The Day of the Locust

The strategic adversary is fascism […] the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.

– Michel Foucault

They [movies] have slipped into the American mind more misinformation in one evening than the Dark Ages could muster in a decade.

– Ben Hecht

Cinema is an improvement on life.

François Truffaut

Without doubt, one of the most critically neglected major Anglo-American directors of the late 20th century is John Schlesinger. His retreat from grand projects in favour of more modest productions in the 1990s and his death in 2003 have generated little examination of his art, and only a single biography, William J. Mann’s recently published Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger (2005). Beyond the praise that Schlesinger had received for his jaundiced look at the social and sexual revolutions of the 1960s in Billy Liar (1963), Darling (1965), Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), the redoubtable document on the burnout of that decade in Midnight Cowboy (1969) and the political thrillers, The Marathon Man (1976) and The Falcon and the Snowman (1985), Schlesinger’s classic Hollywood formalistic parody and specific fascination with personal identity creation and dissolution have found no serious study. This is even more surprising when one considers that his visions of chaos triumphing over human order is no less original or compelling than found in Stanley Kubrick, and that much of the multivalent structure of his films predicted, if not actually influenced, current postmodern filmmaking.

The greatest aversion among film historians dealing with Schlesinger seems to be the bookend follow-up to his savage New York passion play, Midnight Cowboy: his take on the fantasies of Los Angeles based on Nathaniel West’s still provocative novel, The Day of the Locust (1975). What one does find in the 30 years since the premiere of this masterwork is scant and cursory. Comments concentrate on backlot efforts of the film at the onset of the “new” Hollywood, a reborn classic phase that came in the wake of the independent, multinational on-location co-productions of the 1960s. There are reflections on the trendiness of its casting, particularly with Karen Black as the would-be starlet, who was seemingly everywhere in the early ’70s, and whose career never recovered from peaking so early. But there is relatively little on William Atherton, who might have become the WASP member of an acting generation that included Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, but whose career fizzled into odd character roles. Locust gave us a glimpse of truly promising talent and at what might have been. It is Atherton’s powerful naïve-erotic anxiety that provides the tent pole for the sprawling film.

The critical disregard of the film at the time and the scant Academy Award nominations (1), which echoed a similar response to the savaging of Hollywood by Inside Daisy Clover (Robert Mulligan, 1965) ten years earlier, had little to do with the acting, writing, directing, production values and the ultimate visual pleasure of the film. That it destroyed many of the myths of the Golden Age studio system with an allegory of fascism was apparently resented by the still large segment of the industry that had been active during the period of the film’s setting. Despite its sexual frankness, the stylistic tribute to Golden Age Hollywood found little favour with audiences. While the “heroic” and “traditional” values of America of the 1940s and ’50s (American Graffiti, George Lucas, 1973; The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola, 1972; The Way We Were, Sydney Pollack, 1973) alluded (in both positive and negative ways) to the new conservatism of the Nixon era, the unstable, class-conflicted, politically fluid 1920s and ’30s failed to capture the imagination of an audience coming off the sociopolitical quakes of the late 1960s. An overproduced and much-heralded version of The Great Gatsby (Jack Clayton, 1974), also with Karen Black, released the previous year, also flopped with both critics and public. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974) managed to make a success of the 1930s, but it avoids both Hollywood and the Depression. Its popularity displays the durability of the Film Noir as an audience pleaser, updated by Robert Towne and Polanski with a psychological and sexual depth not seen before in this genre.

The script for Locust was written by Waldo Salt, a victim of HUAC’s blacklisting, which made the film even more telling of the corruptive nature of the industry than West’s exposure of the fringe of Hollywood’s “dream machine” delivered. But West’s vitriolic critique was the reason for the novel’s commercial failure in its own time. It was not a work pandering to glamour addicts and star fantasies, but an evisceration of the myth, an obliterating cautionary tale about those cheated by its false promises, and the audience similarly rejected the film version more than three decades later. (2)

Beyond bringing West’s scathing look at the underbelly of Hollywood glamour to the screen in a relatively loyal transfer, if anything making the characters even more impoverished and psychologically needy than in the novel, Schlesinger manages to recreate a Golden Age Hollywood film look, to produce an anti-Golden Age film. This film also treads a tricky line between a critique of fascist æsthetics and an emulation of them. West’s alarm at American demagogy offered a landscape where resentful fans “really want to kill their idols” (3). For Salt and Schlesinger, this is not just fertile ground for vague revolutionary behaviour, but a reflection of the nature of propaganda wherein the cheated masses are the irrational font of fascism itself. Since the term “fascism” has become a floating signifier with its meanings shifting easily between historical applications and casual condemnation of any illiberal attitude, I will, for the purpose of this examination, underscore Rey Chow’s argument that fascism is both a reference to the sociopolitical structures of Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany (among others), but also “a term that indicates the production and consumption of a glossy surface image, a crude style. For the purposes of social identification even among intellectuals.” (4)

Most of Schlesinger’s cinematic fixations are represented here and aid in his statement on the power of the visual to command the masses and corrupt rational thought and the concept of individuality. His attack on religious fanaticism and hypocrisy, often subtly present in his other films (with the exception of its dominance in Midnight Cowboy), surface strongly in Locust. The film replays biblical myths as both commentary on the characters and their world, but also as a parodic aspect of Schlesinger’s Hollywood-as-film. Like the silent and early sound films in American and European cinema that would parallel a biblical story within the frame of a contemporary melodrama to impart timeless notions of virtue and morality (5), Schlesinger’s Locust creates shadow identification – but he collapses the modern and biblical stories into one multivalent narrative.

