Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Synthesisers & Billowy Drapes: Serious Academic Notes on The Hunger

Ever wondered what a Serious Academic's approach to watching a studied film is? Well wonder no more, because for some reason instead of taking Serious Academic Notes (okay fine, as well as) while watching Tony Scott's The Hunger for the section on fear of ageing in my thesis, I decided to take Actual Mental Notes instead. So this is, pretty much verbatim, what I thought of The Hunger while I was watching it.

For those who are not vampire enthusiasts & do not necessarily know these things, The Hunger (1983) tells the story of Miriam (Catherine Deneuve), an elegant vampire whose lover John (David Bowie), a younger vampire, suddenly begins to age rapidly after centuries of being thirty years old. John approaches Sarah (Susan Sarandon), a doctor & leading researcher in premature ageing, but she can do nothing to help him. When John wastes away Miriam sets her sights on Sarah & promises her eternal youth if she will be hers forever & ever. The rest of this post contains spoilers, but mostly it contains screencaps & my thoughts about this whole 80s vampires business.

The film opens with - what else - Bella Lugosi is Dead. It's ironic, you see, because Bela Lugosi played Dracula & Dracula was a vampire & vampires are dead. Undead, undead, undead.

Oh Bauhaus! Oh Bowie! Watching this movie is like being fifteen again & it's only three minutes in.

The 80s: it was all cigarettes, leather & ominous music. I know this because I was alive for half of it. I don't remember it having this much blood though... So far we know that David Bowie & Catherine Deneuve go to clubs & then kill people. Sexily. Meanwhile, Susan Sarandon researches monkeys, less sexily. We are invited, with great subtlety, to draw comparisons between the rage-filled cannibal monkeys & the classy, elegant vampires.

People can smoke through veils? That's impressive. Maybe it's just Catherine Deneuve. Although I still have trouble seeing her as anything other than Peau d'Âne...

So although he & his Donkey Skin have killed leather-clad clubbers & drank their blood, David Bowie is troubled.

I would love to see a man actually wear silk pyjamas. I should buy some for Alan.

And the soundtrack goes like this: Classical music! This is classical music because these are classy people!

Everybody loves a good flashback! In this one we learn that Catherine Deneuve & David Bowie will be together forever & ever. If it's in a flashback it has to be true. Also, David Bowie is still troubled. You can tell he's troubled because there are billowy drapes:

Miriam & John are musicians. They practice with a spunky young neighbour & maybe it's just the blue tones of the set or the classical music or the fact that ancient vampires are hanging out with a pre-pubescent kid but there's something a little bit creepy about this friendship.

At this point I took some Actual Academic Notes about ageing & thought that I'm glad this film isn't particularly subtle because that makes my job a lot easier.

Were all kids in the 80s so androgynous? I was convinced Alice was a boy until Miriam said her name.

We come back to Doctor Sarah, who is going to explain about vampirism through the metaphor of monkeys. Her monkeys are ageing at an accelerated rate. I wonder what this could possibly mean for our vampire friend John? Could that possibly be why he is troubled? Myriam goes to see Dr Sarah at her book signing, & bewitches her with her veil. Meanwhile, John's hair starts falling out.

According to Sarah, sleep affects how healthy your blood is, & your blood affects how fast or slowly you age. So the more you sleep, the less you'll age. That makes sense to me; I take a lot of naps & I look about ten years younger than I am. I suppose I must be a vampire.

John tells Miriam that he can't sleep, & that his hair is falling out. We discover that Myriam had other lovers (many other lovers, & some of them female, oh my), before John, who suffered the same fate as he is suffering now. This fate took a few days to fully manifest but when it did, the lovers allegedly aged rapidly because they couldn't sleep. (Beware, sufferers of insomnia, you too may be diseased vampires.) John doesn't know what to do.

Oh the synthesisers! I wish I could take a screencap of the sound of this film. With the synthesiser, the above screencap reads: "What am I going to do to do to do to do?" It's quite difficult to take that kind of an echo seriously. Also, drapes.

Same drapes, different flashback. Miriam has felt this pain before, with any number of historical lovers.

Dr Sarah believes that ageing may be a disease that can be cured. John goes to see her in the hope that she will cure his accelerated ageing, but unsurprisingly she thinks he's not well in the head. Nobody's ever really crazy, Sarah, didn't you know that? Mentally ill people are really just vampires. I've learned this from so many vampire texts I'm surprised you don't know this already.

