Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Night of the Hunter

This is the film I think I have seen most number of times, including a back to back screening on 35mm.(It was awesome, it left be gasping and breathless.) And I saw it once again today. Few films move me and frighten me like The Night of the Hunter does. The frames in the film don't capture images, they are visions, visions from some frightening elsewhere that goes direct into the bloodstream bypassing all critical and rational faculties. Even when it is funny, like the scenes where Shelley Winters informs her "whole body is a-quivering with cleanliness" it sends a shiver down the spine.

And yet if one thinks it is such a simple tale of good and evil. I think the reason why it is so effective, and it applies in general to any fairy tale, is that the good and evil are not embedded within specific characters but are shown to be transcendent things, things which exist on their own and the characters are just abstracted representations. This is the reason why one will get very disappointed with films like these if one looks for naturalistic character studies. It is also one reason why I find such fantasy stories or fairy tales which try to be realistic and "convincing" by heaping on one surface detail after another, pointless endurance tests. No wonder then that a sui-generis masterpiece like this didn't much favour with the audiences of its time. Even prematurely ending the debutante director Charles Laughton's career! What a tragic loss for film history!!

I think David Lynch's "fairy tales" fall into the same transcendent-evil category too. Also the reason why they fascinate me equally. In fact he makes it very explicit in Twin Peaks. A mysterious character called Bob who haunts most of the characters, is not even a real human being. He is just there to frighten and "possess" people and drive ordinary people to do unthinkable things. There is also jungle surrounding the twin peaks town which is again spoken of in metaphysical terms, that frightening elsewhere that I mentioned before. It is in fact one of the most recurring elements of David Lynch's style. The weird cowboy or the monster in the corner in Mulholland Dr, the ghost who asks to "call me" in Lost Highway and in fact most of the characters in Blue Velvet, they are all transcendent (or is it immanent?) presences. They are all visions. I really love this style of filmmaking. Such a pity then that there are not many like these.


Nico said...

Hi Alok, did you know that James Agee made the screenplay for the movie? I just read his incredible book (with walker evans), 'Now let us praise famous men'. Very worth reading!

Alok said...

Oh, I have always wanted to read him. May be this is the time. thanks for reminding.

Jabberwock said...

Laughton is one of my favouritest actors, but if I had to pick his one most enduring contribution to movie history, I would (reluctantly) have to go with Night of the Hunter.

And the Mulholland Dr cowboy is one of the most sinister characters I've ever seen on film. Phantasmagorical in the best sense.

Alok said...

Hmm. And I haven't seen even a *single* film of his. Grave injustice considering I am such a passionate fan of his directorial work. Will remedy soon.

the cynic librarian said...

This is one of my faves as well. Should be anyone's best 10 list. I knew Agee wrote the screenplay. Laughton directed. How come no one gave him another chance to direct. One more point: there is so much talk about German expressionism's influence on H-wood, but there are few films I'd say were really expressionistic. Most took the inluence in the direction that T Williams and E Oneill did: raw emotions, extreme characters in extreme, graint, almost noir situations. Night of the Hunter retains that fantasy side to Expressionism that these other takes on it miss.