The Day of the Locust

Schlesinger’s collapsed parallel can best be understood through René Girard’s concept of redemptive mimetic theory, which rests on the artistic imitation of the divine/demonic, or the secular appropriation of the sacred. (6) The very title of the film refers to both Old Testament plague and New Testament apocalypse, while its Gesamtkunstwerk image of a decadent Hollywood (industry and city), which exploits the suffering and hopes of the Depression Era masses as a basis for its own existence, is Sodom and Gomorrah waiting to collapse under its own weight. The story told by Faye (Karen Black) about the good and evil twin sisters evokes Cain and Abel. Her apple teasingly waived at the introverted Homer Simpson (Donald Sutherland), who is so taken by her vulgar seductive presence that he breaks a glass of milk in his hands and bleeds, suggests Adam and Eve. It also foreshadows the destruction Eve/Faye will bring to Adam/Homer’s dystopic paradise. Faye also appears as an unrepentant Magdalene to Homer’s chaste pseudo-Christ, an unknowing (since Homer is not aware of his saintly discipleship, only of his desire for transcendence from his earthly suffering) Imitatio Christi. Additionally, he is the large, unfathomable representation of adulthood-as-Goliath to the abused David of the unloved child actor, Adore (Jackie Haley), who hits him with a rock to elicit attention. His subsequent killing of Adore unleashes his mob lynching, a symbolic crucifixion in which he dies as a symbol of everyone’s “sin” of violent release from desire, frustration and exploitation. Like Samson, Tod Hackett (William Atherton) is shorn of his hair and his potential power of truth is silenced in the studio barbershop after he dares to announce that warning signs were not posted on the collapsed Waterloo set. Faye’s constant self-costuming and disrobing to elicit desire and profit from it – particularly her swirling “dance”, where she is intercut with the flying feathers of the cockfight at Homer’s house, recalls Salome. The horse at the bottom of the pool at the house of art director Claude Estee (Richard A. Dysart) evokes the pursuit of the Israelites through the parting of the Red Sea, as well as a sign of the biblical apocalypse. Los Angeles, or more specifically Hollywood, appears littered with forgotten souls who came there to seek the “promised land” but who still worship the false idols of fame and studio propaganda. Faye appears as a dress extra in Ali Baba Goes to Town (David Butler, 1937), a satire on Hollywood and the New Deal, which itself parodies the biblical morality film. Featuring Eddie Cantor as a hobo who wanders onto a studio set of the Arabian Nights and dreams he has become advisor to a Sultan, the film suggests there is not only hope in dreams (and its artificial stand-in, the cinema), but possible salvation and even, as Nietzsche put it, a revaluing of all values. Faye’s father, Harry Greener (Burgess Meredith), a former vaudevillian now forced to sell “miracle solvent” door to door, echoes this reductionist salvation fantasy by presenting his product in a Christian myth-as-magic show: he wears a halo and attempts to levitate the bottle of solvent with a hidden string, but, as he drops it and reveals the fakery (which, like the conceit of the Cantor film, is obvious and plays on his audience’s desire of wish fulfilment and the suspension of rational thought), he curses, “Jesus!” A garden statue at the bordello Tod visits, of a human being consumed by a serpent-like creature (only legs protrude) signifies Schlesinger’s formalistic collapse of the contemporary/biblical moral stories in Locust. It simultaneously evokes divine punishments while also functioning as a metaphoric emblem of sexual obsession and consumption. Finally, at the Paramount studio backlot, where much of the film is set, the director emphasizes the requisite Roman soldiers and Egyptian set pieces. I will return to this religious symbolism in later in discussion of the sociopolitical/spiritual Messianism that Schlesinger’s Golden Age Hollywood’s film industry enforces with its image ideology and which certain characters come to represent and exploit.

Corresponding to the mimesis of the characters as religious figures is the constant transference of life into artifice and artifice into life – a biblical reference to Lot’s Wife but also to the classic notion of wish-fulfilment and beauty, Ovid’s Pygmalion. Walter Benjamin understands that fascism sees its salvation as giving the masses “not their right but instead a chance to express themselves”. His logical result is the æsthetization of politics (e.g., part of the artificial nexus – with legality and finance – of Foucault’s imposed “society”) and the “production of ritual values” (7). Two sequences that are cut together in the very centre of the film convey this synthesis. Tod’s inspection and sketching of a dead tree in the Hollywood Hills is followed by an exact reproduction being carted to the Waterloo set. Homer studies a tray of food depicted in a magazine advertisement in which a loving husband surprises his admiring wife with breakfast in bed, and recreates it down to the exact placement of the strawberries on the cereal, hoping for the same result. But Faye, who is often disappointed that the characters in her life do not seem to know their “lines”, fails to perform as desired by Homer. Her disappointment with the breakfast is yet one more failure Homer has to bear in dealing with a woman who he wishes to please but cannot comprehend. Realizing the importance of playing a “role” to continue her exploitation of Homer’s financial support, Faye quickly takes a flower from the vase on the tray and pulls it into his lapel’s buttonhole, a gesture that seems a mix of genuine pity and a social convention she has learned from film. Faye’s neurotic, boorish behaviour is often contrasted with sudden over-modulated performances of refined, if cliché, posing that comes from cinematic artifice and are employed to demonstrate her very essence as a “performer”. She moves away from her pained individuality and towards a pattern replication of studio enforced popular notions of a female “movie star”. Faye embodies the film’s art to life/life to art transference: she sees herself as an artistic creation – admitting to Estee that she is “working on my wardrobe a lot lately” (e.g., as if her life is a costume film) – and attempts a complete obliteration of the line between actuality and the continuing “performance” of the actress she wishes to be. The reality she abhors is only sharpened by career failure, her father’s dominance and illness, and her frustration with her own rules regarding the separation of sex and love. Nevertheless, Faye remains aware that her construct must be supported and nourished, whatever the personal cost.

The Day of the Locust

For the first half of the film, Tod represents an ideological contrast to Faye. An East-Coast WASP intellectual (we learn he attended Yale and has two degrees), he attempts to translate ideologies, philosophies and new ideas into the visual. His drawings, which catalogue his experiences in Hollywood and channel into his work on the Waterloo project, are based in actual life, not on cliché or cinematic constructs: he draws old people sitting at bus stops, his own face distorted in a scream, images of panic, the seductive glances of Faye and her friend, call-girl Mary Dove (Lelia Goldoni), whose name indicates that purity or goodness is apparently only a temporary role like any other. These images become a wall collage – Schlesinger’s translation of the novel’s “Burning of Hollywood” painting. It becomes the visual for the radio voice-over reporting the 1938 Munich Agreement (a correspondence between the looming disaster of fascism in Germany/Europe and in Schlesinger’s Hollywood/America). Tod consults history books, and historical paintings of the French Revolution and Napoleonic France to give his vision a sense of accuracy. Informed by Impressionism, Tod seems aware that there is no single “truth” or reality, but that life and our reception of it constantly changes. As his fingers follow the curves of Faye’s neck, he comments that she is “all lines” and that these lines change “as the light changes”. This fluidity, impermanence and adaptable surface are embodied by Faye, who emerges as the allegorical figure of the film mecca. Its transitory nature, which is represented in Tod’s impressionistic sketches of the movement around the city, is also embodied by other characters in the film that have come there to work: Harry Greener; the Gingos (an Inuit couple that came to Hollywood for retakes for Robert J. Flaherty’s 1922 Nanook of the North); and Abe Kusich (Billy Barty), whose biblical first name, Abraham, suggests patriarchy, which is defined through him as racism, hypersexuality, female objectification and criminal opportunism. Kusich becomes a near Greek chorus for the film by openly commenting on what others do not want to see in themselves. His image also provides suggestive black-comedy relief, as time and place implies he may have participated in Todd Browning’s Freaks (1932) and/or would most likely end up a Munchkin in that cinematic paragon of moralist self-realization, The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939), a film that posits that the basis of reality is in fantasy and vice versa.