Also, this film is mostly made up of the clacking of shoes (sometimes I wish I wore heels).

Creepy decaying monkey! Because everybody needs a picture of a decaying monkey on a Wednesday morning. John, sitting for much longer than the promised fifteen minutes in Sarah's waiting room, is ageing visibly & very rapidly. Just like the monkey.

When Sarah witnesses John's extreme transformation, she says those unwise words that may just have doomed her with half the film left to go: "I'm going to find out [what's caused this] if it kills me."

A lot of the questions in this film can be answered by "because the 80s." For example: Q. Why is this five minute sequence of a person rollerblading alone to a ghettoblaster in the middle of an abandoned building in this film? A. Because the 80s.

In a spectacular display of bad timing, Alice shows up at John & Miriam's house a day before they had planned to practice together, & Miriam is away. The androgynous child wears a skirt (& legwarmers of course - Q. Why legwarmers? A. Because the 80s) yet still manages to look like one of the Hanson brothers.

And the soundtrack goes like this: CLASSICAL MUSIC, THIS IS CLASSICAL MUSIC PEOPLE!

Alice rings the doorbell & suddenly-old John, who doesn't want her to come in, tells her: "there's nobody here." I didn't know people over five ever fell for that. He lets her in anyway, & proceeds to smile sadly & knowingly whenever she asks if he is John's father (which she does about three times).

And the soundtrack goes like this: Classical mu-- SYNTHESISER!

John convinces Alice to play a piece for him while he walks around her fondling the front of his shirt. Alice has just told him that she loves Myriam ("she's my best friend") & John himself ("I love him. He's just hard to figure out.") & they have bonded over a chord & yet when you see her continue to play despite the fact that there's some serious fear growing in her eyes you know he's going to kill her. This scene would be the creepiest thing ever if it weren't for that bloody synthesiser.

Every good vampire should have a furnace in their basement.

Miriam returns & doesn't seem to mind that John has killed their young neighbour & her alleged best friend. He did a pretty good job of cleaning up after himself, in fairness. John begs Miriam to release him & let him die, but Miriam explains gently that a little side-effect of immortality is that you can't actually die. Instead, you live on in your ever-ageing, ever-deteriorating body for the rest of eternity, or until you turn to dust, whichever comes first. 

Yep, living forever sounds appropriately horrible. Do you hear that, Stephenie Meyer?

John falls down the stairs because he is too feeble to walk. Miriam gathers him into her arms & brings him up to her billowy, drapey, dove-filled attic that is also filled with coffins.

Then, Miriam introduces her decomposing - but still somehow living - lover to all her other lovers who lie rotting - but STILL ALIVE - in coffins in her attic. But hey, at least there are doves.

Meanwhile, Sarah is hallucinating Miriam while getting out of the shower. Her boyfriend is none the wiser.

I'd be scared too if I had crazy 80s lighting in my bathroom.

Sarah leaves her boyfriend & her scary bathroom & goes to visit Miriam to see if she can bring John back to her clinic to run some tests. Miriam tells her that John is in Switzerland (it's the "nice big farm in the country" of vampires), invites her into her enormous home & offers her sherry.

"Are you making a pass at me Mrs Blaylock?" asks Sarah, noticing Miriam's flirting tone. No Sarah, she just wants to keep you forever in a coffin in her attic with her other not-actually-dead-but-still-rotting lovers. But hey, there are doves!

And the soundtrack goes like this: CLASSICAL MUSIC!

Sarah: Oops, I just spilled blood-like sherry on my shirt! I will now have to show you that I'm not wearing a bra while wetting my tshirt unnecessarily to clean it even though you're totally going to lend me your shirt anyway so that I'll take my top off! Good thing I chose to wear nipple today. I mean white...

This film is very subtle.

And the soundtrack goes like this: OPERA! It's like classical music, but with voices!

Billowing drapes sex scene! Because whenever anyone has sex there are billowy drapes. The drape industry knows no recession!

(Slightly more seriously, I recently read a very interesting passage about this film in Nina Auerbach's Our Vampires, Ourselves that talks about the fragmentation & fetishisation of women's bodies & how clothed, Myriam & Sarah are very different, but with the broken-up images & the camera angles & those bloody billowy drapes it's difficult to distinguish one from the other when they're naked.)

