SANS SOLEIL (Chris Marker, France, 1982, 9) Despite the grade, this heady essay film isn’t perfect — it seems to be some sort of rule that every French leftist intellectual’s stream-of-consciousness has to contain at least three monumentally stupid pseudo-profundities, a quota Marker manages to meet (did you know the American “occupation” introduced puritanical sexphobia […]
After persistent heckling for one of the two cinephile Dan Owens I know, here is my annual “What I am seeing at Toronto this year” post. Though I regret to inform Alex Fung that his annually awaited “Canadian bilingualism, c’est le suck” rant, which he says marks the start of TIFF, is still to come. This is being posted using my work laptop Mac in Cincinnati airport (yeah … Washington to Toronto via Cincinnati … cheapness trumps geography and geometry) while I am traveling on a *US* airline (Delta) rather than that prisoner of sensitivities to frogdom [Victor looks up how you say “Air Canada” in French … oh … wow] Air Canada. So not yet, Alex … coming soon.
Anyhoo … as always, this schedule is subject to change depending on buzz. There is also one time, the first Saturday morning, where I know I’ll have to sacrifice at least one of a cluster of three films, and buzz will determine what I do (though given commercial release patterns, I’m likeliest to skip ARGO). I also quickly reconciled myself to not seeing Paul Thomas Anderson’s THE MASTER — the screening I wanted to go to was sold out, and it will have a week-long run in 70mm in Washington, so I didn’t try too hard to juggle things around. The absence of the new Leos Carax and Alain Resnais films — THAT I haven’t quite gotten over yet.
Thu 6 Sept.
Noon SANS SOLEIL (Chris Marker, France, 1982) Jackman Hall 615pm TABU (Miguel Gomes, Portugal) Lightbox 1
Fri 7 Sept.
Noon RUST AND BONE (Jacques Audiard, France) Ryerson 315pm THE GREAT KILAPY (Zeze Gamboa, Angola) Cineplex 2 600pm THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO IDEOLOGY (Sophie Fiennes / Slavoj Zizek, Britain) Isabel Bader 930pm FRANCES HA (Noah Baumbach, USA) Ryerson
Sat 8 Sept.
930am ME AND YOU (Bernardo Bertolucci, Italy) Cineplex 2 1100am ARGO (Ben Affleck, USA) Elgin Theatre 1245pm WHAT MAISIE KNEW (Scott McGahee and David Siegel, USA) Lightbox 1 600pm AMOUR (Michael Haneke, France) Elgin Theatre 900pm SOMETHING IN THE AIR (Olivier Assayas, France) Elgin Theatre
Sun 9 Sept.
1130am LOIN DU VIETNAM (a buncha commies, Frogland, 1967) Lightbox 3 300pm ERNEST AND CELESTINE (Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar, Stéphane Aubier, Belgium) Cineplex 6 615pm THY WOMB (Brillante Mendoza, Philippines) Cineplex 9 945pm WHAT RICHARD DID (Lenny Abrahamson, Ireland) Scotiabank 2
Mon 10 Sept.
900am THE ACT OF KILLING (Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, Anonymous, Indonesia) Bloor noon AT ANY PRICE (Ramin Bahrani, USA) Ryerson 300pm EVERYDAY (Michael Winterbottom, Britain) Cineplex 7 545pm FOXFIRE: CONFESSIONS OF A GIRL GANG (Laurent Cantet, Canada/France) Ryerson 900pm THE CLOUD-CAPPED STAR (Ritwik Ghatak, India, 1960) Lightbox 4
Tue 11 Sept.
1100am BYZANTIUM (Neil Jordan, Britain) Elgin Theater 300pm NO (Pablo Larrain, Chile) Bloor 600pm MUSHROOMING (Toomas Hussar, Estonia) Cineplex 5 800pm PASSION (Brian DePalma, USA) Winter Garden Theatre 1000pm ARTHUR NEWMAN (Dante Ariola, USA) Scotiabank 1
Wed 12 Sept.
1100am GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Mike Newell, Britain) Elgin Theater 345pm IN THE HOUSE (Francois Ozon, France) Lightbox 1 645pm REALITY (Matteo Garrone, Italy) Lightbox 1 930pm BEYOND THE HILLS (Cristian Mungiu, Romania) Scotiabank 3
Thu 13 Sept.
115pm POST TENEBRAS LUX (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico) Lightbox 3 330pm CAUGHT IN THE WEB (Chen Kaige, China) Lightbox 1 600pm BARBARA (Christian Petzold, Germany) Ryerson 900pm CAMP 14: TOTAL CONTROL ZONE (Marc Wiese, Germany) Lightbox 2
Fri 14 Sept.
915am IN THE FOG (Sergei Loznitza, Russia) Lightbox 2 1130am JAYNE MANSFIELD’S CAR (Billy Bob Thornton, USA) Ryerson 415pm PIETA (Kim Ki-duk, South Korea) Scotiabank 9 630pm IN ANOTHER COUNTRY (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea) Scotiabank 1 845pm IN THE NAME OF LOVE (Luu Huynh, Vietnam) Cineplex 2
Sat 15 Sept.
900am KEY OF LIFE (Kenji Uchida, Japan) Scotiabank 11 1230pm CLANDESTINE CHILDHOOD (Benjamin Avila, Argentina) Cineplex 3 400pm BIG IN VIETNAM (Mati Diop, France) and MEKONG HOTEL (“Joe,” Thailand) Cineplex 9 545pm ROOM 237 (Rodney Ascher, USA) Cineplex 2 915pm NIGHT ACROSS THE STREET (Raul Ruiz, Chile) Lightbox 4 midnight JOHN DIES AT THE END (Don Coscarelli, USA) Ryerson
Sun 16 Sept.
