune” (2013)

Jodorowsky's_Dune_PosterThe movie “Jodorowsky’s Dune” tells a story of the great quest. Imagine people whose works you always admired that gather, inspired by a charismatic leader, to make a movie that will make your brain explode from the amount of excessive awesomeness! Feeling excited already?

Well, this movie never got made. The quest did not succeed. Or did it?

The story about making the film and the storyboard (all scenes drawn in one big book) survived.

H.R. Giger (Alien monster creator), Chris Foss (s-f illustrator), Dan O’Bannon (Alien screenwriter, Star Wars special computer effects), Salvador Dali, Jodorowsky’s teenage son (trained in martial arts exclusively for the movie), David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Jean Giraud “Moebius,” Pink Floyd, Orson Welles, Udo Kier, Amanda Lear (“It’s so confusing!”), Magma band… I couldn’t even rank these wonderful people in some kind of order, as their talents cannot be compared and measured. All are named Spiritual Warriors by Jodorowsky himself.

Dune_The Emperor's Palace_ Chris Foss
Artwork by Chris Foss – The Emperor’s Palace

The movie “Jodorowsky’s Dune” is a captivating movie experience that should be obligatory for all movie fans. It makes you question your motifs not only when it comes to movie watching but also your career choices and fulfilling the expectations of others.

While it is based mainly on talks with people involved in the project, including Jodorowsky himself, it also combines the storyboard clips together with mesmerizing art concepts and music. This way we can almost see how the finished movie could look like.

Jodorowsky's_Dune_Giger
Artwork by H.R. Giger – Entrance to the Harkonnen Castle

To better understand the concept by Giger (1940-2014), read what he said about this particular artwork (as inspired by Jodorowsky):

Harkonnen stands on rising ground, a sort of hill, and consists of jagged bones and excrement which slowly crumble into dust. More bones and excrement are continually being ejected from Harkonnen, which crumble and are swept away by the eternally raging storms. A sort of staircase leads up the hill to the castle, defended by spears built into the bones on either side of the entrance, which have an independent existence and often impale the citizens just for fun.

H.R. Giger (source)

Alejandro Jodorowsky. A human enigma. A genius or a madman? Or both? Or none?

For sure he is absolutely fascinating to watch and listen to.

Notice the original music by Kurt Stenzel which captures the mood of the presented artwork and the narrative.

What is interesting from my point of view, I find the original “Dune” series by Frank Herbert to be one of the best book series ever created. It shaped me as a human being and as a reader. It taught me to love s-f and fantasy. And Jodorowsky didn’t want to adapt this novel but to rape it. He readily admits it.

Alejandro Jodorowsky_raping_Frank Herbert
How can you not love his honesty?

And still I think I would love his movie, even though he stayed away from the book and its actual themes.

This may have something to do with my general dislike for “fanboy mentality” (meaning obsessive fans who want all adaptations of their beloved books or comic books to look identical as the originals. It’s not possible, cinema is a different medium.). But also with the fact that I appreciate Jodorowsky’s bold visionary mind. You may already know this from my review of “The Holy Mountain.”

Just read my favorite quote from the documentary:

This system make of us slaves. Without dignity. Without depth. With a devil in our pocket.

This incredible money are in the pocket. This money. This shit. This nothing. This paper who have nothing inside.

Movies have heart.

Have mind.

Have power.

Have ambition.

I wanted to do something like that. Why not?

Alejandro Jodorowsky

Go and watch this movie in cinema if it is still playing near you. Rent it or buy it when it comes on DVD/Blu Ray. This independent project directed by Frank Pavich is worth it.

And this comes from the fan of the original Dune book that Jodorowsky would have butchered in his adaptation.

And from a person who generally avoids documentaries.

The spiritual power of Jodorowsky? Rather the power of cinema.

And the power of people. Multo (Ghost) and Thy Critic Man (read his review here) recommended this movie to me. And we don’t know each other personally, we just read each other’s blogs. Maybe this says something about our times. Frequently during the movie Jodorowsky reflects on the difficulties he had finding about and locating like-minded people that he needed. Today we can gather ourselves easily from all over the world. Maybe this is why “Jodorowsky’s Dune” could succeed today – because fans of Jodorowsky’s cinema could learn about it through one another.

But that’s the topic for another movie.