Hollywood’s façade-like nature as a city built on a desert is represented by the continuous sprinkler watering of the grass at Tod and Faye’s bungalow complex, first introduced through a proscenium arch-like entry and by the discarded theatre seats that provide a vantage point for an elderly resident to watch the androgynous child actor Adore, who is so indoctrinated in his role that he unconsciously tap dances and sings as child-play. In contrast, there is Homer’s “reality” (e.g., without Hollywoodization), suggested through his dying backyard, complete with a dried-up fountain and the close-up shot of a lizard. The Golden Age fantasy machine is apparent from the action behind the opening credits of the film. The herding of sleepy and uninspired day players into their wigs and costumes; the highly subjective manner in which the second-unit director selects appealing types for a more prominent role as a “named” aristocrat (enforcing the myth of “discovery”) and the buckets of paste tiaras, necklaces, military decorations and assorted ornamentations which are simply tossed onto the waiting dress extras belie any notion of accuracy in Hollywood’s portrayal of history. Schlesinger then fades in the completion shot of the extended palace interior that the audience would see, as Boccherini’s famous Minuet enforces the emotional acceptance of this sloppy charade as authentic and elegant period history come to life. The scene is later paralleled with several similar comments: the brief pull-back shot of an ocean liner farewell scene that is revealed to be a wooden backlot mock-up; the Waterloo set where the director (portrayed by actual director-producer William Castle, in another indication of the obliteration between role and actuality) repeats several takes of a soldier’s death by bayonet because it doesn’t look “real”; and when an assistant director’s capricious instruction for the British troops to march up the fragile hill construction causes the entire set to collapse. The bending of history (certainly a fictional construction itself) is done in the service of earnings and mass hypnosis – that is to say, to insure that the public will always return to this studio’s films (or Hollywood product in general) as a substantial aspect of the construction of their own lives and for their “enlightenment”.

The Day of the Locust

Tod’s presentation of his storyboard sketches to art director Estee elicits an appreciation his ego craves (he has been passed over for appointment at the studio until he forces a connection with Estee on the basis of their Yale association), but which disturbs his intellectual nature. When Estee sees images of women in the storyboards, Tod assures him that historical sources record women camp followers at the battle of Waterloo. Tod’s painstaking accuracy is immediately transformed into exploitation by Estee: “Get a little sex in. I’ll buy that.” While his talent is accepted, Estee tells him he is “a little too facile” for his own good, and reveals his own awareness of the importance of role-playing by admitting that this “can be an advantage out here”. Tod’s irritation with proscribed constructions of role and art are echoed in his relationship with Faye, who frustrates him sexually. He attempts to subvert Faye’s façade when he discovers her friend Mary works as a call girl, and by befriending her father and Homer, but such calculation moves him into the role-playing he dismissed when he first boldly admitted to a coquettish and evasive Faye that he loved her. Chastising Faye for having prostituted herself to pay for her father’s funeral does not stop him from asking her to pretend to be a prostitute with him, when she rebuffs his sexual advances. But his approach fails as Faye’s dysfunction may actually be caused by reality rather than her desire to maintain the fantasy of mystery: the film offers vague indications that her father may have sexually abused her, which I will discuss later. To secure her image and rebuff Tod, whom she obviously cares for, she moves in with Homer, who is also hiding his impotency and/or possible homosexuality with a lonely life as a placid and financially secure middle-class accountant. Together, in a house that evokes ritual and presentation through its church and theatre-like interior architecture, they play at “marriage”, until Faye’s professional frustration becomes sexually sublimated and Homer’s inadequacy overwhelms the set pieces he can offer her.

Envying the wealth that Estee has secured, not as an art director but in opportunistic marriage to his high society wife (“I think I fell in love with the house, and Alice came with it”), Tod ultimately abandons his desire to bring intelligence and “reality” to film. Symbolically, Tod exchanges his love of the untouchable Faye for power, as he tears up a drawing of her red lips to reveal the image of a mob revolution behind it. The sacrifice of love and humanity for power references several works of art which were embraced or have represented German National Socialism: Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung opera cycle, which Adolf Hitler so admired and which became a “soundtrack” for the National Socialist theatrical/cinematic self-image; Johan Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust, and Thomas Mann’s postwar redux Doktor Faustus, which translates the Goethe work into a novel about an opportunistic artist who embraces Nazism. Here, Michel Foucault’s aim to deconstruct the illusory nature of what has been called society is particularly helpful in understanding what Schlesinger attempts. Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France in the mid-1970s argue that society is a construct of institutions imposed on peoples in conflict for the sake of control by the powerful over the powerless (beyond the Marxian terms of class). His example is the Frankish nation, which was born out of the ruins of the Roman Empire as an active agent of war to subjugate the French people. He indicates that France has been the sublimation of the master-slave relationship ever since. (8) Tod’s obsession with Waterloo, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars throughout Locust is given the backdrop of the events signalling Nazi Germany’s prewar European hegemony, and West’s concept of the opportunistic “American Dream” of wealth and fame as promoted by Hollywood. All three aspects echo each other in the construction of an élite (partially by supplanting the previous élite), the repression of individuality for conformity, and by the acceptance of particular social and political “rules of the game” for optimal gain.

