Monday, 15 March 2010

Night of the hunter

I have blogged about Night of the Hunter before, but I make no apologies for doing so again. I did not watch Night of the Hunter with my son. Although it has a '12' rating here in the UK I was not sure what he would make of it. I can still remember the first time I saw it. It had a massive effect on me and has haunted me ever since. I think my son should wait.

Again - this is almost a children's story. It is a kind of fairy tale - a brother and sister cast adrift in a cruel world, a hidden treasure and a terrible pursuing demon. It has the feeling of a myth transposed into Depression-era America - but no myth that you can actually recall.

The movie is based on a 1953 novel of the same name by Davis Grubb that I keep meaning to read but never get round to. I suspect this is some kind of reluctance on my part to interfere with the images from the movie. The book is supposed to be very good though.

The Night of the Hunter is always in my mind somewhere, mostly way back in the darkness. But whenever I feel dissatisfied about my writing and feel there is something lacking - it is invariably Night of the Hunter that seems to come closest to evoking the element that is absent.

This may seem odd. Night of the Hunter is an intensely visual movie. One of its stars - Lillian Gish - was a huge star of the silent era and its director Charles Laughton seems to be using a visual style that owes as much to German Expressionist cinema as it does to anything around at the time. But despite all the visual trickery and showmanship, it never becomes a cold experiment. Robert Mitchum's performance is bizarre, but intentionally so, and his character is all the more nightmarish because of it. The story-telling is very contrived, but I like contrivance. It is pretentious, but I see nothing wrong with pretentiousness anyway?

For me Night of the Hunter is a talismanic piece. It is just another reminder to me that I loathe safety in art. None of us want to fail in the way that Laughton failed - critics panned the movie and he never made another - and that can often be the excuse for taking the easiest option. I don't see Laughton's failure as a warning. I see it more as a reminder that something can be good and not appreciated. As a writer, painter, film-maker, you simply have to go with your own judgment and hope for the best.

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