Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Hunger: 80's Lost Boy Blade Running vampire sex

I’m tapping a NetFlix account, ladies and gentlemen, in order to wander through the neighborhoods of film canon that I haven’t managed to visit. I mean, I’ve seen many of the essentials, from Persona to Star Wars, but there’s quite a block of work that I’ve missed. I’m trying to get a grasp on film canon, from early classics ("M") to Silver Screen ("Casablanca") to Western ("Fistfull of Dollars") to Noir ("Double Indemnity") to contemporary classics ("Pretty Woman"). If anyone can give me a few suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Drop them in the comments section.

One of the first ones I’ve seen – and, admittedly, it’s not really an essential – was The Hunger, an erotic 80’s Vampire movie directed by Tony Scott. "But Jesse," you might ask, "Why, if you’re trying to see the great films, did you start with an obscure cult vampire movie?" Well, let me furnish you with a few different answers. They will come in a cluster, like grapes fresh off the vine.

First: it was available On-Demand from NetFlix, so I didn’t have to wait around for it.

Second: It starts fucking David Bowie and Susan Sarandon. What a cast! They’re perfect for the atmosphere, too... a lush, depraved vampiric world where Bowie’s gender ambiguity and Sarandon’s reserved strength make for a fascinating dynamic between the three main characters.

Third: It’s actually a fairly well-critiqued piece of postmodern cinema. Apparently Diane Fuss wrote an article on the film called "Inside Out." I haven’t read it, but I’d like to check it out... between the gender subversion and the obsession with death, images, and the gaze, this movie is a breeding ground for postmodern interpretation.

But superficial reasons aside, I think it was really worth sticking with it. I’ll give you a couple readings, and perhaps they’ll convince you to watch it, too, and maybe allow you to really appreciate it. The merits I see in this slow, decadent masterpiece may not be the first ones that most viewers notice, and they’re certainly nothing that Roger Ebert was prepared to appreciate, but they make the movie worth its screen time and its DVD space.

The Hunger actually reminded me of Blade Runner, which is another 80’s film commonly considered a "cult classic." Blade Runner was a cool sci-fi, but it wasn’t its science or its action that really made it worth watching. The film was really about finding something sentimental in a cynical, post-sentimental world. That dystopian landscape, a credit to authors like Gibson, was a critical part of this voyage, and the film was the product of its creative and production design as much as it was a product of a script or a director’s instructions.

Pure aesthetic value was a big part of The Hunger, too... a truly lush experience. The sets were gauzy and Victorian, filled in by light through windows, across curtains, and through dusty air. This erotic atmosphere was occasionally broken by the manic sterility of the hospital, or by the morbid anger of a gothic-looking nightclub, but by-and-large, the film took place in Miriam’s apartment, the dwelling place of the matriarch. The key scenes of the film weren’t violent, shocking, or morbid, like you’d expect from vampire and horror films... even John’s final scene was strangely intimate and melancholy. In fact, most of the emotional dynamic in The Hunger manifested in sexual encounters, including Mirian’s sex scenes with both John and Sarah.

No doubt, The Hunger is grown up, and especially so when compared to the other great 80’s Vampire movie, which we should all know and love. I speak, of course, of The Lost Boys, starring Keifer Sutherland and Corey Feldman, among other actor-types. The Lost Boys has the desperate savagery and loneliness of misspent youth, and it uses Vampire mythology to fully rewrite and re-envision deviant teenagehood. This includes a lot of rage, sacrifice, hostility, and ultimately, struggle and violence.

The Hunger, lesser known than its adolescent sibling, can be seen in parallel, but represents a much different aspect of the American Vampire myth. Where David and his gang were explosive, Miriam and John are sensual, and these are two complimentary sides of the gothic sin. Some vampires will kill you, but others will seduce you and offer you things you’re not prepared to accept, and this is itself a sort of suicide.

It’s telling, then, that Miriam’s victims are never seen in death. The beach party scene of murder and sacrifice, so central to The Lost Boys, is displaced in The Hunger with a scene of ritual confinement, a counterpoint to death that’s probably even more terrifying. Even Miriam’s final moments aren’t as violent as we might like them to be.

And as a youngen who wasn’t really there to experience the 80’s, I feel like I’ve unearthed some essential truth about the decade in comparing these two 80’s vampire movies. First, we see the aristocracy of capitalism and hegemony, the opportunistic Wall Street grandeur, that Miriam represents in The Hunger. Alongside this, we see the blossoming experimental energy of New Wave and Heavy Metal, the youth culture that found expression in David (The Lost Boys) and in David Bowie. In these vampire movies, the spirit of the times finds expression, polished off with a dose of gothic cynicism and postmodern consciousness.