1230pm THE SUICIDE SHOP (Patrice Leconte, France) Scotiabank 2 345pm ZAYTOUN (Eran Riklis, Israel) Lightbox 2 615pm DORMANT BEAUTY (Marco Bellocchio, Italy) Scotiabank 4 945pm TO THE WONDER (Terence Malick, USA) Lightbox 1
While on a recent much-needed and long-awaited vacation where I did very little of anything aside from watching a shitload of films, I found myself almost ritualistically devouring an eclectic plethora of (mostly great) ranging from Jan Troell’s epic diptych The Emigrants (1971) and The New Land (1972) to John Schlesinger’s The Day of the Locust (1975). While these particular films might seem like a curious combo as they share very little in common in both the aesthetic and thematic sense, they really highlighted for me what I both love and hate about the United States; or, the real organic settler Euro-America that created this nation and the phony Hebraic Hollywood anti-America that colonized the minds of its creators. While Troell’s singularly epic diptych—two masterful films that Terrence Malick seems to have spent his entire career attempting to model his own cinematic works after—provides an exceedingly earthly and sometimes realist yet nonetheless transcendental depiction of the great struggle involved with enterprising Europeans becoming (true) Americans after courageously abandoning their homelands and pretty much everything else they knew, Schlesinger’s film provides, in many ways, the complete opposite experience as an oftentimes gorgeously grotesque and absurdist portrait of the phony culture-distorting America where phony shallow cinematic dreams are dubiously conjured and hopelessly forsaken people and their oftentimes devastatingly deluded dreams go to die a particularly pathetic death. Not surprisingly, the films also had considerably different receptions among critics, which is why I feel the need to defend the much maligned Schlesinger feature, which I would argue is the ‘British’ auteur’s true magnum opus and greatest and most ambitious artistic achievement, especially considering its current questionable reputation compared to much inferior and, in turn, absurdly overrated films (e.g. MASH (1970), Harold and Maude (1970)) from the same so-called ‘New Hollywood’ era. Indeed, the film is a strange reminder that, on very rare occasion, Hollywood was involved in the production of subversive cinematic art that symbolizes everything that Tinseltown represents.
Based on the 1939 novel of the same name by NYC-bred Ashkenazi writer Nathanael West—a Hollywood insider of sorts that worked as a screenwriter on films like John Farrow's Five Came Back (1939) starring Chester Morris and Lucille Ball—The Day of the Locust is a largely plot-less and deceptively dream-like (anti)odyssey of oftentimes aberrant and even grotesque spectacle that dares to ruthlessly demolish the conspicuously counterfeit kosher Hollywood version of the so-called ‘American Dream.’ In that sense, it is hard to imagine that David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) would exist without Schlesinger’s sort of ‘Tinseltown Gothic,’ which oftentimes feels like the brooding baroque cinematic equivalent to Kenneth Anger’s gossip classic Hollywood Babylon (1959), albeit focusing on the everyday misfortunes of Hollywood’s failed nobodies instead of the tragic ends of opium-addled superstars and coveted closet-queens. Indeed, featuring strange references from films ranging from Robert J. Flaherty’s classic silent (pseudo)anthropological doc Nanook of the North (1922) to Josef von Sternberg’s classic Marlene Dietrich vehicle Blonde Venus (1932) and a somewhat fitting cameo from Hebraic horror huckster William Castle as a dictatorial studio director that literally directs his crew into disaster, The Day of the Locust is an ideally idiosyncratic piece of cinephilia for cinephiles that hate Hollywood or, at least, the phony hokey Hollywood that acts as a mask for the festering moral rot and decay that is barely hidden beneath. Of course, the best films about Hollywood tend to touch on this subject, including works ranging from classics like Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) to more obscure (and underrated) works like John Byrum’s X-rated Golden Age era celluloid grotesquerie Inserts (1975) to the Coen Brothers cult classic Barton Fink (1991), but The Day of the Locust arguably transcends all of these films in terms of sheer unending eccentricity, mirthful misanthropy, and slow-burning necrotic spirit.
While Schlesinger—a gay British Jew that is surely best remembered today for his Academy Award-winning gay-for-pay counterculture nightmare Midnight Cowboy (1969)—can hardly be described as ‘right wing’ or ‘conservative’ in any sort of sense, he was fairly aesthetically apolitical as demonstrated by his controversial collaborations with Nazi composer Herbert von Karajan and surprisingly vocal appreciation for Leni Riefenstahl’s films, including Triumph of the Will (1935). Undoubtedly, many of the auteur’s films can certainly be described as ‘red-pilled’ by today's decidedly degenerate standards, which probably has more to do with Schlesinger's subversive spirit as an artist than any sort of serious political allegiances. Indeed, Darling (1965) starring Julie Christie demonstrates the great perils of being a soulless careerist whore and how a misguided lust for fame and fortune can quickly turn a beauteous young debutante into a lonely and unlovable monster that treats an abortion like a hair-cut. In Far from the Madding Crowd (1967), Christie reprises the young dumb (yet delectable) know-it-all-bitch routine and portrays a so-called ‘independent women’ that thrives on hypocrisy and narcissism, makes all the wrong decisions, deceitfully uses men to run her farm and ultimately engages in petty behavior that leads to the destruction of the lives of two of three suitors that want to marry her (and, rather fittingly, she is ultimately stuck with a boorish man that she liked least of the three). In Marathon Man (1976), the Hebraic hero is arguably less likeable than the evil elderly Nazi doctor trying to kill him. Also, Schlesinger's most famous film Midnight Cowboy can hardly be described as featuring a positive portrayal of poofters or Warholian art fags and the filmmaker himself even once described it as being “viewed as somewhat antigay.” In Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), a middle-aged gay Jewish doctor and bitchy shiksa spinster seem to thinking have an affair with the same young (and seemingly sociopathic) quasi-hustler acts as an apt substitution for marriage and children, thereupon underscoring the biting soullessness of their sad lives.
While Schlesinger spent much of the later part of his career directing largely forgettable hack work, including the shockingly banal supernatural horror flick The Believers (1987) and the yawn-driven yuppie pseudo-psychological thriller Pacific Heights (1990), it is clear from his greatest films that he was not petty propagandist and that he had the rare ability to embrace the ugliness of humanity without succumbing to any sort of shallow sermonizing, as if the auteur was a mere passive observer among his own idiosyncratic cinematic creations. In The Day of the Locust, Schlesinger exposes the viewer to an eclectic collection of eccentrics, lecherous losers, (self)destructive drunks, lost souls, and odiously opportunistic whores, yet one never gets the feeling that Schlesinger has any unkind feelings towards these mostly forsaken individuals. At the same time, it is probably the only film where one almost feels a deep sense of therapeutic joy when kid is stomped to death in a scenario that ultimately unleashes a sort of Hollywoodland holocaust. Needlessly to say, this is no feel-good-film, yet it somehow maintain an unexpected degree of rapture and unconventional humanistic intrigue, which are undoubtedly some of Schlesinger's greatest attributes as a filmmaker.