Visual pleasure, not content, is the hallmark of Schlesinger’s Golden Age Hollywood product in Locust, and it becomes the basis for the self-deceptions and desires of the masses that work in or attend these films. As Russell Berman puts it, “The fascist modernist denounces identities constituted by language, while expressing a desire for the image freed from verbal mediation.” (9) As in Nazi Germany, image has replaced genealogy (with the exception of race) as the tool for social advancement and primacy in an America floundering in the lingering effects of the Great Depression and social instability, and surrounded by belligerent totalitarianisms. Meanwhile, the history of the German people and their mission is not rewritten but (re)imaged by the National Socialists in author Ernst Jünger’s postbourgeois Aryan visage (10) and in the mythic images in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will, 1935). Indeed, the entire visual ritual of National Socialism prompts Hans-Jürgen Syberberg to offer a tellingly ambiguous subtitle to his 1978 film, Hitler: Ein Film aus Deutschland (Hitler: A Film From Germany – non-italics mine) (11), as a comment on the theatricality of the National Socialist order. Like the National Socialist visual propaganda, Schlesinger’s Golden Age Hollywood caters to and then bends the imagination of mass American culture to become a centralized, accessible, exciting source of information for historical/political understanding and for its role models (gender, social, and national), all couched in emotionally uplifting visual pleasure. Its socially levelling nature imparts a sense of egalitarianism and pseudo-intellectual power, in the illusion that, as the masses enjoy experiences that elevate them above the mundane, they have acquired knowledge. Schlesinger’s attempt to connect Golden Age Hollywood and the German New Order delineates a fascist modernity, which Berman traces in origin to the fin de siècle and the “bourgeois aesthetics of autonomy, i.e., teleology, identity, and fictionality” (12). The large Jewish immigrant population of Hollywood (many fleeing Nazism) notwithstanding, the director sees a fascistic relationship between the historical film industry, its propaganda and its reception – “a perpetual repetition of the same, suggesting the eternal return of a cyclical history. In place of identity construction, it offers the spectacle.” (13) The simple comparison of the entertainment products of wartime Hollywood and Berlin/Vienna can support this relationship. The lavish musicals, romantic love stories, self-sacrificing women’s pictures, nostalgic histories and biopics, and contemporary social comedies of these film centres reflect each other in genre and form. The only significant difference between the entertainment motion pictures of, for example, MGM and UFA (Germany’s nationalized mega studio between 1933-45), is Nazi cinema’s active glorification of death in its narrative features. But for Schlesinger, Hollywood also offers the “unnuanced and unquestioned” battlefields (14) (the Waterloo sequence) found in Nazi literature and cinema. There is also a Benjaminian æsthetization of politics that haunts his film: the radio reports of the Munich Agreement is used to provide the falsely soothing backdrop of “reality” in Tod’s frustrated life; the newsreel of Hitler reviewing his troops which Faye, Tod and impoverished cowboy Earle Shoop (Bo Hopkins) walk out on after viewing the Cantor film is presented as an event of visual pleasure. As Hitler’s voice carries out into the lobby, Faye recognises herself in a theatre showcase window and says, “Why, that’s me!” This telling overlap suggests both Hitler and Faye are fantasy-laden teases who can manipulate men to any deed. This is immediately established in the following action: in response to Faye’s teasing of both men with sexual opportunity for the price of an unlawful deed – “You don’t suppose we could steal it?” – Earle breaks the glass to obtain a picture of Faye. After he and Faye are chased out of the theatre, Tod grabs the picture. The vandalism of the broken glass (referencing the German Kristallnacht or “Night of Broken Glass”) caused by Faye incites the self-consciously “good” and “intellectual” Tod to behave like a hoodlum to prove masculine prowess and self-sacrifice for her. During this act, we hear the newsreel announcer commenting on the images of Hitler and his marching soldiers, assuring us that institutionalized lawlessness and theft (in this case that of nations: the 1938 annexation of Austria and partitioning of Czechoslovakia) represent the wave of the future: “Nazi sympathizers and even those who don’t sympathize cheer the invading force.” But since this ought to be 1937, Schlesinger’s use of an inappropriate newsreel suggests that cinema’s relationship with the “facts” of history are usually manipulated and unreliable – in his film as in the historical epics we see being made. This fictionalization will return even more significantly with the doomed movie premiere at the conclusion of Locust. Unable to possess Faye, Tod settles on securing the photo representation of her, which she signs and he adds to his wall of drawings like a religious or political icon that signifies future promise.

In his commentary on Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens, Berman “defines a fascist rhetoric as the displacement of verbal by visual representation: the power of the image renders scripture obsolete” (15). Using Ernst Jünger as an example, Berman further notes that the fascists denounced identities constituted from language in favour of the “descriptive parole [which] is committed to the abolition of langue(16). At first, Tod overtly battles this fascist form of visual representation he sees in Hollywood and the “new postbourgeois type who, by definition, can have no identifying features” (17). Tod revels in recording the features of the “real” people to dispel what he senses is a threateningly interchangeable and impermanent concept of identity. He ignores Estee’s encouragement of sexual interest in a passing herd of dancing girls all dressed uniformly and completely without individual characteristics. Later, when Estee’s circle watch a stag film at Audrey Jennings’ (Natalie Schafer) home, which also covers its “sporting house” use with the expected mise en scène of a typical society matron’s environs, one of the viewers remarks that the stag-film performer receiving fellatio “looks like Tod”. Joan (Nita Talbot), one of Estee’s guests, suddenly glances at him seductively based on just this filmic association (e.g., Tod’s sexual value is informed by a casual image resemblance). Tod, however, remains a distant and unique spectator. He notices Mary Dove among the call girls, and sneaks around the outside of the house to peer into the window of the room where the girls wait for their assignments. Paralleling the viewing of the stag film, Tod has now become a voyeur to satisfy curiosity and sexual desire, and, like the film which breaks and disappoints the group in the house, Tod learns and satisfies nothing as he inspects the similarly made-up and gowned women (Jünger’s postbourgeois type with no identifying features) who teasingly dance with one another and glance at pictures in magazines. When he is interrupted by Estee, who offers to arrange for an anonymous/interchangeable call girl for him, Tod responds with identities rather than generalizations by naming Mary Dove and by wanting to know if Faye Greener is also an employee of Audrey Jennings’ bordello.

