By Philip Newton (England)
The Day of the Locust takes a look at the seedy and often grim underbelly of Hollywood in the 1930’s, in a way that only 1970’s Hollywood could achieve. Its characters are tragic and sad each in their own individual ways trying to live a life of the Hollywood dream, however, beneath the veneer lies a tale of desperation and despair.
The story revolves around the character of Faye Greener an untalented wannabe actress of 1930’s Hollywood played brilliantly by actress Karen Black whom carries somewhat of the ditsy nature she portrayed in Five Easy Pieces several years earlier. She is a character consumed by the need to be a star and tries to behave like she is on screen in her life constantly prancing and preening with always a sense of arrogance and self-importance, in reality she is a member of Hollywood’s infamous casting couch sleeping with producers just to get a part that can justify her mediocre (at best) talents as an actress.
During the film she attracts the attention of two men both from different backgrounds and both with differing views towards the Hollywood film industry, the first is Todd Hackett played by William Atherton an aspiring artist whom gets a job working on production sets in Hollywood. Atherton gives a fine performance of a man seemingly cynical and somewhat arrogant, he fancies Faye, however she toys with him always keeping him at arm’s length. She ultimately chooses an accountant named Homer Simpson played by Donald Sutherland, he is kind and loyal however also uptight and sexually repressed and he couldn’t care less about Hollywood. He believes he can love Faye which she agrees to purely for financial reasons and security he can give her. Sutherland gives a fantastic performance here as man struggling to express his love and also wanting to be loved but deep down knowing it is not possible as ultimately Faye is uncommitted and will sleep with any man available to her.
The film constantly makes reference throughout to dark uncomfortable imagery and scenes, one scene for example is the cock fight which is both brutal and uncomfortable to witness, we do not see any actual fighting between the chickens, we simply here the sounds followed by a close up of the bloody chickens face, we know as an audience it will meet its demise and when it finally does it is an unsettling moment, however is important for the film to further reinforce the kind of unpleasant and distasteful world beneath the shiny Hollywood exterior.
The most accomplished scene occurs at the end amongst the rioting masses and the similarity in which Todd sees in the people and his paintings, the camera work is frantic truly showing that sense of anarchy and the fade of camera between the images of the people to the paintings is frightening but also symbolic of what humanity is capable of, even in Hollywood.
Director John Schlesinger is also able to inject some beautiful imagery amongst the darkness as somewhat of a counterbalance, in one particular scene where we see the close up of the locust and brief images of nature almost reminiscent of Terrence Malick, in being very calm and tranquil.
Ultimately The Day of the Locust is visually impressive with some fine performances, well-crafted characters and an engrossing screenplay.