Notably, Schlesinger’s mischling journalist nephew Ian Buruma once described The Day of the Locust as, “Perhaps John’s darkest picture—made at the happiest time of his life—it failed to win a major award.” In other words, aside from being his most artistically ambitious film, it is also his most absurdly neglected and misunderstood. As Schlesinger remarked to Buruma himself, “MIDNIGHT COWBOY, SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY, and THE DAY OF THE LOCUST were all made cheek by jowl. This was probably the moment I felt most liberated, when I felt I could make films on these sort of subjects. Perhaps I’ve never reached that point since.” Beyond its subversive subject matter, the film was also a long marinating passion project that Schlesinger would have to wait many years to make until he acquired the commercial and critical success that came with Midnight Cowboy and even then he faced many roadblocks from the studio and producers, which makes perfect sense considering the film depicts Hollywood as a schlocky Sodom run by virtual slave-driving sociopaths and overflowing with alcohol-addled whores that will do virtually anything just to get even the least prestigious of barely-paid positions on a seedy studio lot. In short, Schlesinger savagely yet exceedingly elegantly demolishes the legendary (plastic) glamour and shallow intrigue of unholywood while at the same time sardonically assaulting the very same sickening system that the film was made within. Indeed, even Robert Evans—the legendary (and then-relatively-young) Hollywood film producer and studio executive that completely revitalized the studio system during the American New Wave era with classic works like Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Godfather (1972), and Chinatown (1974)—was completely against the film, or as Schlesinger explained himself, “Robert Evans—who ran Paramount—absolutely hated the idea of THE DAY OF THE LOCUST and said so forcibly and did anything that he could to prevent the film being made […] Essentially Bob Evans is a Hollywood man […] I think he just didn’t like what the film stood for. People in the industry didn’t like the story; they didn’t like the rather downbeat, critical attitude of West’s novel. Evans also didn’t think it was commercial, which, of course, it wasn’t.” Luckily, Schlesinger had the kosher clout to have his way and create what is arguably the biggest and most epic ‘anti-Hollywood Hollywood’ film ever and the auteur was even such a nice guy that he subsequently collaborated with Evans on the surprisingly subversive ‘Jewish thriller’ Marathon Man despite the studio executive's poor treatment of his dream film.
While he virtually disappears for a good portion of the film, ostensibly straight-laced WASP Tod Hackett (William Atherton)—an ivy league boy that looks like he was descended from America’s most thoroughbred Anglo-Saxon stock—is certainly the lead protagonist of the film and he soon discovers after moving into a tiny apartment with a literal ‘hole in the wall’ at a crusty complex called San Bernardino Arms in Hollywood that the town is completely morally bankrupt at all levels, as it takes a certain razor sharp unscrupulousness to not only merely compete, but especially to get ahead. Luckily for him, Hackett—a man whose name hints that he is a ‘dead hack’ of sorts—immediately becomes hopelessly infatuated with an exceedingly empty cocktease of the platinum peroside blonde philistine sort named Faye Greener (Karen Black) after encountering her living at the same apartment complex with her father and he soon finds it easy to assimilate to the amorality of his rather pathetic excess-ridden environment. Aside from being willing to do virtually anything to get into Faye’s panties, which seems to be protected by an invisible chastity belt, Hackett also discovers that he must lose his soul if he wants to establish a successful career as a pre-production artist at Paramount Studios where a hyper-cynical booze-and-porn-loving screenwriter named Claude Estee (Richard A. Dysart) takes him under his wing as a sort of protégé of mindless hedonistic perversity that entails dumb debauched parties involving primitive S&M blue movies and alcohol-driven cock fights, among other things. In a scenario that seems to have been taken from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Hackett begins working on a large Otto Dix-esque painting on his earthquake-worn wall that not only unmasks the true demonic essence of Hollywood as if the protagonist has special They Live-like glasses, but also foreshadows an apocalyptic scenario at the very end of the film. Indeed, while Hackett comes to Hollywood to perform frivolous hack work for insipid popcorn pictures, the malignant spiritual moribundity, innate immorality, and all-encompassing soullessness begins impact that artist deeply and his art soon begins to resemble something that might be created by the bastard son of Edvard Munch and Leonor Fini.
Despite the fact that Faye is a fiercely fake and frigid bitch that impulsively says stupid shit like, “I hate people with thin lips. People with thin lips are mean. That’s true. I read that Somewhere,” and refuses to give up even the most minuscule crumb of poontang because she is strategically saving her clearly over-appraised virginity for the ideal rich and handsome man that she absurdly thinks she has the potential to marry despite not being much more than a poor man's lobotomized Marilyn Monroe, Hackett accepts being friend-zoned because he is so hopelessly horny for her ice-cold-cunt that he is willing to wait for a day that ultimately never cums. While Faye makes it known to everyone that he thinks she is hot shit, her fairly banal blonde Barbie doll good looks are the sole thing she has going for her, as she is literally the bastard brood of a whore that abandoned her for a “magician bastard” and a washed-up dipsomaniacal ex-vaudeville performer turned failed snake oil (or ‘Miracle Solvent’) salesman named Harry Greener (Burgess Meredith). In a sane world, Faye would gladly accept Hackett as her male suitor as he is almost in every way her superior, including arguably looks, but she is deluded by big dreams of Hollywood stardom due to getting minor roles as extras in c-grade movies and—as she confesses to the protagonist—he surely is not her type.