Links:

  • “Jodorowsky’s Dune” official Facebook page
  • “Jodorowsky’s Dune” official Twitter page

NEWS FLASH: Check out Alejandro Jodorowsky’s kickstarter page: http://kck.st/1yG9EWs You can help to make his new movie “Endless Poetry”! How often can you help the legend? The kickstarter project ends on 22 March 2015.

“The Vanishing” (1988)

"The Vanishing" 1988 posterA Dutch–French movie that is hard to classify. It is a gloomy and mysterious take on suspense-driven thriller. It’s better not to read anything about the plot before seeing it.

So how am I to tell you about it without spoiling it? Well, let’s just say that there is the vanishing in the movie, as you can guess from the title (original one being “Spoorloos” which means “Traceless”). And that you know more than the protagonist, because you get to know the antagonist’s identity. In a sense, you get to know the antagonist more than the protagonist. BUT, you still do not know everything till the last, extremely powerful, moment.

The mystery is intermingled with everyday life scenes. This would seem boring, but the brilliant director and cinematographer did their job very well: you are not bored one bit. The movie captivates you. You get more and more curious and frightened.

I saw it as it was in the book “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die,” and I can truly recommend it. I did not read about it anywhere (including the book) and I suggest you do the same.  Even the storyline put on IMDb gives away too much.

The main cast is wonderful and I would include Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu’s character when making any “best movie villain” list. I feel that he represents an actor who remains memorable despite his average appearance. Reminds me of Gene Hackman in this sense. Or Kevin Spacey.

Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu in "The Vanishing" (1988)
Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu

The viewers today differ from the viewers in 1988. What was shocking then, today seems almost mild. Yet, the movie stands the test of time thanks to the mysterious aura it possesses. Think about Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”: the plot there was “normal” but the narrative wasn’t, as James Stewart’s character became more and more disturbed.

In “The Vanishing” at first glance there are no supernatural elements, yet the story has some dream-like qualities. The movie is an adaptation of the novella “The Golden Egg” by Tim Krabbé and it certainly made me want to read this book, as the author was a co-writer of the screenplay.

"The Vanishing" (1988) tunnel scene
Opening scene in the tunnel

If you decide to watch this movie, you may ask yourself: what is so grotesque about it? It features no freaks, bewildering monsters, no “paranormal activity” (in a literal sense). Yet there is a mixture of comedy and horror: amusing scenes hide hideous truths. Horror that can terrify and amuse us at the same time is often grotesque.

In a film there is a place for sadism and derangement, but grotesque requires more than a sadistic character, right? Right. A psycho does not make a grotesque. But a psycho who pretends to talk to his domineering mother, and a moment later kills his hotel guest dressed-up as the mother (wig  included) is grotesque (if you know which movie I just spoilt you can pat yourself on the back). Similarly here, the antagonist has so many faces throughout the movie that the contradiction between them makes him grotesque. And he is obsessed with one idea. The idea so destructive that it dominates his whole life.

Firstly the motto for this blog was supposed to be “It was the truths that made the people grotesques.” It comes from the novel “Winesburg, Ohio” by Sherwood Anderson. In my writing I will return again and again to this novel. In “Winesburg, Ohio” each grotesque character was obsessed with one idea and (most of the time) it destroyed him or her. One idea taken to the extreme can shake the person’s world. For the better or for the worse. “The Vanishing” shows one option.

“Classics of the Macabre” by Daphne du Maurier

RomanaC - Hipster Guys Owls
This image fits the book perfectly.

A collection of six best short stories by Daphne du Maurier is a must-read for any horror and grotesque fan. This book will bring you nightmares. Alfred Hitchcock and Nicolas Roeg felt compelled to adapt two of these stories to the big screen. After reading them, you won’t wonder why.

Daphne du Maurier's "Classics of the Macabre" book coverAs you might have noticed in my first post about Edgar Allan Poe’s “King Pest,” I love reading short stories. And I mostly agree with canonical rules that Poe established in his “The Philosophy of Composition” in 1846. Especially the one about “a distinct limit… to all works of literary art – the limit of a single sitting.” Simply put, a short story should be short! The number of characters should be limited and the whole story should have singular focus. However, there are some short stories that are more complex but are still able to captivate me in their worlds. Daphne du Maurier’ stories do it with ease.

I am going to discuss the stories from the oldest to the newest one and encourage you to read them without giving away any spoilers (as there are spectacular twists in some of them!).

