“Who knows what true loneliness is — not the conventional word, but the naked terror? To the lonely themselves it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some illusion.” – Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes
Regrettably, Huston has long been relegated to the ‘bargain bin’ level of filmmakers from the studio era, at equal turns criticized and praised for his supposed ‘macho adventure’ films and literary adaptations. Huston did take risks in regard to the quality of material throughout his career and is somewhat uneven, but I don’t agree with the accusations of lacking thematic or formal consistency or even the neatly summarized appraisals of his oeuvre. Perhaps more so than Hawks, his work also similarly elusive but more ‘attainable’, one must constantly ask: What is Huston? His work seems to neither totally exist in the pragmatic nor metaphysical realms but somewhere in the twain. If anything should characterize his work, so far as I’ve come to understand, it is an awareness or awakening within the characters. But, this is not to say ‘enlightenment’, though it just as soon can be. Huston’s protagonists are introverted, at once focused on their desires, goals, fantasies yet they are not alone. They interact with the society around them and with many of his films set in desolate locales, their illusions are exposed upon others and clash with the grimness, or pleasantries around them. It is up to the individual to recognize and control their inner doubt or turmoil and begin anew or otherwise subject themselves to it fully and return to the elements.
Moulin Rouge (1952) – Lautrec’s Paris, a heavily populated metropolis, yet limited, isolated, even claustrophobic. Captured in Technicolor, it’s hardly bright and seemingly only intensifies the darkness surrounding and within. But like the Impressionists before him, we can see that shadows are not simply composed of blackness, but from a variety of sources. Apart from some expository flashbacks towards the beginning, this film neither attempts to explain or trace the life of Lautrec, not even highlighting his work as much as Lust for Life does Van Gogh’s. Like Huston, this artist becomes the figure of an idealist’s pessimism, one who cannot judge others for what they are, only what they pretend to be. In such a world, one must coexist with the conflicting natures of the reality surrounding them, as knowledge cannot remain certain and circumstances are often fleeting. The unwillingness to conform thought or belief based on experience in itself has a crippling effect, more so than anything physical.
Moby Dick (1956) – This ‘great American novel’ is scored as an adventure epic and given the tone of a horror film. The sea draws these people as escape from society, a sense of duty or belief in man’s ability to conquer nature. We witness the latter long before Ahab’s introduction when Ishmael is ‘granted’ permission by New Bedford’s men to sail ‘her’ waters. While admittedly not a religious man, Huston contrasts faith which honors the natural relationship man has with nature and the greedy, vengeful perversion of it which Ahab entices his crew with [even evoking the Eucharist with grog and ‘baptizing’ new-forged spears with blood.] Long before their final encounter, he and his crew are already damned. Having withdrawn into their, now collective, obsession only one outcome is possible. Of his films I’ve seen, this may be the most disturbing. It’s depiction of, as Starbuck puts it, a madman begetting more madmen.
The Night of the Iguana (1964) – Somewhat unusual for Huston, this is a film of redemption [or whatever the equivalent of that is in his universe.] Shannon has struggled with his faith, alcoholism and desires. He wanders around Mexico, giving a guided tour to a group of spinsterish school teachers, almost a form of self-punishment in itself, which happens to include a young ‘nymphet’. Eventually, once his job is at stake, he Shanghais the entire party to a remote hotel run by an old friend. Over the course of the day and evening, he is forced to confront his demons, attempt to salvage his career and clear up the love triangle between the three women currently in his life, who in turn represent desire, the ideal and the reality of himself.
The Dead (1987) – It’s simultaneously uncharacteristic of what the name ‘Huston’ conjures up in our minds yet a final reply to the themes and interests existing in his body of work. Gabriel Conroy is a confident, yet pensive man. While he does not embody the inner drive and obession of previous antagonists such as Dobbs or Shannon, he suffers from doubt and unease about himself and the state of his marriage. The holiday gathering at which he and his wife arrive is depicted nearly in real time for the bulk of the scenes at which we are able to contemplate both past and present, as do the guests. In this final work, Huston reminds us yet again that we are always trapped by our inner selves, the past and hidden longings and desires that determine the course of our being. It is in our coming out of our isolation and together as a whole which alleviates these sufferings, if only for a short while.
Top Ten Most Anticipated:
- The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
- The Misfits (1961)
- The Red Badge of Courage (1951)
- In This Our Life (1942)
- The Roots of Heaven (1958)
- The African Queen (1951)
- A Walk with Love and Death (1969)
- The Kremlin Letter (1970)
- The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
- Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)
And Now For Something Completely Different:
[UNDER CONSTRUCTION.]Read less