Aside from planning to marry a rich dude that has the capacity bloat both her ego and bank account, Faye seems to take after her estranged whore mother in terms of being naturally sexually attracted to low-status savages as demonstrated by the fact she eventually self-destructively fucks a superlatively swarthy Mexican cockfighter that lives in a garage. When Hackett declares his love to her not long after meeting her, Faye—the Hollywood hypergamic harpy par excellence—rather bluntly reveals her self-satisfied shallowness and stereotypical feminine propensity towards self-deception by responding, “Don’t make me hurt you. You’re very kind and clever, but I could only let a really rich man love me. I could only love someone criminally handsome. Please try to understand.” As a sort of Dr. Jekyll/ Ms. Hyde grotesque caricature of the virgin-whore archetype(s) as clearly irreparably despoiled by a lifetime of Hollywood propaganda starring hunky heartthrobs like Cary Grant, Faye epitomizes virtually everything that is insufferable about modern womankind, which is quite fitting since Hollywood—a narcotizing delusion factory that produces romantic twaddle that tricks stupid chicks into fantasizing magical imaginary men and luxurious lifestyles that they will never be able to obtain—is largely responsible for women having such preposterously high expectations despite very rarely having anything to bring to the table aside from the purely physical. To Hackett’s credit, he is treated relatively kindly by Faye, especially compared to a poor sapless sap named Homer Simpson (Donald Sutherland) that eventually find himself caught in her web of contrived femininity and counterfeit glamour.
While Faye seems to genuinely appreciate Hackett’s friendship, even after he attempts to rape her while screaming that she is a “bitch” after she rejects his rather aggressive sexual advances, she only displays visceral hatred and resentment towards poor hapless homeboy Homer. Indeed, after being forced to sell her virginity to some old fart to pay for her father's funeral when he unexpectedly dies, Faye eventually sets up a ‘business relationship’ with Homer that seems to be totally sexless and simply involves the heroine living in his house as a sort of less than subservient pseudo-wife that refuses to even make him dinner (in fact, mirthful masochist Homer ultimately becomes the servant). Naturally, Faye almost immediately begins rather flagrantly cuckolding Homer, as she not only has her fake cowboy friend and his Mexican pal move into his home, but she also even fucks the latter. Clearly disgusted by Homer’s weakness and incapacity to ‘assert’ himself with a woman, Faye seems to derive sadistic glee from psychologically torturing the poor cowardly cuck, so naturally it is only a matter of time before he completely snaps. Unfortunately for him and his not-all-that-innocent victim, Homer, like many people that completely crack-up, loses his shit at the wrong place and wrong time in what ultimately proves to be a sort of burst of apocalyptic fury.
Needless to say, it is only fitting that Homer is a devout Jesus freak of sorts, as it underlines the capacity of Hollywood to erode anyone’s soul, not matter how deeply religious and/or terminally sexually repressed. Of course, as someone that goes to a phony spiritually vacant proto-megachurch with an electric crucifix with the words “Give To Jesus” written across it that more resembles a vaudeville show than a serious house of worship, Homer—an extremely fearful and nervous autist of sorts that seems to be perennially internally wounded as a result of a lengthy childhood illness—is not exactly the most mentally sharp of men despite having a little bit of wealth and a nice house due to his accountant background. As someone that clearly cannot support herself, Faye only reluctantly decides to shack up with Homer after her father dies and she is left without a home, though, to her credit, she does demonstrate an unexpected degree of selfless sacrifice when she sells her much-prized virginal puss to pay for her papa’s funeral. Indeed, instead of becoming a big Hollywood starlet, Faye is forced to settle for being what she has clearly always secretly suspected she was—a cheap unlovable whore. As for Hackett, Faye’s moral deterioration does not deter his desire to defile her and he even preposterously rationalizes her cash-for-gash deflowering by stating to a drunken ambiguously Hebraic midget, “She waited till the old guy was dead. I’ll give her that much.” Rather pathetically, even after Faye loses his virginity, Hackett still fails to seal the carnal deal.
Considering that Faye predictably dedicates her life to increasingly ruthlessly mocking and emasculating him after moving into his home, it is only a matter of time before Homer—a terribly nervous Nellie that has absolutely nil outlet for his seemingly perpetual internal misery and misfortune—completely explodes, which ultimately acts as a catalyst to the film’s savagely surreal climax that quite fittingly takes place at a big movie premiere. Notably, the ending is somewhat foreshadowed in an unforgettable scene that would probably give John Landis—a morally dubious director that is certainly no stranger to catastrophic movie set mishaps—cold chills where a huge Battle of Waterloo battlefield set directed by William Castle completely collapses during filming and injures tons of actors and extras portraying soldiers. Despite being a fairly cold and stoic man that rarely expresses emotion aside from when less than suavely attempting to fuck Faye, Hackett, who created sketches that acted as virtual blueprints for the set pieces, is somewhat shocked by the senseless tragedy, which he immediately realizes is the direct result of both the studio’s negligence and shameless apathy towards human life. When Hackett attempts to warn the studio head about how the accident was easily avoidable and the direct result of senseless negligence, he is treated to a haircut and shoeshine from a jolly old negro and is later told by his screenwriter friend Claude that it “wouldn’t have made a difference” if people had actually died (while apathetic toward human life, Claude does get a thrill from drunken cock fights with Hebraic midgets and Mexicans). Naturally, the event inspires Hackett’s apocalyptic mural collage/painting, which literally comes to life at the film’s conclusion, at least in the protagonist’s mind.
At the a world premiere of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Buccaneer (1938) at Grauman's Chinese Theater is where the Hollywood dream turns into a fiery phantasmagoric holocaust. Indeed, when a creepy proto-tranny child named ‘Adore Loomis’ (Jackie Earle Haley)—a platinum blond(e) kid pervert that plays the peeping tom when his mother isn’t whoring ‘him’ out for small roles movies—dares to tease Homer one-too-many-times in between obnoxiously singing “Jeepers Creepers” and hitting him in the head with a rock, among other forms of childish degradation, he ultimately finds himself resigned to the strangely fitting undignified fate of being stomped to death. Already totally distraught because Faye has left him, the insufferable child’s taunts ultimately cause Homer to completely explode to the point where he does not even bother to notice that he stomps the kid to death in front of seemingly thousands of people, thereupon sparking a full-scale riot where he is seemingly ripped apart by an angry lynch mob while a rather rotund studio announcer unwittingly brags about the excitement of the crowd in a totally twisted scenario that really underscores the curious combination of insipidly stupid spectacle and emotion retardation that personifies Hollywood. In the end, the entire area is burned down, including pine trees, while Hackett loses his mind as he finally acknowledges the virtual hell that he has been condemned to. In the end, Faye goes by Hackett’s apartment and sadly discovers that he has wisely vacated the premises, though his rose-in-the-wall remains. In short, this Hollywood film hardly has a happy Hollywood ending, though it is certainly bittersweet that Hackett wisely hightails it out of Hollyweird hell. As to the status of Hackett's sanity, one can only speculate.
