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The Day of the Locust (1975, dir. John Schlesinger)


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#1 Ryan H.

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 10:11 AM

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Has anyone here seen THE DAY OF THE LOCUST? I watched it a little while back at a friend's recommendation, having never heard or read anything about it, and have been unable to shake it since doing so.

THE DAY OF THE LOCUST is a mighty strange film; I've never seen anything quite like it. Sure, the idea of the "Hollywood nightmare" is not unique to THE DAY OF THE LOCUST (just look at SUNSET BOULEVARD and MULHOLLAND DRIVE), but I've never seen this idea painted on such a large canvas, or with such frothing rage and disgust. THE DAY OF THE LOCUST is a furious film, a bit too furious for subtlety or to take itself with a sense of humor. As such, everything is Grotesque-with-a-capital-"G," with characters abandoned over to inhumanity, and it's given to us in a way that's Important-with-a-capital-"I." It's a film that plays everything it's got to the hilt, and I suspect it's a film to love or hate with the same fervor (glancing over reviews from its original release, that seems to adequately characterize the original response to the film).

I found THE DAY OF THE LOCUST fairly spellbinding, if admittedly uneven. It's crammed with arresting, unforgettable images of Hollywood decay, both small (a bizarrely androgynous child drawing lips on a window) and large (the spectacular collapse of a Waterloo set). Subtlety be damned, these images have teeth, in no part thanks to Conrad Hall's beautiful cinematography and Richard Macdonald's bold production design. The ensemble cast is very strong indeed, with a lot of wonderful faces (I'm always happy to see Burgess Meredith). But it's Donald Sutherland's Homer Simpson (yes, that's the name of his character) who wins the day; it's as strong a performance as Sutherland has ever given. And by the time we got to the film's climax, with Hollywood descended into the Inferno in an a sequence that's as terrifying as any I've seen, I was sold on this insane film.

Edited by Ryan H., 11 December 2011 - 10:11 AM.


#2 Anders

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 03:10 PM

Never seen the film, but read Nathaniel West's novel in an undergraduate course on satire.

Strangely, West died running a traffic light the day after he heard his friend Scott Fitzgerald died.

#3 Ryan H.

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 03:46 PM

Never seen the film, but read Nathaniel West's novel in an undergraduate course on satire.

I've not read it, so I'm at a loss to compare to the film, but I'm now eager to do so. I understand it's a much slighter thing than Schlesinger's massive film.

Strangely, West died running a traffic light the day after he heard his friend Scott Fitzgerald died.

Wow.

#4 Nathaniel

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 12:40 PM

The trailer for Locust is famous around here. The New Beverly Cinema likes to show it occasionally. The part where the narrator says, "Donald Sutherland is Homer Simpson," never fails to get a laugh.

I have mixed feelings about the film. John Schlesinger is a director prone to gimmickry, and his vision of America as a whitewashed tomb is no longer revelatory, but yeah, it still packs a punch, for all the reasons you mentioned, Ryan. Burgess Meredith is wonderful as the has-been vaudeville actor.

The novel is interesting, although I think Miss Lonelyhearts is the greater achievement. I can still remember my shocked admiration for that book when I read it a couple of years ago. So short, but so powerful. You should try to find Auden's essay called "West's Disease." It's a perceptive indictment of his sophisticated, depressing style.

#5 Ryan H.

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 01:02 PM

Burgess Meredith is wonderful as the has-been vaudeville actor.

No question about that.

The novel is interesting, although I think Miss Lonelyhearts is the greater achievement.

Having recently read them both, I agree with you. MISS LONELYHEARTS' study of failed theodicy cuts deeper than THE DAY OF THE LOCUST's grotesque vision of Hollywood. But I do think THE DAY OF THE LOCUST lends itself to cinematic adaptation more than MISS LONELYHEARTS does, given its dependence on imagery.

You should try to find Auden's essay called "West's Disease." It's a perceptive indictment of his sophisticated, depressing style.

I shall have to find it.

#6 Nathaniel

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Posted 08 September 2012 - 07:04 PM

I recently re-watched What's the Matter with Helen? (directed by Curtis Harrington) in preparation for a paper I intend to write, and found many striking similarities between it and Locust. Filled with West-like grotesques (including a wonderfully hammy Agnes Moorehead in a part modeled after Aimee Semple McPherson), the film builds to a gruesome climax that literally slashes away at Hollywood's self-image.

#7 Ryan H.

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Posted 08 September 2012 - 09:14 PM

Is WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN worth seeing?

#8 Nathaniel

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 12:12 AM

Is WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN worth seeing?

Absolutely. Harrington's films have a special luster to them (Edgar Allan Poe by way of Josef von Sternberg), and this one was his personal favorite.

Edited by Nathaniel, 09 September 2012 - 07:53 PM.


#9 Ryan H.

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 09:12 AM


Is WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN worth seeing?

Absolutely. Harrington's films have a special luster to them (Edgar Allan Poe by way of Joseph von Sternberg), and this one was his personal favorite.

I'll add it to the pile, then.