Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Day of the Locust (1975)

Has anyone seen this movie (or read the book)? We watched it last night. There are a number of interesting things about it:
  • It has several parallels with Mulholland Drive. I'd be very surprised if David Lynch wasn't consciously referencing it.
  • Donald Sutherland plays a character named Homer Simpson (no relation), a rather high-strung fellow, to say the least.
  • William Atherton plays the male lead. I couldn't figure out what I recognized him from until I checked iMDB afterwards. Turns out he's been in almost everything, but I was thinking of Real Genius. At that age (whatever he was in '75), he looked like a cross between Sean Astin and Andrew McCarthy.
  • The female lead is played by Karen Black, who played a similarly dumb, annoying blond in Five Easy Pieces, the difference being that only the audience finds her annoying in TDotL, in which men are falling all over themselves trying to dance with/rape her. John remarked that she must be smart to play dumb so well, since being dumb doesn't mean you can play dumb. (See ScarJo playing a bad actress in Match Point.)
  • There's a child star character named Adore, who is even more annoying than Faye (Karen Black), played by child star Jackie Eearle Haley, who went on to star in Bad News Bears and had guest roles in classic TV shows such as MacGyver and Get a Life (yay) and will apparently play Freddy Krueger in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. John and I both thought this character was a girl.
  • Billy Barty, who played High Aldwin in Willow (he's the one who says, "Forget all you know ... or think you know"), plays, well, a short-tempered midget. His dynamic with one of the chickens in a gruesome cock-fighting scene is rather touching.
  • It has the most OTT, OMG, WTF ending I have ever experienced. So much so that it's included on this horror site called Kindertrauma. It gave me violent dreams. At first it's disturbing, then jaw-dropping, then, for me, sort of comical and hence less effective. This may have to do with the effects being dated.
It's a good, provocative movie, but I came away thinking that it was perhaps not 100% successful, probably because it's hard to make a Hollywood satire without falling prey to the same stuff you're satirizing. In the end I like Mulholland Drive more.

Weren't the '70s an awesome time for film? Even the kind of bad movies are often really striking and hard to shake. I didn't exactly like Three Women (Robert Altman) or Taxi Driver but I'll never forget the imagery. I appreciate almost all of the acclaimed movies I've seen from the '70s (wildly untrue of acclaimed "films" from the '90s and '00s) and some of my all-time favorites were made then (Manhattan, Days of Heaven).


  1. The (short) novel is an absolute masterpiece, not to mention essential reading for understanding California. I haven't seen the movie, oddly.

  2. Consensus seems to be that the movie's not as good as the book, but if you don't hate watching movies made from books you love, it's worth seeing.

  3. haven't seen it, but i love the 70s. taxi driver is one of my all-time favorites.

    (for future reference, it's IMDb:)

  4. Geez. Why is there even a b in the abbrev, database is one word.

  5. West's four novels have their own distinctive flavor. If you thought Locust was outrageous, read "A Cool Million".

    I haven't seen this film but the Lynch film is one of my favorites. The novel it reminds me of is Sadegh Hedayat's "The Blind Owl". It's virtually the same story, except here a man is haunted by dreams of his wife.

    There is something special about those 70's films you don't see anymore - the whole anti-hero concept.

  6. They also seemed to explore ugliness in a more realistic way than before (and maybe since).

  7. The book amazing - Nathaniel West's "Miss Lonelyhearts" is also stunning.

  8. I love both DotL and Miss Lonelyhearts, but have never seen the movie of the former. Now I want to though--add to queue!

    And yes, the 70s were an awesome time for film for the reasons you mention. I also recommend the brief period between when movies got sound and when the stupid Hays code was introduced from approx 1929-1934. It has a similar even-when-it's-bad-it's-good vibe, and a similar willingness to show ugliness/not sugarcoat.

  9. I heard it said that movies in the 80's took a nose-dive subtlety-wise because the international market became much more important for hollywood around then. Apparently explosions and one-liners are a language we all share!

  10. Another great Hollywood book that belongs on the same shelf with "Day of the Locust" is "The Loved One" by Evelyn Waugh. It's like Six Feet Under, if Six Feet Under had Hollywood scandal, wittiness and a pervading sense of debauchedness. Yes, it's "late" Waugh.

  11. When I think of the films of that period (I turned 16 in 1970, by way of the context the period has for me), I think of the films from sometime in the late 1960's through sometime in the late 1970's. There are likewise a bunch of films from those years that have stuck with me, and which were coming out in the theaters as I was moving into adult years.

    Some that particularly stand out for me, films I'll go back and watch over and over again, are Chinatown, Manhattan, Klute, M*A*S*H* (the original movie, with Donald Sutherland and Eliot Gould, that the TV series was based on), The French Connection, Z, The Getaway (the original one, with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw), Bonnie and Clyde, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (the original from the early 1970's), Alice's Restaurant, The Turning Point, Julia, Romeo and Juliet (the version directed by Franco Zefirelli ca. 1968), Cool Hand Luke, The Godfather, and the epic documentary Woodstock. To name a few...

    In addition to the other qualities mentioned in the blogpost and the comments here, I've always felt that the best films of those years had a visually rough or gritty texture, a certain tactile quality, a fidelity to how light and shadow behave, that seems to have receded into the background in the years since. In my mind the boundary is marked by the first Star Wars movie, which brought a whole new high-resolution visual look into films (to say nothing of the leap in special effects). Suddenly every movie out of Hollywood had to have the same ultra-clean, ultra-bright, high resolution visual quality on the screen, in order to draw people into the theaters.

  12. I agree about the quality of the light in those films. TDotL reminded me of Bonnie and Clyde, stylistically. Another great 70s film with gorgeous (and all-natural!) lighting is Barry Lyndon, which was also released in '75.

  13. I LOVE this book. I haven't seen the movie, but the book is a real surprise. I ended up reading an old beat-up paperback I got at a thrift store. I liked it so much that when the book fell apart in my hands after I read it (irreparable) I was sad to have to recycle it.

    Nathanael West only wrote one novel, as far as I understand it. He died on the way back from F. Scott Fitzgerald's funeral. Car accident.

  14. Now I kind of wish I'd read the book first. I hate reading a book after I've already seen the movie -- I'm constantly forced to picture the actors and make note of every difference.

    Joy: Such cute baby chicks on your blog!!

  15. Get a Life? The best TV show ever, hands down.