Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Movies I hate to love: The Hunger (1983)

The Hunger. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents a Richard Shepherd Company production; screenplay by Ivan Davis and Michael Thomas ; produced byRichard A. Shepherd; directed by Tony Scott. Originally released as a motion picture in 1983. Director of photography: Stephen Goldblatt; editor: Pamela Power; music: Michael Rubini, Denny Jaeger. Performers: David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, Cliff De Young, Dan Hedaya, Beth Ehlers.

“You said forever”

Guilty pleasure or no, The Hunger is one of my favorite vampire movies. Hunger’s gauzy, velvety look recalls the London fog vampire movies of the early Thirties, and despite the sensationalist themes and their execution, it's mostly about style - and what style! Beautiful people, clothes, sets and music. Seldom has a movie been shot so lovingly. Some commentators see similarities in Hunger to Blade Runner and the comparison is apropos. Both films are dripping in atmosphere and have a fondness for the below-mentioned dark blue tones. BTW did anyone ever notice that: all movie vampires are rich, good looking, dress stylishly, speak with smoothly mellifluous accents, and have a thing for classical music.

As to the principals: it’s impossible to imagine a better actress to portray a modern day vampire than Catherine Deneuve, here fortyish but cast as a 6,000 year old Egyptian vampire. She’s positively (pun perhaps intended) otherworldly stunning, in fact a strong front runner as the most beautiful vampire in cinema history. And David Bowie’s no slouch in the looks department either, the younger, earlier version of him in the film, mind you. In fact in these scenes Bowie and Deneuve look enough alike to be twin brother and sister, which adds to the film’s creepy, kinky feel.

Moreover, Hunger’s topical message about angst over aging strikes close to home in our own times: its themes of everlasting youth and beauty are even more relevant today than they were three decades ago. A curious bit of irony in casting is that in the early Eighties the ethereal beauty of both Bowie and Deneuve was teetering on the cusp of fading, while Susan Sarandon was just peaking both as an actress and beautiful woman.

But getting back to style: the opening six minutes or so is a mind blowing virtuoso piece of editing and cutting. From a purely technical standpoint, it’s arguably the best part of the entire film. However … for better or worse, the lesbian scene with Deneuve and Sarandon - the one we wait two thirds of the movie to get to - is what Hunger is best known for, and well worth the wait. It’s a doozy of a sequence both visually and emotionally. The seduction motif firmly cemented Delibes’ “Flower Duet” from Lakmé, superimposed so suggestively over all the steamy goings on, as opera’s ultimate lesbian moment. But in a movie this gorgeous and with a cast so cinegenic, what’s not to like about lesbian, or in this case bisexual, vampires? 

Aside: The Hunger’s look is a wonder and has a decided preference for evanescent blueish tones. I’m not enough of a vampire scholar to read any symbolism into this but it is rather interesting from a visual point of view. 

Highly recommended, then, with the usual not-for-all-tastes caveat for this kind of material. Another warning: for all that The Hunger is a horror film, it does move at a very deliberate, stately pace. Suave and classy, it’s probably the ultimate synthesis of art movie and horror film we’ve yet to see.

style ***1/2
substance ***