The Day of the Locust

Supporting the anti-langue visual ideology of the film is a concentration on discounting the value of knowledge, logic, books and the word itself. Faye looks at a drawing of an elderly man’s face and rejects him on the truism that “people with thin lips are mean”. Tod immediately supplies an identity for this image of his father and proves her truism faulty. Homer is nearly consumed by his accounting books and, when Faye admires his penmanship, he comments: “They used to prize handwriting in accountancy. Not so much anymore now.” To please Homer, Faye practices proper posture by walking with books on her head but loses patience and tosses them aside. This is the closest (non-)relationship Faye has with writing and words. She later glances at the images of a popular magazine while eating a large slice of cake (vague visual pleasure supported by immediate physical satisfaction) during the Christmas Eve montage, while Homer sits alone and listens to the radio (bourgeois cultural plaisir). The evangelistic revival meeting held by Big Sister (Geraldine Page), modelled on the exploitive theatricality of Pentecostal Evangelist Amiee Semple McPherson, literally replaces the biblical “Word” with a visual performance, which Harry Greener unconsciously reacts to and thus underscores the cheap mass entertainment aspect of the event: at first he cannot be “healed” and falls as he is forced to stand from his wheelchair, but then he responds to the spotlight, the singing and the audience applause. Hallucinating that he is back on the vaudevillian stage, he lurches into a dance. To reach a wide audience and to fill her money coffers, Big Sister offers banal and sexually suggestive ecstatic rhetoric which can be understood by all: “Take me. Make me thy bond slave. Do what thou wilt with this frail flesh; I just run the gas station, Jesus runs the oil wells, and the gasoline is prayer.” Comparisons are easily drawn to the simplistic associations and exhortations of Hitler (whose speech style has been referred to as a mimicry of sexual release) and other totalitarian leaders of the era, who created their leader-cult through visually ritualistic/Messianic mass events. Our introduction to Big Sister, the name itself a play on the more ominous all-controlling notion of “Big Brother”, is transmitted via radio broadcast, which was the propaganda medium by which Nazism invited itself into German households. (18) Several tracking shots which sweep the camera through the centre aisle of the cheering audience to focus on Big Sister’s theatrical oratory on stage, and cut between the elevated “leader” and the faces of the worshipful (Homer) and those seemingly with little hope (Faye) quote Riefenstahl’s camera and editing technique during Hitler’s appearance at the Nuremberg rally hall in Triumph des Willens. The red, white and black cross banners add to the National Socialist parody as does the African-American chorus singing “There is power in the blood”, which plays on both Christian worship and the self-destructive acceptance of American or Nazi racism – Foucault’s idea that we embody and desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us. Schlesinger was certainly familiar with at least some of Riefenstahl’s work, having been part of the attempt to reframe and advance the brilliance of her 1936 Berlin Olympics documentary, Olympia (1938) with the Munich Olympics in the multi-directed Visions of Eight (1973).

Evasion of intellectual discourse is indicated by the characters’ avoidance of the news in the theatre and also on the radio and in print. A newspaper announcing “Four Power Peace Pact Signed” is trashed as it holds the fried poultry Faye and Tod eat at the camp of Earle Shoop and Miguel (Pepe Serna) in the Hollywood Hills. Instead, interest turns once again to desire, as Faye wordlessly teases the men with her lascivious drinking of tequila (her use of the phallic bottle, her salt licking and lime squeezing are sexually suggestive) and physical movement. Earle punctuates the growing tension of watching Miguel and Faye’s sexual dance by drumming the earth with a stick until he finally strikes Miguel. This pre-verbal action offers a tantalizing correspondence with Kubrick’s prehistoric simians in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and with the marching beat of the Nazi troops in the newsreel. Tod, the intellectual, is once again easily seduced into brutality through the tease. He takes advantage of the scuffle, chasing and nearly raping Faye until he regains his rationality and tosses her the tatters of her dress and his car keys. Schlesinger transfers this self-satisfaction impulse to the masses at the apocalyptic riot at the conclusion of the film. During that riot, which I will deal with later, Hitlerist book burnings and the mob’s symbolic rejection of democracy, rationalism and humanism are translated into the American vernacular as images of Hollywood stars are burned, African-Americans are lynched and blazing telegraph poles resembling burning Klan crosses fall as a newspaper announcing “Roosevelt Pledges Nation To Continue Fight For Tolerance” turns into ashes.

Schlesinger’s anti-langue/anti-intellectualism is enforced by the casualness of racism and anti-Semitism among the characters. Earle’s relationship with his friend Miguel remains intact as long as Miguel does not attempt to attract Faye. Earle’s anger at what he perceives as miscegenation causes the fight at the cookout and, when he discovers Miguel having sex with Faye the morning after Homer’s disastrous party, he chases Miguel out of her bed insisting, “You were supposed to be my friend.” Homer’s attempt to create spectacle with a lavish buffet complete with American flags and a sophisticated self-image (he is dressed in a smoking jacket and ascot) is deflated by Faye who informs him that “only a nigger could wear an outfit like that”. At the start of the film, notions of racial/social hierarchy, the desire of uniform community and the fear of difference are fought out between the San Bernardino Arms caretaker and Abe Kusich. The latter complains with profanity that the sprinklers will get his suit wet and is rebuffed by the caretaker, who replies: “You mind your tongue Mr Kusich, there are Christians living here.” Kusich’s dwarfism and the possible Eastern-European Jewish ancestry evoked by his name are automatically understood as aspects of social/racial inferiority by the caretaker. Kusich retorts with a derogatory statement of his own: “Who am I? A nigger?” He strives to demonstrate that he is not outside the empowered white America despite his other “differences”. Harry Greener also casually refers to “niggers” several times and informs Tod, through the miming of an anti-Semitic caricature, that only Jews can succeed in Hollywood. His inability to understand his lost career as personal failure and willingness to scapegoat is also apparent in his reduction of women (his former wife and his daughter Faye) to mindless sex objects, and in his xenophobia, which is rooted in his anger at the “foreigner” who lured his wife away.

While I have previously rejected Susan Sontag’s notion of Leni Riefenstahl’s specific “fascist aesthetic” as a faulty conclusion that does not take in account German Romantic ideology and the exploitation of various artistic philosophies by Nazism (19), I will point to Sontag’s contradiction of her æsthetic argument in her quote that

Walt Disney’s Fantasia [1940 (20)], Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here [1943], and Kubrick’s 2001 also strikingly exemplify certain formal structures and themes of fascist [or communist, e.g., totalitarian] art. (21)

Triumph des Willens

Indeed, the monumentalism of Nazi documentaries, the hermetically sealed fantasies that beg emotional reactions rather than intellectual rumination, the cutting between leader figure and mass formation can be found in all types of film, and it is the collaboration of Nazi theatricality, Riefenstahl’s Romantic vocabulary and her nearly abstract distillation of Hitlerian ritual that allows Triumph des Willens its powerful and hypnotic messages. It is evident that when this relationship did not connect, as in the confused and messy attempt of Riefenstahl to film an earlier Nazi Party rally in her disowned Der Sieg des Glaubens (Victory of Faith, 1933), the idea of the director’s inherent fascist æsthetic fails completely. The translation of National Socialist values into film do not create such an aesthetic, merely a pastiche of exploited æsthetics sutured together and to fascist ideology. But as regards Sontag’s argument that Hollywood has shared themes and structures with totalitarian art, Schlesinger’s Golden Age motion-picture industry actively constructs a Messianism that evokes the ideology behind the totalitarian “utopias” of the time, particularly Hitlerism: the air-tight cinematic fantasies that deny intellectual response for emotional reaction; the iconization of its élite, which creates unapproachable and unfathomable role models; the division of these élite from the masses, while simultaneously promising a better, even superior life; values of good and evil distorted by the notion of heroism and perfection; implied racial, class, religious, and gender hierarchies and exclusionary social structures.