This has been a rambling entry, but The Hunger led me through my retrospective experiences of the 80’s, the sourceless nostalgia that makes me such a fan of the culture I was too young to appreciate. It’s a reflection on the pure aesthetic of the setting, on the erotic undertones of vampire mythology, and on the 80’s as a time of both stagnation and innovation. I’d count those as at least three good reasons to go rent it.

2 comments:

Garreth said...

Jesse,

As teen/young adult of the 80s, I'll commend you on your viewing of The Hunger. 'Was a time in the 80s, after my first film class, that I went out and rented Nosferatu (if you've not seen it, add that to your "silent classics", like "M" and "Metropolis") and The Hunger. Of course, Max Schreck's portrayal and the masterful makeup gave me nightmares for weeks, but it wasn't until I saw The Hunger, and then Coppala's version,that I was able to break out of my childhood B-movie fascination (thank you Universal studios and Bela) to see just how overtly sexual is this story. The Hunger pushed the story in another direction for me, and while I had originally rented it because, as you said, "it's freakin' Bowie" (and hey! you forgot to mention the etherial Catherine Deneuve), I stuck around because I learned just what a horror it is to be undead: cold, empty,insatiable ("oh the ennui!") feeding off the lives of others to fill the abyss of immortality with at least the echo of a life and meaningful experience.

As for other movies to check out, you've probably heard me mention them during the "Poetry Guerillas" days, but I've got a weird soft spot for ponderous German films. Here are a few I recall:

Herzog:

1) Even Dwarfs Started Small--If you can find this, I'll be stunned, and somewhat ashamed. But I saw it once in a film class and then rented it from TLA video just to show someone else that the film actually existed. There's a scene where a male dwarf is trying to get up into a standard sized bed whereupon his paramour is lounging...it's just painful to watch. Oh, and this is a Herzog film, so on to the next one...

2) Aguirre: The Wrath of God--Herzog, the Amazon, and Freaking Klaus Kinski (yeah, Natassia is his daughter). Herzog's madness, Kinski's madness, and monkies!

3) Fitzcaraldo: Herzog again. Kinski again. Talk about a "vanity film." Actually, this might be something more along the lines of a force-of-will film.

4) Heart of Glass: Guess who? No Kinski here, but almost all of the actors performed while under hypnosis. If only for that you should see it.

Ok, so on to Wim Wenders:

1) Paris, Texas: Harry Dean Stanton and Natassja Kinski (Oh! A Kinski again?)

2) Wings of Desire: I'm sure you know this one, but I'll just say this...Columbo!

3) Until the End of the World: Don't remember this one much, but I think I liked it. U2 does the theme song.

Speaking of Harry Dean Staton, I sure help you've seen the cult classic produced by former Monkee and heir to the Liquid Paper fortune, Michael Nesmith--Repoman. Also stars Emilio Estavez and is possessed of a classic punk/skate-punk soundtrack (Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies, Johnathan Richman, Iggy Pop


Fassbinder:

1) In a Year of Thirteen Moons: Difficult film about sexual identity.

Others:

1 True Stories: This film, by Daivd Byrne of Talking Heads fame, was/is phenomenally prescient and quite humorous in it's banality.

2) Film version of Jean Genet's "The Balcony": Stars Leonard Nimoy, Shelly Winters, and. . . wait for it. . . Columbo!!! (Peter Falk).

3)Lawrence of Arabia: (Even better after you've read Seven Pillars of Wisdom)

4)Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: I've watched it at least 6 times. Never done that with any other film. Recommendation--watch it while listening to the sound on headphones. I'm not sure how much you know about memory and how the brain works, but knowing something makes this a richer experience.

5) The Counterfeiters (Die Falscher): Saw this in the spring. A marvelous rumination on truth, falsehood, and performance and identity.

7) Dead Poets Society: Oh Jesus! Just because.

More...oh so many more.

symbot said...

Thanks for the suggestions -- I've added a few to my NetFlix queue, which is getting intimidatingly long. I saw a Herzog film recently... entitled Stroszek. It was surreal and disturbing and very good, and it was made even better by reading some critical literature on the themes in the film. I've also seen Herzog's recent film Grizzly Man, which was really amazing.

The only ones on this list I've actually seen are Repoman (you're right, a bizarre and amazing film) and Eternal Sunshine, of which which I was a huge fan, as well. It's hard for a movie to gets its sentimentalism just right, and it's especially hard when it's up to Jim Carrey to execute it. I think Eternal Sunshine did surpassingly well in this regard.