Rather unsurprisingly considering its decidedly dark and respectably audience-alienating subject matter, The Day of the Locust—a big budget film that only grossed about $2,300,000, which was about a third of its cost—was one of the biggest flops of 1975 and it seems that Hollywood, including the studio that produced it, was not exactly sad about this fact. For example, as Schlesinger explained to Buruma in regard to how the film was received among friends and associates when it was first screened, “Afterward, in a rather smart Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills, we found Polanski and Jack Nicholson, and a lot of people who were in CHINATOWN, sitting at the next table. They looked very embarrassed. Eventually someone came over and said, ‘I want to congratulate you,’ but they were obviously very embarrassed by their reaction—or lack of it—and so was I. I think the film generally wasn’t being received terribly well.” Apparently other people, including respected Hollywood filmmakers, were more vocal about their disdain for the film, or as Schlesinger’s official biographer William J. Mann explained in Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger (2004), “Hollywood was, quite frankly, appalled; many took the film as a personal affront. John was told that at a screening at a movie executive’s home in Bel Air, the exec’s wife stood up halfway through and apologized to her guests for making them sit through such an outrage. Even some who seemingly shared John’s spirit of challenge found the film too hard on the industry. Sidney Lumet, director of SERPICO and DOG DAY AFTERNOON, was bashing LOCUST all around town, reportedly asking, ‘How can Schlesinger shit where he eats?’ Word got back to John, who was furious, prompting a four-page hand-written apology from Lumet.” Indeed, it seems that even fellow semitic subversive auteurs found Schlesinger's film to be an unforgivable assault on the studio system they seemingly pretended to rebel against, which is exactly why The Day of the Locust is ultimately considerably more transgressive than the filmmaker's much more widely beloved Midnight Cowboy.
Of course, as a patently preternatural arthouse affair on Hollywood steroids that concludes with the protagonist’s and, in turn America and the entire world’s, (Hollywood) dreams going up in smoke in a violently surreal and hypnotically haunting Hollywood holocaust that can be seen as both a cold ruthless execution and deservedly cynical eulogy for Tinseltown—as if Schlesinger had some sort of (subconscious) belief that the studios had committed certain ungodly crimes and they would eventually be ruthlessly punished for said crimes in a big brutal kismetic fashion—the film was naturally doomed to offend the majority of people. In that sense, it is rather fitting that this apocalyptic conclusion is sparked by the brutal murder of an obscenely obnoxious sort of proto-tranny child, as it hints at the seemingly perennial rumors of (sexual) abuse in Hollywood as noted by people Corey Feldman as well as the aberrant sexualization and androgynization of children in Hollywood films (somewhat fittingly, the kid was portrayed by Jackie Earle Haley, who would go on to portray child killer/molester Freddy Krueger in the abortive A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) remake). It is also fitting that it is a largely innocent and seemingly virginal Christian man—the sort of individual that Hollywood regularly targets for abuse—ushers in this apocalypse. In that regard, I would not be surprised if certain Hollywood producers and studio heads interpreted the film as some sort of prophetic threat where these very powerful individuals were forced to consider for the very first time in their entire lives that their degenerate movie miscreations might provoke a backlash of biblical proportions, hence the fitting setting of a Cecil B. DeMille—a filmmaker of Hebraic extraction that oftentimes took a curiously homoerotic approach to his religious epics—movie premiere.
As reflected in its uniquely unflattering portrayal of Hollywood and its history, there is good reason that studio heads and filmmakers loathed the film, as it has a certain scathing covert contra kosher spirit. For example, before succumbing to Hollywood-inflicted alcoholism, Harry Greener semi-cryptically alludes to the Judaic control of Hollywood by stating while making certain vaudevillian shylock-like gestures, “you ain’t got a chance in hell if you ain’t one of them. You know what I mean? And they got it all locked up. To hell with them.” Of course, the character's sentiments are not random, as famous figures even used to express such concerns, even card-carrying communists like novelist Theodore Dreiser. As Neal Gabler explained in An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (1988), “Even within Hollywood itself there was mumbling about Jewish control. For some it was the handiest rationale for thwarted dreams. Theodore Dreiser had been lured out to Hollywood in the thirties to oversee the film production of his monumental novel AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, but he had battled hammer and tongs with Paramount over what he felt was the ‘traducing’ of his masterpiece, and now he had departed, trying to raise money for a new project on tobacco monopolist James Buchanan Duke. When that failed, Dreiser blamed the Jews. He wrote a Swiftian satire suggesting that Jews be rounded up and packed off to Kansas where they could do no more harm. To a friend he wrote, ‘The movies are solidly Jewish. They've dug in, demploy only Jews with American names. . . . The dollar sign is the guide—mentally & physically. That American should be led—the mass—by thei direction is beyond all believing. In addition, they are arrogant, insolent and contemptuous.’” Apparently, such counter-kosher sentiments were not simply isolated to gentiles as Louis B. Mayer was apparently quite fond of throwing around antisemitic slurs and Jewish New York film executive Herbert Somborn even immediately plotted to get Gloria Swanson ”out of the hands of these Eastern European Jews” after marrying her. Knowing all of this, it is surely fitting that excerpts from The Day of the Locust appear in the documentary Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream (1998), which is a sort of superficial adaptation of Gabler's book. After all, not unlike Gabler's book, Schlesinger's film is one of the few honest examples of the hermetic Hebraic history of Hollywood.