Not only does Schlesinger’s studio system evoke the Führerprinzip in which the values of the leader filter down through the ranks of the imitative and uniform masses, but, by extension, his 1938 America follows that pattern in its enslavement to the dictates of a cinematically propelled popular culture which supports illiberal, reactionary and racist sociopolitical ideas in a nation battered by depression and instability only somewhat less catastrophic than in Weimar Germany. Siegfried Kracauer’s idea that motion pictures have fostered a “cult of distraction” in a setting which “favors the lofty and the sacred […] just one step short of burning votive candles” (22), among the masses of pre-Hitler Germany is at the root of Schlesinger’s Locust. Kracauer also saw the fascistic quality of all film early on: “by its very existence, film demands that the world it reflects be the only one” and cautioned that the industry had better “aim radically toward a kind of distraction that exposes disintegration rather than masking it” (23). But as Locust’s title song, “Jeepers Creepers” (24), suggests, everyone has “big eyes” which stare at everyone else, as they would a film, with hopes for an immediate, cinematically cliché “answer”, or, at least, a pleasurable diversion. The line between illusion and authenticity has been willingly erased, causing an ever-widening gap between the reality and the ideal, suggesting that the reality had better be replaced by the fantasy ideal, or else the masses will bring the ideal down to them or follow someone who promises to accomplish this.

Both Faye and Tod are doubled by more negative images of themselves, that in identification with (as a form of projected self-love) also evokes homoeroticism. Faye relies on her jaded friend Mary Dove, who has given up pretence of being an actress for openly known prostitution. While Faye flirts both with Mary’s sexual approaches and her profession (to earn the money for her father’s burial), she ultimately saves herself from this fate by retreating into the fantasy of her pseudo-starletdom. Tod’s uncomfortable relationship with Homer – who is to him variously a subject of ridicule, an equal, a possible homosexual encounter, a belittling authority figure to be rebuffed and finally a subject of pity, even love – allows Tod to come to terms with his own self-delusions. Upon hearing from Homer that his relationship with Fay is a “business arrangement” and noticing Homer suddenly turn away as he removes his sweater and appears bare-chested, Tod’s thoughtful return glance is ambiguous: might he not ask Faye to have the same relationship with him, or might he not become a business arrangement himself? Later, at Homer’s party as he watches Faye seductively dance with Estee, Abe, Earle and Miguel, Tod shifts his anger at Faye and his own inadequacies to Homer by suggesting his effeminacy, condemning his “Bible-thumping” snobbery and informing him that he has been taken in by a whore. Unlike the Faye-Mary Dove relationship, this mirroring brings out Tod’s sympathy for Homer. His willingness to drop his own social mask ultimately dooms him, but Faye survives because, although her artifice may slip, it is never discarded. A possible reason for her rejection of any other persona is the suggestion that she may have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Harry compares her sexually to her mother and, when he has a laughing fit, she thrusts her undulating breasts at him while singing “Jeepers Creepers” (which is replayed by the other damaged child, Adore, who imitates her to Homer at the doomed premiere). Faye threatens to leave her father if he cannot afford to buy her the evening dress she wants, a response better suited to a lover than to a father. Significantly, Faye refuses sex with anyone she has actual feelings for, but can and will perform as a prostitute. When Tod asks her to pretend she is still one, so that he may have her, she tearfully tells him that she did that for a purpose (to afford her father’s funeral) and that she has moved in with Homer because “he doesn’t want anything”. Yet, the father/mentor role Homer plays bores her and is ended because of his “fatherly” lack of sexual interest in her. There are prismatic reflections of these two dyads as well. The child actor Adore exists simply to please his stage mother, and has no life beyond dance drills, gender ambiguous adult mimicry and the sexual miscomprehensions of the pre-pubescent. When his actual persona emerges, it desires to prey on adults and they have preyed on him. The transvestite singer (Paul Jabara) in the club where the failed triangle of Tod, Faye and Homer celebrate nothing in particular performs “Hot Voodoo”, referencing Marlene Dietrich’s harlot-mother character in Blonde Venus (Josef von Sternberg, 1932), who vacillates uncomfortably between the everyday world and that of stage performance. Jabara’s character firstly attempts a female impersonation, playing off Homer’s shock and shyness with overtly sexual gestures, but ultimately reverts to very male physicality at the end of the song, pulling off his wig and walking off stage in an exaggerated, angry male strut. In Schlesinger’s Golden Age Hollywood, nothing is as it seems, but the fantasy is sloppy and insufficient, barely covering frustration and self-delusion. This appears to be the modus for life off camera and off stage as well: the miniature platform for the cockfights frame and glorify bestial brutality with a rituality Kracauer would consider the wrong lesson learned from cinema. Tod is shocked at the cheapness and dispensability of life as Estee tells him that it would “not have made any difference” if lives were lost in the Waterloo set collapse. The same lie would have been told to protect those in power. Later, at Homer’s party, as Estee attempts to escape the brawl, Tod responds in a German accent, “Jawohl, brave leader.” At the kitsch-tragic funeral of Faye’s father, which is choreographed to the accompaniment of Jacques Offenbach’s “Barcarolle” from Tales of Hoffmann, an opera which provides a pre-cinematic metaphor on the dangers of illusion spilled into reality, a mechanical doll Olympia can be perceived through a set of magic glasses as a real woman (the previously mentioned Pygmalion reference of turning art into life that is associated with Faye-as-Hollywood). A tired, drunken Tod discovers that those sitting in the pew with him are not holding bibles but autograph books, and their glazed eyes search like unthinking flesh-starved animals for sources of entertainment and reflected glory (we first hear the ominous buzzing of John Barry’s “locust” music here that haunts the riot at the conclusion of the film). Upon hearing that “Gable is here”, they disruptively scatter across the cemetery. Tod walks away in disgust, passing a woman placing a small fake Christmas tree on a grave. Death as entertainment; entertainment as death – or at least, as Schlesinger would have it, mind-numbing, self-degenerating mass pacification.

