Jun 1, 2012

The Hunger

Admittedly, old school Deathrock aka Gothic rock has always been one of my favorite subgenres of music, so it should come as no surprise that I have made a point to watch Tony Scott’s debut-feature film The Hunger (1983) – one of few mainstream works to pay tribute to the often mocked but rarely seriously examined music movement – a number of times over the years.  In the film, blood takes on a orgasmic ejaculatory quality that for vampires is an afflicting addiction that comes with a viciously vexatious withdraw if an undead addict fails to adequately indulge in these vital living fluids. Opening with the song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” – which is often regarded as the first Gothic rock single ever released – by British Deathrock group Bauhaus, as well as iconic footage of the band (mainly singer Peter Murphy) itself, The Hunger is an extravagantly stylized, erotic phantasmal work that pays more than apropos tribute to a music subgenre that is often maliciously maligned (if sometimes deservedly so) and endlessly ridiculed, but rarely objectively diagnosed for its actual aesthetic attributes and influence. Fittingly, proto-Goth David Bowie plays a starring (but progressively relinquishing) vampire role in The Hunger, as does French actress Catherine Deneuve; the ridiculously resplendent international film goddess that starred in Roman Polanski’s early dark masterpiece Repulsion (1965) and Luis Buñuel’s popular work Belle de Jour (1967).  Susan Sarandon also co-stars in The Hunger as the lesbian love interest/prey of Deneuve's character. Of all the filmmakers that could have been chosen to direct a modern Deathrock-inspired vampire flick, I would have least expected Tony Scott – a filmmaker best known for vapid blockbuster films like Top Gun (1986) and Man on Fire (2004) – but then again, the Hollywood auteur got his start creating successful television commercial advertisements, thus making him quite germane for directing the radiantly stylized montages and overly expressive horror/erotic interludes featured throughout The Hunger; a chimerical shadow play shot on celluloid. In fact, Scott cites the feverishly decadent and schizophrenically-structured work Performance (1970) directed by Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg and starring Bowie's one-time boy-toy Mick Jagger as one of the greatest influences behind The Hunger. Breaking with convention and expectations in almost every regard, The Hunger is a vampire lesbo flick on a gloriously grotesque cocktail of LSD and steroids that borrows liberally from every subversive bloodsucking flick of the past, including F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922) and Hammer Horror classics like The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Twins of Evil (1971). Watch out delusional Afrocentrists, The Hunger features an ancient Egyptian vampiress of Indo-European stock whose glaring lack of melanin could be only that of an agathokakological undead honky. I do not think it would be a stretch to speculate that pseudo-sinister sodomite Aleister Crowley’s ultra-hedonistic quasi-religion Thelema – which adopted a triad of deities from ancient Egyptian religion – also influenced the audacious aura, libertine themes, and Kenneth Anger-esque music video mysticism of The Hunger

 Indubitably, I think The Hunger would have somewhat benefited from having been set in New York City or Los Angeles, California as opposed to London, England. In fact, Tony Scott wanted to shoot the entire film in NYC, but due to monetary constraints, the English filmmaker settled for the dreary urban streets of his own homeland. As someone who has always had a greater affinity for American west coast Deathrock groups like Christian Death, T.S.O.L, and 45 Grave over Goth groups from over the pond, I feel that The Hunger could have had a more ‘magickal’ cosmopolitan feel of wandering-endlessly-through-undying-eternity had it been set in relatively rootless, amoral, and ahistorical Southern California. Despite having to compromise in regard to location setting, The Hunger still often has an anomalistic essence that tends to transcend national boundary. In fact, Tony Scott regards the closing shot of London in the film as geographically ambiguous, as if the film could have taken place in any modern metropolis. The personal home of the lead vampire lovers Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve) and John (David Bowie) has a culturally-refined aristocratic quality that is decidedly timeless, yet at the same time startlingly futuristic. Tony Scott also made congenial use of artistically eclectic Art Deco architecture around London to further compliment the delectable yet decadent atmosphere of The Hunger; an unwonted vampire flick that, unlike Bowie's character in the film, has scarcely shown its age over the years. Upon its original release, The Hunger was critically lambasted by the majority of film critics, including the always pompous and never less-than-charming Roger Ebert who described the film as, "an agonizingly bad vampire movie." David Bowie himself even had doubts about the film stating, "I must say, there's nothing that looks like it on the market. But I'm a bit worried that it's just perversely bloody at some points." As the test of time has undeniably proven, the popularity of The Hunger has only steadily risen over the years, not least due to the film being one of the most scrupulously polished and ideally idiosyncratic vampire lesbo flicks ever made, but it also very possibly the greatest and most cultivated abstract filmic expressions of the Deathrock movement. Unless Miloš Forman, Oliver Stone, or Gus Van Sant decides that a lavishly-produced Rozz Williams biopic will be their most ambitious attempt at directing a celluloid opus magnum, I ingenuously doubt that the world will see a more vitalizing dark love letter to the long spiritless Deathrock movement than The Hunger