Needless to say, it is hardly a subtle nod to the character of the typical semitic studio director when Hebraic hack William Castle portrays a ‘fascistic’ filmmaker that screams at the crew and ultimately directs them into literal tragedy. It is also notable that said tragedy is set during the Battle of Waterloo, which is a historical event that is noted for creating a good portion of the Rothschild Banking Dynasty’s wealth. In fact, the Nazi propaganda film Die Rothschilds (1940) aka The Rothschilds' Shares in Waterloo directed by Erich Waschneck depicts this scenario and there’s a good chance that Schlesinger was aware of this fact as it is known that he was at least familiar with some Nazi cinema. Even more incriminating, the pre-Code Hollywood film The House of Rothschild (1934)—a vehemently pro-Jewish production that, although quite successful as the biggest hit of the year for Twentieth Century Picture and a work that was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, is curiously completed unavailable today—concludes with Nathan Rothschild becoming the richest man in the world as a result of the Battle of Waterloo and even gleefully bragging, “Europe hides its head in shame because it borrows from the Jews.” On a more unintentional yet nonetheless still subtextual level, the film even exploited the work of old Israelites that very quite possibly worked in Golden Age Hollywood, or as Mann explained in regard to a scene involving Harry Greener, “Even less orderly was the faith-healing sequence. Several hundred extras were bused in to act as Geraldine Page’s faithful followers. ‘Old-age pensions,’ John reported, ‘many of whom had come from Jewish old people’s homes and who were confronted by three neon crosses saying, ‘Give to Jesus.’ Up on stage, the choir mistress was trying to rouse the extras by urging them to pray to the Savior. Some in the crowd didn’t understand they were to be in a movie and were terribly offended; some stormed back to the bus, complaining loudly. ‘Looking back on it,’ John said, ‘it was really very funny.’” Undoubtedly, the fact that Schlesinger personally felt that the semitic scenario was hilarious only adds to the absurdist hilarity of this scene in subsequent viewings.
I don’t know what motivated me to endure such frivolously schmaltzy, shallow, and just downright soulless celluloid bromide, but I recently watched George Stevens’ classic RKO musical Swing Time (1936) and it reminded me how much Golden Age Hollywood polluted the world with outstandingly artistically bankrupt kitsch crap that really has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, as if the major studios were largely run by a sociopathic race of hedonistic space aliens that had nil clue as to how to express organic human emotions and merely substituted them with the great aesthetic sin of brashly bombastic spectacle. Of course, this is just one of the many reasons I treasure a film like The Day of the Locust that, not like Robert Altman’s The Player (1992), takes an oftentimes darkly humorous approach to forcing Hollywood to drown in its own grandiloquent depravity and almost otherworldly hypocrisy while exposing its excremental excesses and ludicrous lies. In fact, I think it might be fitting punishment for the more corrupt studio heads to being subjected watching the film on a loop for eternity while being forced to shine Robert Bresson’s shoes, clean P.P. Pasolini’s toilet, and wash Carl Th. Dreyer’s underwear. Surely, it is a sort of poetic form of cinematic kismet that Teutonic master auteur F.W. Murnau died tragically in Hollywood after having his films like 4 Devils (1928) and City Girl (1930) tampered with by the studios and then temporarily escaping to the South Pacific for his swansong Tabu (1931). While Schlesinger would live a number of years longer than Murnau, his experience with Hollywood was not all that different as virtually all of his later films were tampered with or mere soulless hack work after the flop of The Day of the Locust. Indeed, as Mann rightly noted, “THE DAY OF THE LOCUST was the last of John Schlesinger’s ‘great’ films. It was the last time he would so completely immerse himself in an attempt to create something monumental, in which he and a group of brilliant, trusted collaborators truly sought to find an original, artistic interpretation of the material they were putting on the screen.”
While Schlesinger's previous film Sunday Bloody Sunday was also a flop, it at least received very positive reviews from most of the right respected critics whereas The Day of the Locust was attacked by most critics, including those sympathetic to the auteur's previous films. One of the few people that seemed to both appreciate and understand the film was Judith Crist, who paid it a great compliment when she described it as a, “Consideration of the American dream by way of the factory town that dispensed it . . . To call it the finest film of the past several years is to belittle it. It stands beyond comparison.” Crist's words are no mere puffery because, in terms of sheer scope and ambition as well as epic eccentricity, Schlesinger's arguable magnum opus is like The Wizard of Oz (1939) of sardonic (anti)Hollywood Golden Age period pieces as a (sometimes) subtle satire of the strikingly idiosyncratic sort that also packs pathos and even manages to be genuinely horrifying than the best horror flicks (undoubtedly, the conclusion of the film somewhat echoes the more phantasmagorical scenes of Herk harvey's classic Carnival of Souls (1962)). Of course, this is no surprise as anything resembling cinematic art that comes out of Hollywood tends to defy genre and audience expectation, though The Day of the Locust goes beyond this as a largely plot-less portrait of preternatural misery and misanthropy where virtually every single character is forsaken and ‘happiness’—or, at least, any sort of long-term happiness—is exposed as, at best, a terribly naive ideal and, at worst, a shallow fantasy sold to suckers by innately manipulative Hollywood culture distorters, hence the lack of love for such a film. In short, the film gives a way the garbage game of Hebraic Hollywood and does with a sort of understated acidic aesthetic style of one thousand dope-addled failed screen divas courteously of the great cinematographer Conrad L. Hall (In Cold Blue, Fat City). In terms of its sort of plot-less promenade approach where the viewer randomly encounters an eclectic collection of characters like an ant at an ant hill and rather misanthropic spirit and mostly unflattering depictions of sex and sexuality, the film is certainly comparable to Georgian auteur Otar Iosseliani's Les Favoris de la lune (1984) aka Favorites of the Moon of all films.
I recently watched David Robert Mitchell's darkly comedic neo-noir Under the Silver Lake (2018) and, while I did not find it as enjoyable or immaculate as the auteur's previous film It Follows (2014), I could not help but wallow in the fairly singular cinematic experience it provides due to its sometimes surreal approach to depicting Los Angeles as a virtual hellhole disguised as heaven where the rich and famous voluntarily prematuraly end in their lives in a tomb of hedonism due to an absurd (pseudo)religious belief that their souls will magically ‘ascend’ like ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. Indeed, whether it be the brutal S&M sods of Fred Halsted's classic experimental homo hardcore flick LA Plays Itself (1972), the sinister quasi-vampiric Hollywood Hills brother-sister duo that drain swingers of their precious sanguine fluids in The Black Room (1982) co-directed by Elly Kenner and Norman Thaddeus Vane, or the slow-burning post-Lynchian lunacy of the Coen brothers' cryptically contra kosher Barton Fink (1991), I love films that absolutely annihilate the Hollywood dream and present Tinseltown as a nefarious nightmare that the Devil himself would be proud to call home. After all, how else can one think of a patently phony place involved in greatly profiting from a global social engineering project that involves regularly defecates out putrid cinematic products that teach women promiscuity and abortions are a form of liberation, portray perverts and aberrosexuals as lovable bourgeois types, and have even gone as far as attempting to pass off Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as highly desirable sex symbols, among other distinctly despicable things.