The Day of the Locust

Few set pieces in American cinema continue to startle audiences that can make it through Schlesinger’s sprawling anti-epic as does his apocalyptic Hollywood Boulevard conclusion. Here, too, the director plays with audience expectations through a false ending in which Tod listens to the grieving Homer, who bemoans his loss of Faye following the previous night’s disastrous party. Tod’s promise to find her and Homer’s lament of her as a child who needs love (ironic given his murder of Adore) becomes a voice-over on images of her empty room, scattered coat hangers and Harry’s suitcase (a signifier that she has abandoned Homer-as-father). Until the start of what is often referred to as the neoclassic Hollywood phase with Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977), the films of the first half of the 1970s tended to reject spectacle, closured endings and the backlot constructions found in classic Hollywood cinema and some late-’60s free-wheeling psychedelic epics, the latter Schlesinger helped seed with Billy Liar (in which the director first approached the notion of the fantastic or imaginary life) and Darling (where the director captures the notion of impermanence-as-ideology). Yet, suddenly, a postcard-perfect birds-eye shot of Hollywood with searchlights emanating from Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the very centre of the Hollywood pop culture myth, reveals a painstakingly detailed “reproduction” of the red carpet premier of The Buccaneer (1938), a film directed by Hollywood’s most autocratic and religion/epic-obsessed figures, Cecil B. DeMille. The choice of this film is keenly reflective of Locust’s ideology. The Buccaneer, set during the War of 1812, is contextualized by association with the fictional productions (the opening credit “film” and the “Waterloo” project) depicted in Locust (i.e., inaccurate, reductive and essentially propagandistic). Moreover, the premiere of The Buccaneer in Hollywood, which at first glance appears to be the one event of solid fact (unlike Ali Baba Goes to Town, which has an appearance by the fictional Faye Greener edited into it, the premiere introduces “actual” historical stars and studio heads), to anchor Schlesinger’s alternate reality of the riot is the greatest fictionalization of the film. Temporally, the narrative of Locust would place the doomed fictional premiere in late December 1938 or early 1939, but DeMille’s epic actually premiered a year earlier on 7 January 1938 and in New Orleans. (25) Like the newsreel discussed earlier, Schlesinger’s anti-Golden Age pseudo-epic is intentionally as unreliable and manipulative with the facts as is the Golden Age Hollywood product (and by association and suggestion Nazi propaganda images) the film exposes.

Extending the metaphoric reflection of Hitler’s fascism, Hollywood Boulevard becomes an American “Nuremberg”, the nexus of an exclusionary, fantasy-based ideal and, where the Riefenstahl is replaced by Paramount newsreel cameras, the crowds wait in near hysteric expectancy for the arrival of their demigods, an emcee bearing a slight resemblance to Hitler whips the crowd into a frenzy and jackbooted police, whose uniforms and posture recalls Nazi Storm Troopers in Triumph des Willens, hold the crowds at bay. The riot restates in microcosm the entire cinematic/fascistic/Messianic interplay of the film. When the dejected, nearly catatonic Homer is baited by Adore, he blindly unleashes his repressed, psychotic anger against Faye’s exploitation and violation of him. Adore’s impersonation of Faye’s lewd shimmy while singing “Jeepers Creepers” becomes a manageable Faye, a small Faye, one Homer can literally pound into the ground. His stomping death of Adore catches the attention of the fans and Homer awakes from his trance, only to be torn apart by a hysterical mob that takes law into its own hands to punish the child murderer. Tod’s attempt to stop the crowd is drowned out by the mixed screams of murder and the cheers for the arriving stars. Homer, who dies for the sins of society (including his psychotic alter ego that destroys Adore), represents both the vengeful Old Testament and the forgiving New Testament God-images: following Faye’s departure, Homer explains to Tod that he forgives Faye, and admits that he put up with her abuse and rationalized it because he lived for the few times she showed him kindness, certainly the psychological reaction to spousal abuse, but, in this reading, an example of the punishment/reward basis of mass discipline used by totalitarian regimes. Yet Homer also confesses he wishes he could “tear it all down”, as he cramps up his tension-filled fingers and sits on them, while the camera focuses on his groin, the source of his impotence and rejection of the sexualized world. Those tension-filled fingers, which earlier are cut to the carrots Faye grinds into juice, foreshadowing her role in his destruction, are only relaxed as he is killed by the mob. His arms and bloodied hands are stretched out in a final grasp for freedom, recalling a crucifixion scene. In essence, Homer receives his wish and the mob does “tear it all down”, as the line between hysterical adulation and hysterical rage is obliterated by barbaric release. Homer has become the scapegoat the cinematically teased mob has subconsciously waited for, and the rage is then transferred to the wealthy and exclusionary celebrities. Again, borrowing from the biblical/contemporary morality melodramas, Schlesinger’s Hollywood riot suggests epic mythic events: it is the plague brought on by Moses, the worshiping of the Golden Calf, the destruction of Sodom, the Crucifixion and the Apocalypse collapsed presented in modern guise. Homer is simultaneously biblical threat (vengeful God; Goliath) and sacrifice (Christ; a victim of Sodom and Gomorrah), as Tod is disciple, witness and victim, and Faye’s Magdalene is made pure again, not by her love of Homer but by her loyal worship of Hollywood’s promise – she is dressed in white and wears a white fur hat that suggests a halo as she innocently awaits the arrival of the star-gods at the premiere.

The Day of the Locust

Schlesinger’s crane shot captures the dissolving line between the vengeful mob and the hysterical fans whipped up by the Hitlerian emcee, who shouts to the radio audience, “You wouldn’t even believe what your eyes can see!”, as the Paramount newsreel cameras trace the easy metamorphosis of admiration and envy into murder. The desire to rape fantasy (Hollywood-as-persona and vice versa; Faye is gang raped during the riot) and to demand access to the untouchable ideal (recall Tod’s near rape of Faye) is cinematically explained by Christian Metz’s idea of the scopic régime of film in which he posits that, unlike theatre, cinema bolts the “desire to the lack”. Since the image can never be accessed, influenced or altered, it perpetuates a collectivity of scopophilic voyeurs who perceive their only power in “unauthorized” (by the fantasy object(s)) voyeurism. (26) The result of this attempt to violently close the gap between the voyeuristic reality and the fictional ideal is delivered with revenge. It is the root of American race hatred, the Holocaust and the world war to come. The mob attacks the stars, burns books and magazines, smashes store windows (Kristallnacht again) and loots shops, refuses to let others into their zones of safety (one woman calls out “keep them out” as she huddles with others in a diner) and torches buildings. Tod’s eyes intellectually transform the riot and he sees the people from his drawings (Jünger’s postbourgeois types with no identifying features) come to life, marching onward, like the revolutionary mob drawing he once pinned on his wall, and carrying a banner of the face of ugliness and stupidity. From reality transformed into art, art becomes reality again. Tod, who attempted to de-fictionalize history with intellectualism but abandoned his values to the Hollywood fantasy, realizes that he has become a collaborator in the ideology that ultimately inspires total dehumanization. Like the artists who supported the fictionalization of German history to embed Nazism as a natural and messianic development, and who reframed belligerence, violence and death as heroic, Tod discarded the concept of individuality and intellectualism for the production of mass propaganda of images that have created an emotionally-guided, irrational, faceless humanity swayed by the promise of grandeur and ignited by their own envy and blood lust.