Soon, however, the women are whole again & it's the morning after & Sarah is at a restaurant with her boyfriend & RARE STEAK, GUYS, LOOK, SHE'S EATING RARE STEAK! It's like bloody, lesbian sex on a plate!

Question time! Q. What's the number one way to find out that your girlfriend is a vampire? (Hint: it's not "because the 80s," although that answer works too...)

I was just about to say that I was beginning to miss the constant smoking of the first half of this film when this scene happened. Post-steak cigarette, anyone?

Boyfriend asks Sarah where she got the pretty Egyptian necklace she's wearing & is surprised to learn that it was a gift from Miriam. He also finds it a little strange that Sarah spent five hours "just talking" with a woman she'd just met. What kind of woman gives jewellery to a woman she barely knows? A "European" woman, that's who.

"She's that kind of woman. She's... European." Is that what they're calling it these days?

Sarah isn't feeling well. She can't eat even though she's ravenous, & she throws up at night. Boyfriend brings her to her own clinic where a fellow sleep disorder/ ageing specialist tells her that she has two strains of blood in her veins, both fighting for dominance... & one of those strains isn't human. Would the bloodletting sex with a vampire have anything to do with that? I think we need to see another flashback to really understand.

Sarah skips her appointment with a specialist to go to Miriam's house & shout at her for having infected her with vampire blood. Miriam thinks Sarah's ungrateful & believes she shouldn't attack her in her own stately home, which is a fair point, really. Miriam just wanted to give Sarah the gift of eternal life (most of which'll be spent rotting in a coffin). Who wouldn't be grateful for that?

You can tell she's getting angry because her hair is out of place. (Does that mean that I'm angry all the time?) Miriam tells Sarah that even if she tries to leave she'll be back, that soon The Hunger (you know, like the name of the film) will know no reason, & she'll need Miriam to show her how to feed.

Sarah storms out & tries to hail a taxi or call her doctor boyfriend but The Hunger knows no reason & she needs to feed so she returns to Miriam all shaky & weak.

Q. Why is that lady wearing a green plastic trenchcoat & granddad-waisted jeans? A. Because the 80s of course!

And the soundtrack goes like this: SYNTHESISER!

Miriam picks up a prostitute dude to feed to her new vampire. She even kills him first - like a mother bird - because Sarah is too weak.

Okay, seriously. Why are all vampires messy eaters? It can't be that hard to get blood in your mouth & not all over the rest of you. Not that I'd know...

The doorbell rings as Miriam's enjoying her messy snack & oh no, it's the Boyfriend! He's here to see if Miriam's heard from Sarah because she didn't turn up to her doctor's appointment. But Sarah has The Hunger & The Hunger knows no bounds! 

Sarah is also a messy eater.

Sarah & Miriam start to kiss - bloodily, messily - when Sarah suddenly seizes the knife-hidden-as-an-ankh necklace &... stabs herself in the neck? Sarah dies, very dramatically.

The dreaded echo is back as Miriam wails & mourns. Sadness sounds even sadder with a synthesiser!

The drapes, how they billow! They billow even in flashbacks! This set is 3/4 drapes. Miriam carries Sarah's body up to the attic, where more drapes await.

But what's this? The drapes have brought the rotted lovers back from the grave! Run! Run & hide! (But hey, at least there are doves.)

The rotting lovers advance on Miriam, the bannister gives out & Miriam falls to the ground floor where she ages so rapidly that within ten seconds she is mostly skeleton. From what I can see, her death is death by drapes & doves. And synthesiser. And slow-mo. (It's what kills us all.)

One big happy family.

For the last scene, we cut to a big apartment in a big city, where Vampire Sarah (not dead, apparently, but, like dear Bela Lugosi, undead undead undead) caresses a new lover & shows off her pearl earrings & Miriam-inspired lipstick. You can tell she's Head Vampire now because she's wearing pearl earrings. It's science. 

No matter where you go - you can turn your immortal lover into a decaying corpse & seal her in a coffin for all eternity, you can sell your house, leave your boyfriend, move cities, live in a new apartment - but you will never get away from them. There will always be billowy drapes.

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