While she was mostly a dumb twat that undoubtedly inspired countless young women to ruin their lives, Marilyn Monroe was probably onto something when she said, “Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.” Of course, considering Monroe's degenerate background, I would wager that The Day of the Locust is more reliable in terms of ultimately demonstrating that one only has to simply live in Hollywood to lose one's soul and that the studios need not sacrifice fifty cents to ensnare the average person. After all, most people are willing to shell out their own hard-earned cash to have Hollywood colonize their minds with anti-human trash that pollutes their psyche and defiles their soul. Somehow, I think this will eventually contribute to something more horrifying holocaustic than the ending of Schlesinger's film, but then again I stopped going to movies theater to see blockbuster schlock about a decade ago because I much prefer the life-affirming misery and misanthropy of Fassbinder and Bergman to the sugarcoated celluloid cyanide of Spielberg and Singer. Speaking of Spielberg, we can at least partly credit him and his early blockbusters like Jaws (1975) for helping to kill the artistic auteur cinema of the so-called New Hollywood era that The Day of the Locust belongs to. While Spielberg probably wields more international influence than the average Western European prime minister, films like Under the Silver Lake and shows like Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace (2016) ultimately demonstrate that the true Faustian spirit is still not completely conquered.
Bill Niven Hitler and Film: The Führer’s Hidden Passion
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018
This book is a great companion to Frederic Spotts’ Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics. The only shortcoming of Spotts’ book was that it did not discuss Hitler’s interest in film and his involvement in the German film industry. This book does just that. Niven argues that Hitler was very interested in film and that his influence on Third Reich-era film is often underestimated. Hitler was keenly aware of the power of film and sought to harness it for the purposes of National Socialism: “In a much shorter time, at one stroke I might say, people will understand a pictorial presentation of something which it would take them a long and laborious effort of reading to understand” (p. 2).
It was Hitler’s idea to film the Nuremberg rallies, and he hand-picked Leni Riefenstahl for the job. Hitler had watched Riefenstahl’s The Blue Light (1932) and was struck by its masterful cinematography, as well as the film’s proto-fascist aesthetic (shared by other mountain films of the period). In May 1932, he told Riefenstahl: “When we come to power, then you must make my films” (p. 52). The following year, he commissioned Victory of Faith (1933). Hitler was adamant that Riefenstahl have artistic control over the filming process and ordered party officials to leave her alone when they attempted to curtail her influence.
Hitler then commissioned Triumph of the Will (1935). He took a great interest in the filming process. He consulted with her about the film and very likely gave her directives. He also visited her in her Berlin studio.
It was Hitler who ensured that Riefenstahl was generously funded. After the war, Riefenstahl attempted to distance herself from the Third Reich and denied that her films had been financed by the regime. But she was aware that Hitler himself was responsible for the financing of her films. In 1935, she protested having to pay taxes on this funding on the grounds that she was an employee of the NSDAP.
Hitler had a hand in the production of a number of other propaganda films. One was Victims of the Past (1937), which he commissioned. The film depicts victims of hereditary diseases and was intended to justify the compulsory sterilization of the mentally ill and physically disabled. Every theatre in Germany screened the film at Hitler’s behest. Hitler also commissioned Battle against the World Enemy: German Volunteers in Spain (1939), selecting Karl Ritter as its director. The film documents the actions of the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War. (There was already a film on this subject, but Hitler thought it did not sufficiently emphasize the threat of Communism.)
Hitler was also very involved in the production of the weekly newsreels. Each week, Fritz Hippler sent a copy of the newsreel to Hitler’s adjutant office. Hitler would respond with directives and revisions. In his diaries, Goebbels mentions having frequent conversations with Hitler about the newsreels.
To a lesser degree, Hitler influenced the production of Jew Süss (1940) and The Eternal Jew (1940). Niven argues that Hitler’s January 20, 1939 Reichstag speech precipitated both and was interpreted by the German press as a call to create anti-Semitic films. In the speech, Hitler declares that “the announcement of American film companies of their intention to produce anti-Nazi–i.e. anti-German–films, will only lead to our German producers creating anti-Semitic films in the future.” Jew Süss was described as a “dramatized Mein Kampf” (p. 171). Hitler also made suggestions to Goebbels regarding The Eternal Jew and supervised its production.
Veit Harlan was charged with crimes against humanity for having directed Jew Süss, but he successfully defended himself by claiming that he was under duress and that he had attempted to minimize the anti-Semitism in the script. Niven writes that this was a lie, and that a comparison of the script’s drafts reveals that Harlan actually intensified the film’s anti-Semitic message. Goebbels’ diaries confirm that he was cooperative. It is noteworthy that Harlan had also expressed anti-Semitic sentiments prior to making Jew Süss.
Indeed, most actors, actresses, and directors in Germany sympathized with National Socialist ideology. Several were personal friends of Hitler, who often entertained them at his Obersalzberg home and at the Reich Chancellery. Niven writes:
That Hitler stood at the very heart of the world in which all actors and directors had moved during the Third Reich was a fact quickly forgotten after the Second World War. Yet those actors and directors knew, many of them anyway, about his obsessive interest in Third Reich film. . . . They knew that acting in the Third Reich meant making propaganda films for Hitler’s beliefs and politics, and entertainment films to provide relief from the political pressures of living in Nazi Germany. The connection between Hitler’s beliefs and a number of Nazi-period films was plain to see. (p. 230)
In their post-war memoirs, actors and actresses under the regime relayed often fake anecdotes in which they rebelled against Hitler or otherwise mocked him. Marika Rökk recounted in her memoirs that she was the only celebrity who had refused to do the Hitler salute at one event. But at one point she had written to Hitler asking him for two signed photographs of him; when he obliged, she thanked him profusely and said that his photograph provided her with inspiration.