As we witness the projection of this dehumanization as pogrom and apocalypse, complete with burning palm trees and an earthquake that tears apart Tod’s wall along the crack that can no longer be aestheticized by the fake flower, we can peer into Faye’s bedroom, the sight of suggested sin and actual pain. As the photo of her in the harem costume burns, the very celluloid of the film we are viewing catches fire, distancing the audience from the fantasy we are watching, at once insisting on its artificiality and the ultimate punishment (biblical or sociopolitical) for the evils of worshiping false idols – our attraction to film as alternative life, as ready-made dream, as answer to our self-imagery and understanding of the world. Kracauer suggested the temptation and danger of cinematic manipulation and propaganda thusly:

here, in pure externality, the audience encounters itself: its own reality is revealed in the fragmented sequence of splendid sense impressions. Were this reality to remain hidden from the viewers, they could neither attack nor change it; its disclosure in distraction is therefore of moral significance. But this is the case only if distraction is not an end in itself.

Schlesinger understands that the propaganda of Golden Age Hollywood and Nazi Germany were indeed the ends unto themselves, and in Locust’s finale shows such distraction to be in the service of the master-slave relationship of Foucault’s “society”.

The aftermath is placid and dully reaffirming of cyclical history. Tod has vanished. Faye discovers his bungalow empty, save for the flower in the crack, which her shadow covers, until they are one. Dressed in white and haloed by backlighting of sunlight, Faye stifles her sadness and moves on. Like the artifice of the flower, she is a surface image designed only for visual pleasure as she moves through ugliness and irrationality. She is Walter Benjamin’s cheaply reproduced art, an icon signifying self-iconization and the continuance of mass illusion as gospel. In Schlesinger’s Locust, the gaze is all. It displaces rational thought and intellectualism. It sexualizes without pleasure, and pleasures without substance. The misunderstood gaze kills Adore, which then ends Homer’s life. The gaze finds no difference between adulating fans and a murderous mob. It ultimately saves Tod but reinforces the self-delusions of Faye. Little wonder, then, that a film which posits the corrosive power of the manipulated visual found no great appreciation from the motion-picture industry, and has hardly been popular among mainstream audiences, who go to films to experience a satisfying virtual life.

After her death in 2003, many historians attempted to answer the reasons for the continued avoidance, even rejection, of Leni Riefenstahl-as-filmmaker by critics during her lifetime. Perhaps it was that her Triumph des Willens showed a naïve world that adored a relatively new art form that would give them a dream life, that film was not trustworthy, that fantasies could become controlling and that there was, as the Impressionists attempted to explain a few decades earlier, no such thing as even visual truth, only perception. Paraphrasing the premiere’s emcee, we in fact would learn not to believe what our eyes can see. Schlesinger’s Day of the Locust allegorizes that very reception while exploiting the seductive quality of cinema he attacks, so that we may enter the film as part of a mass seeking cheap transcendence, but leave distanced, not so much by the fakery, but by our desire for it.

Endnotes

  1. Nominations went to Burgess Meredith for Best Supporting Actor and Conrad Hall for Cinematography.
  2. “The Cheated” was West’s original title for the novel.
  3. Alfred Kazin, foreword to Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust (New York: Signet, 1983), p. xv.
  4. See Rey Chow, “The Fascist Longings in our Midst,” Ethics After Idealism: Theory-Culture-Ethnicity-Reading, Theories of Contemporary Culture, Vol. 20 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), pp. 14-32.
  5. Examples of Biblical films framed by modern reflections are Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages (D. W. Griffith, USA, 1916), Sodom und Gomorrha (Mihaly Kertész (aka Michael Curtiz), Austria, 1922), Samson und Delila (Alexander Korda, Austria, 1922), The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. De Mille, USA, 1923), etc. The style even informed science fiction in the parallel and flashback between the plight of the futuristic workers in Metropolis (Fritz Lang, Germany, 1926) and the “Tower of Babel” story.
  6. See René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (New York: Orbis, 2001).
  7. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, in Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (Eds), Film Theory and Criticism (New York and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 809-10.
  8. See Michel Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended”, Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-1976, translated by David Macey, introduction by Arnold I. Davidson (New York: Picador, 2003).
  9. Russell A. Berman, Modern Culture and Critical Theory: Art, Politics, and the Legacy of the Frankfurt School (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), p. 112.
  10. Ernst Jünger details as the visage of the new fascist order, “the diametrical opposite of the image of a spectacled intellectual”. See Berman, p. 110. Tod, a self-professed intellectual who wears glasses, takes them off to appear more attractive and blend in with Estee’s “Hollywood” friends who party at Audrey Jennings’ bordello.
  11. Berman, p. 100.
  12. Berman, p. 105.
  13. Berman, p. 105.
  14. Berman, pp. 105-6.
  15. Berman, p. 100.
  16. Berman, pp. 112-3.
  17. Berman, p. 113.
  18. The Volksempfänger (people’s receiver) was an economical radio for the masses, in a largely successful effort (when more inexpensive models were introduced after 1938) by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to promote National Socialism in the private sphere and as part of the desire for entertainment in the home.
  19. See Robert von Dassanowsky, “Wherever You May Run, You Cannot Escape Him: Leni Riefenstahl’s Self-Reflection and Romantic Transcendence of Nazism in Tiefland”, Camera Obscura 35, 1995, pp. 107-29.
  20. Directed by James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe, Norman Ferguson, Jim Handley, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield and Ben Sharpsteen.
  21. Susan Sontag, “Fascinating Fascism”, Under the Sign of Saturn (New York: Picador, 2002), pp. 73-108.
  22. Siegfried Kracauer, “Cult of Distraction: On Berlin’s Picture Palaces”, The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays by Siegfried Kracauer, translated and edited by Thomas Y. Levin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), p. 327.
  23. Kracauer, p. 328.
  24. Sung by Louis Armstrong in a vintage recording.
  25. During the last third of Locust, Tod listens to a radio report from Bad Godesberg, where Hitler and Chamberlain met in September 1938 to create the Munich Agreement. A discarded Christmas tree is seen in Homer’s kitchen during the final party, which places it on or around New Year’s Eve. Release dates for The Buccaneer can be found online at Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0029950/releaseinfo.
  26. See Christian Metz, “The Passion for Perceiving”, in Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (EDs), Film Theory and Criticism (New York and London: Oxford UP, 2004), pp. 827-31.

About The Author

Robert von Dassanowsky is Professor of German and Film Studies, director of the Film Studies Program at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, and an independent film producer. His cultural, literary and film criticism is widely published. He is the author of Austrian Cinema: A History, editor of New Austrian Cinema and the forthcoming Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds: A Manipulation of Metacinema.