Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Hunger

1983
Dir. Tony Scott

Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) and her shoulder pads become acquainted with the mysterious and beautiful Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve), a centuries old immortal vampire. Over the years Miriam has had many human companions to ease her loneliness. Unlike her however, they eventually begin to age rapidly until they are withered, but still conscious, corpses. Unable to do away with her lovers, Miriam keeps them in coffins in her attic for all eternity. With her current partner John (David Bowie) rapidly withering away, Miriam now has her sights set on a new partner: Sarah Roberts.

The Hunger is a film seriously at risk of being crushed under the weight of its own pretension, ponderous pontificating, stylish aplomb and the extraordinary amount of dry ice it uses to achieve its beautiful look. Having said that, The Hunger is also a film which was arguably one of the first to attempt to deconstruct the ‘vampire film’ and bring it out from under the shadow of more familiar cinematic depictions proffered by the likes of Hammer and filtering it through the ‘dark, sexy and oh so dangerous’ representations favoured by the likes of Anne Rice. It would seem The Hunger was definitely a forerunner of the likes of Twilight, True Blood and any other currently popular depictions of vampires as sexualised, freakishly seductive and semi-tragic individuals. With a healthy dose of moody lighting, fluttering doves, Ridley Scott-aesthetics and pop-promo editing chucked in for good measure, this film is a visual feast - if a little skimpy on plot.

With a lugubrious tone matched only by its somnambulistic pacing, The Hunger was adapted from the novel by Whitley Strieber and was Tony Scott’s first feature film. Released a year after his brother Ridley’s film Blade Runner (1982), Tony’s film also boasts a distinct visual style which seems to elevate its content to a meditative loftiness. Further parallels can be drawn between The Hunger and Blade Runner as both films feature non-human characters that inhabit a story about mortality.

The vampire condition is presented under purely scientific terms; it has often been suggested that The Hunger was a response to the burgeoning AIDS crisis of the 80s. A number of the characters in the film are scientists studying blood and its connections to mortality. The ‘condition’ is passed from one person to another in a bite and subsequent exchange of body fluids. Like David Cronenberg’s The Fly, The Hunger also serves as a chilling examination of the horror of getting older and coming to terms with one’s own mortality. This is highlighted in the plight of Bowie’s character John, Miriam’s lover who has begun to age uncontrollably courtesy of remarkable make-up effects.



A great deal of screen time is given over to watching the characters waft around various rooms as doves flitter about in slow motion and curtains billow seductively – also in slow motion – whilst David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve look moody, mysterious and cool; chain smoking in hazily lit rooms, listening to Bauhaus and wearing sunglasses in the dark. Practically every shot appears to hang heavy with ‘symbolic significance’ and ‘deep meaning’ – an aspect of the film that so often renders it overwrought and highly camp - as do some of the typically outrageous Eighties fashions on display. Big hair, PVC jackets and shoulder pads, oh my! Which is no bad thing, I’m sure you’ll agree.

As mentioned, The Hunger is incredibly self-indulgent and ponderous, but the more seriously Scott takes things, the more unintentionally hilarious they can become. Case in point – just before Sarandon is seduced by Deneuve, she slinks into a chair to watch the fascinating French woman play the piano and – oops – throws her drink around herself. Deneuve being the perfect host helps Sarandon remove her soiled top to dry herself off, and before you know it, the two are locked in an oh-so passionate session of lady-love-making as curtains and sheets and various other billowy things billow around them. Its all just soooo sexy. Actually, it is quite sexy. Really.

Upon its initial release the film was criticised for layering on the style at the expense of plot and narrative, but because everything just looks so damn cool, the airy plot can be forgiven. Indeed one of The Hunger’s main appeals is its look, heavily inspired by the likes of Flashdance and Blade Runner, it often resembles a really striking and eerily beautiful music video. This is perhaps highlighted most obviously in the opening scenes as Bowie and Deneuve skulk around a punk nightclub looking for potential victims, as Bauhaus flail around in cages singing ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ whilst strobe lights induce epilepsy. Elsewhere the soundtrack combines the likes of Delibes, Bach and Iggy Pop to overwrought yet staggering effect, perfectly enhancing the grandiose tone and decedent nature of the story. Despite uniformly strong performances from all involved, especially from Deneuve and Sarandon, it is still difficult to really care what happens to these characters. Yes they are all tragic and its very sad about the whole mortality thing, but the film seems cold and detached, with no real emotional core. Despite this mere trifle, it’s still an absolute pleasure to watch The Hunger unfold onscreen – it makes an excellent double bill with Blade Runner.

An art-house vampire noir film with a distinct style and provocative message (which is that its ok for films to have flimsy plots sometimes - just so long as they look cool and have lesbian vampires in them!).

Here's that tres cool opening scene... Turn it up... And just keep repeating to yourself 'It's only the Eighties. It's only the Eighties. It's only the Eighties. It's only...'

6 comments:

Wintu's World said...

Gosh, I haven't seen this movie since I was a teenager! Now I 'hunger' to watch it again. Haw haw!
I think it might be available as an Instant Watch option on Netflix too. Gonna go add it to my queue now!
Good review!

MrJeffery said...

I thought it was pretty wretched but admittedly, there's nothing else like it.

christine said...

Wonderful review as per usual!
I have quite a fondness for this film and all its wafting fabric and leather gloves. And I think you know how I feel about the opening... LOVE IT!

Eloquent as always.

James said...

Thanks for your comments guys.
I just happened to be flicking through the TV t'other night looking for something cool to watch, and there it was: THAT opening scene. *swoon* Hadn't seen The Hunger in ages, so naturally couldn't resist watching it.

Carl (ILHM) said...

Ive been meaning to rewatch this one for quite some time, I remember liking it but I cant remember anything minus the lesbian action lol..

James said...

Nope, the lesbian action and billowing drapes is pretty much all there is, Carl! And David Bowie.