Hitler was generous in his support of actors and actresses. He gave them presents, awards, and titles, as well as tax concessions and military exemptions (for those on the Gottbegnadeten-Liste). He paid them quite well; the German press complained that actors and actresses were overpaid. In return for these privileges, actors and actresses were expected to participate in propaganda and to serve as cultural representatives of National Socialism, such as in Germany’s “Film Balls,” events Hitler financed that were intended to promote German film.
Actors and actresses often responded to Hitler’s gifts and recognition with effusive letters of thanks. When Hitler praised Emil Jannings’ performance in Hans Steinhoff’s Robert Koch (1936), Jannings wrote to Hitler: “Your recognition gives me strength and motivates me to go on committing myself with all my ability to the global reputation of German film” (p. 124). Jannings also wrote an article comparing Hitler to Bismarck and Frederick the Great.
The parallel between Hitler and Frederick the Great was a common theme in Third Reich-era films, Fridericus (1936) and Veit Harlan’s The Great King (1942) being two notable examples. Another notable film that made a clear allusion to Hitler was Harlan’s The Ruler (1937), which involves a steelworks owner with an autocratic style of leadership who is revered by his employees. He bequeaths his company to the “people’s community,” rebuking the financial greed of company board members. The depiction of the eponymous hero in Robert Koch also brings Hitler to mind.
Niven devotes a chapter of the book to a discussion of Hitler’s personal taste in film. Hitler was a voracious consumer of film and watched a movie (often two or three) every night from 1933 to 1939. This was said to be his favorite evening pastime. He watched adventure films, thrillers, historical epics, comedies, romance films, westerns, cartoons, and so on. Many of these were foreign language films. Julius Staub, Hitler’s adjutant, complained about Hitler’s avid movie-watching habits: “Last night, I had to watch three-yes, three!–films, and this morning another one. . . . The Führer has got unbelievable stamina when it comes to films. Unfortunately I am not remotely interested in them” (p. 10). During wartime, Hitler largely stopped watching films for entertainment (with some exceptions), though he remained involved in the production of documentary films and the weekly newsreel.
Hitler’s adjutants often recorded his reactions to the films he watched, though they seldom elaborated beyond “good,” “bad,” “very good,” etc. For instance, Hitler found Harlan’s The Immortal Heart (1939) “very good,” and Paul Martin’s Woman at the Wheel (1939) “very bad.”
Hitler would sometimes comment on the performance of a particular actor or actress. He dismissed Nights in Andalusia (1938) as “bad” but was impressed by Imperio Argentina’s performance. He went as far as to order the Propaganda Ministry to “win her over” for Germany. Other actors and actresses he admired included Greta Garbo, Henny Porten, Clark Gable, and Johannes Heesters. The rumor is that Hitler offered a reward to anyone who could capture Gable.
Hitler’s “List of Permanent Stock” (a list of films kept at the Berghof) also provides an indication of the sorts of films he liked. The list included films such as F. W. Murnau’s Faust (1926) and Tabu (1931), Hans Steinhoff’s The Old and the Young King (1935), and Emil and the Detectives (1931).
We can guess that the films that Goebbels gifted to Hitler in December 1937 are a fairly accurate reflection of Hitler’s film taste. These included Gerhard Lamprecht’s The Higher Command (1935), The Ruler, Willi Forst’s Masquerade (1934), and Carl Froelich’s The Dreamer (1936). This was supplemented with twelve Mickey Mouse films (which he loved, according to Goebbels).
Niven speculates that Hitler’s favorite film was Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen (1924). He thinks it is unlikely that either Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or King Kong (the two films most frequently cited as his favorites) was his favorite film. According to Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler watched Die Nibelungen twenty times. Goebbels writes the film made a deep impression on him. Hitler references the tale of Siegfried in Mein Kampf, in which he accuses “Jewish world finance” of having mobilized against “the horned Siegfried.” He again compared Germany, having been “stabbed in the back,” to Siegfried in one early speech. Hitler proposed the filming of another film based on the Nibelungenlied, telling Goebbels that he wanted “a truly grand and monumental film about the Nibelungs,” (p. 22), though nothing came of this idea.
Hitler also attended public film viewings in addition to watching films in private settings. The purpose of this was generally to demonstrate his support for various institutions, such as the navy, the army, the air force, the Hitler Youth, and the SA. At the premiere of Hitler Youth Quex (1933), members of the Hitler Youth saluted Hitler, who stood up and thanked them. Similar rituals took place at the premieres of Victory of Faith and Triumph of the Will. The public screening of Mario (1936), an Italian film about the early history of Fascism, was accompanied by choir performances given by the Hitler Youth and an Italian Fascist youth organization, symbolizing German-Italian unity. Hitler’s presence at the screening demonstrated his support for Mussolini and Italian Fascism.
Hitler’s grand plans for Germany’s future encompassed the German film industry. As part of his plans for Germania, Hitler wanted to construct a huge theater in Berlin that would fit 2,300 seats. He also wanted to found a film company based in Linz and build a theater there. He set aside 4.8 million Reichsmarks to refurbish the Bavaria Film studio in Munich and hoped to build an additional “grand studio” in the interest of advancing indoor filmmaking. He also planned to build two new studios for Leni Riefenstahl, anticipating that she would make many more films in the years to come. Tragically, none of these plans were realized.
Hitler was thinking centuries ahead. He was interested in obtaining film material “made from the finest metal” that would endure into the distant future: “Imagine if, in a thousand years, people could see what we are experiencing today” (p. 227). He expressed the wish to Riefenstahl that film had existed in past eras, so that “we could see films from the past, about Frederick the Great, Napoleon, and the historical events of the ancient world” (p. 227).
Niven shows that Hitler understood the metapolitical importance of film and that he influenced the German film industry both directly and indirectly. “The Führer has recognized the significance of film,” Riefenstahl writes in the accompanying book to Triumph of the Will. “The belief that a real, strong national experience could be re-experienced through film was born in Germany. The Führer gives contemporary film sense and mission” (p. 77). The National Socialists’ skillful use of propaganda—in which Hitler played an essential role—remains something that any group seeking political power can learn from.
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