Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Day of the Locust



It was as if everyone decided that there were only a small number of films from the past that were worth watching, and these films must be watched for ever and ever until we all drown in a sea of Great Escapes and Godfathers and Jawses. An understandable reaction, I suppose, to the horrific realisation that you will never be able to watch every film, read every book, sleep with every hootchy mama. This explains the rise in these lists of 1000 things you must do before you die otherwise your time on this planet has been a complete freaking waste of time just because you’ve never found the time to sit through Sixteen Candles. If you can create a fortress against the great tide of culture constantly being spewed at you, if you can say ‘These things I will watch, the rest can go hang’, then you can escape that gnawing feeling that maybe you should have watched Revenge of the Nerds II, I mean the first one was pretty crappy but maybe the turned it around with the sequel, maybe it was all building up to some pretty biting social commentary.

A natural human reaction to mortality, but one that leaves you in danger of missing out on some pretty cool stuff that for some reason or other never made the canon. Day of the Locust, for instance (just in case you had forgotten what the actual subject of the review is by this point). I had never heard of the film version before seeing it, and the only reason I sought it out on Lovefilm was that I am currently at the point on my literary cycle where I am wanting to re-experience stuff I read or saw 10 years ago. I had read the novel by Nathanial West at university and not since, but it is one that has stayed with me and I am always curious to see adaptations of books I have enjoyed.

The Day of the Locust is set in 1930s Hollywood, amongst the bit-players, the art assistants and the wash-outs that live of the fringes of the great entertainment machine. These people are completely sure of their own talent, but are only able to survive by debasing their talent. The great clown becomes a polish seller, the visionary artist designs sets and the actress is a prostitute. But then aren’t they all. The characters sweep along in their own tawdry worlds, blinded by the glamour that is so close and yet out of reach, until into their world comes Homer Simpson (yes, really), an awkward repressed bumbler, the poor slob representing the consumer of the entertainment industry’s product and whose money funds the clouds the artsy types live in. It will come as no surprise that his life is not improved by this meeting.

The mix between fantasy and reality, between the degraded world of the bottom feeders and the divine life of the chosen few is captured well by the style of the film, as is the human cost of the fantasy being created in Hollywood. The sweat is always visible beneath the make up. The plot also sticks admirably close to that of the novel, allowing the characters to commit unforgivable actions that would alienate the viewer if they ever really asked for forgiveness. The finale, meanwhile, transcends the rest of the film. It was as if reading the Great Gatsby you find that the last page had been replaced by a Goya etching. When Debbie awakened after falling asleep as usual and asked me what happened in the end, all I could answer was the end of the world.

The only criticisms I have are with casting. Firstly they have that funny looking woman whose eyes are too close together and who seems to be in every single film from the 70s as the romantic lead. Secondly, the only guy in it that I’d actually heard of, Donald Sutherland, was completely miscast as Homer. Far from bumbling, he appears almost debonair at times, and it is unclear at times just why the character is acting the way he is. However all this is forgiven for the ending of the film, and I would beg all reading this to watch the film, tell your friends, and don’t let it become a forgotten gem. Um... might have missed the boat on that one actually.

And if you too have deep seated worries that you are missing out on cultural greatness in your life, don’t worry. Nothing that has been produced is entirely without value, nothing can be watched without some kind of benefit or enjoyment. Except The Edge of Love with Keira Knightley.


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