 Quite honestly, the first time I viewed The Hunger about a decade ago or so, I felt the work was ridden with pulsating pomposity and unrealized artistic pretensions, but the film has certainly grown on me over the years, so much so, that I always look forward to re-watching it and discovering elements of the film that I had yet to notice before, sort of like with Tony's brother Ridley's masterpiece Blade Runner (1982). Indeed, in terms of aesthetic overload and plot incoherence, The Hunger, especially for a mainstream vampire film, is exceedingly self-indulgent, but so are a vast percentage of the most illustrious films ever made. Aside from True Romance (1993), The Hunger is the only Tony Scott film that I can wholeheartedly recommend, which makes it all the more interesting when one considers that it was the mostly hackish filmmaker's first-feature. Devastated by the harsh reviews that The Hunger received upon its initial release, one can only wonder whether or not Scott’s career as a filmmaker would have went a different, more artistically-ambitious route had the vaulting vamp flick received the mostly positive praise it deserved. Although Scott concluded The Hunger on an amibigous note hinting at a potential sequel, such a project would not even begin see the light of day, although the film would inspire a mediocre softcore TV horror anthology of the same name also starring David Bowie (at least for the second season). In 2009, Warner Bros. announced that the world would soon see an unnecessary remake of The Hunger based on a screenplay written by Whitley Strieber; the horror author whose novel the original film was based on.  Although I find the idea of a remake to be dubious and – at best – monetarily-inspired, it would be interesting if Tony Scott followed in the footsteps of Alfred Hitchcock and re-made his own film, especially after almost three decades of overwhelming mediocrity and mundanity as a filmmaker. 

Like Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973), The Hunger is one of the oh-so unsurprisingly few lesbian vampiress flicks that rises above being aesthetically-pleasing smut and for that alone, it is a noble cinematic triumph worthy of postmortem eulogy.  Although most of Tony Scott's films epitomize everything that is deplorable, soulless,and humdrum about Hollywood, at least he directed what is very possibly one of the most transcendent vampire flicks of the 1980s, as well as one of the most high-class and hunky-dory vampire films ever made.

-Ty E


jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, the best bits of this reveiw were the mo-girl-ts where you trashed (or at least semi-trashed) certain aspects of Britain and British society, reading that was pure magic.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Tony Scott isn`t a "crap film-maker" simply because hes a "crap film-maker" but rather because hes a "British" "crap film-maker" ! ! !.

Phantom of Pulp said...

Plenty of superlatives and lots of sound justifications for them.

Saw THE HUNGER when it first opened and I was alone in the theater on a Friday night.

It captivated me.

I appreciate its consistency as a perverse journey, and can only admire Scott for producing something so damn arty. Only his REVENGE echoed elements of the film many years later.

'Hunky-dory', indeed!

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to perform every sex-act in the known universe on Catherine Deneuve (as the bird was in 1961 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

Soiled Sinema said...

Phantom: I will be sure to checkout Scott's "Revenge" now after reading your recommendation. Now you have me intrigued.

-Ty E