The Apple Tree (1952)

An old man feels at last alive after his forever nagging wife died. But the twisted apple tree in the garden starts to make him uneasy as it hides the sun from a sweet young apple tree… The story concerns topics like guilt, love and appearances. Is the long-lasting marriage a really happy one? What does it mean to care for someone?

It is not my favorite, but I‘ve got a feeling I may appreciate this story more as I grow older.

The Birds (1952)

Hitchcock's "Birds" - birds waiting
Still from the movie “Birds” (1963)

An epic short story which will always be read thanks to a classic Hitchcock’s adaptation. Nevertheless, it must be said that the movie and the short story have only one thing in common: the title birds and their violent behavior. The protagonist in the short story is a WWII veteran who tries to save himself and his family from an invasion that no one is prepared for. The style is simple but full of gripping details: “He felt the thud of bodies, heard the fluttering of wings, but they were not yet defeated, for again and again they returned to the assault, jabbing his hands, his head, the little stabbing beaks sharp as pointed forks.” The story has a more political overtone than the movie, but remains universal at the same time. How is one to protect oneself from the enemy that can be anywhere?

The Blue Lenses (1959)

Daphne du Maurier "The Blue Lenses" book coverMy favorite one and the most grotesque of the six. A woman is a patient of the expensive clinic after the eye surgery. The nurses and doctors take good care of her, everything seems fine. But after she has bandages removed, she sees other people heavily distorted…or not?

Basically, she sees everyone with a head of some animal in spite of a human head. Her nurses are a cow, a cat and a <spoiler removed>. Her doctor is a terrier. But her visiting husband turns out to be…

The mixture of human and animal features constitutes a basic element of grotesque imagery. It frightens and disturbs us. It goes back to ancient mythologies. Various cultures believed in creatures (or gods) of both humanoid and animal characteristics (centaur, manticore, Horus, etc.). However, when the mix is unexpected, it is a source of horror (think “The Island of Doctor Moreau” which I will certainly review some day). Animal heads in this short story possess mainly a symbolic meaning, giving away the true nature of each person.

It is a very ambiguous story, as the explanations for apparent sight malfunction may vary. It bases on psychological fear rather than physical repulsion, though a few disgusting elements also appear. I wonder why it isn’t more well-known. It certainly deserves it.

The Alibi (1959)

A seemingly normal middle-class man decides to murder somebody, it does not matter whom. He meets a desperate single mother in a desolate tenement house and decides she will be his victim. He begins to rent the room in her apartment. He pretends to be a painter, considering it the best alibi. But he cannot foresee everything…

Sometimes we may get a wrong impression that the end of the 20th century invented cold-blooded, perverse murderers and psychopaths as main characters. But literature always described sick individuals and their misdoings. I think that a sick human mind is one of the main focuses of art in general.

“The Alibi” remains shocking, even if we read similar stories, not only in literature, but also in the news.

Don’t Look Now (1970)

A married couple starts to recover after their small daughter’s death. They are on vacation in Venice. They meet a pair of strange-looking twin sisters. One of them is a blind prophetess who says that Christine, their daughter, worries about them and wants them to leave Venice immediately. They intend to leave but the skeptic man keeps seeing a figure of small girl in a red raincoat who seems to be in danger…

"Don't Look Now" the girl
Still from the movie “Don’t Look Now” (1973)

The movie by Nicolas Roeg is one of my favorite horrors, yet I enjoyed the short story. The adaptation differs in some details from the story, and the husband, played by Donald Sutherland, is in Venice because of his job. Also there is an infamous, rather explicit, sex scene which is only referred to in two sentences in the short story. Aw, the cinema of the 1970s!

The story is more ironic than the movie. I suggest you check both.

Not After Midnight (1971)

The weakest one in my opinion, still captures the sense of uneasiness in a strange land. The land is Crete, an island in Greece, where a lonely teacher decides to spend his holidays. He meets an odd American couple. The wife invites him to their house but “not after midnight.” The myth of Dionysus takes an important part in the story as the teacher discovers that the previous inhabitant of his house drowned. And he visited the couple beforehand.Theatrical masks. Roman mosaic from the 100s BC.All of du Maurier’s stories in this volume feature ordinary characters in the ordinary setting (home, garden, hospital, holiday resort) who face extraordinary, or even surreal, challenges.

I get the notion du Maurier says that while you fear the unknown, you should fear the known more. It may surprise you.