The Day of the Locust

(John Schlesinger , USA, 1975)


There could be no better antidote for all-pervasive Christmas cheer than this dark adaptation by director John Schlesinger and writer Waldo Salt of Nathanael West’s corrosive, anti-Hollywood novel.

Clearly a major inspiration on the Coen brothers’ excellent Barton Fink (1991), West’s tale burrows deeply into the alienated dreams and schemes of a group of characters (played by Donald Sutherland, Karen Black and William Atherton).

Ultimately, their tawdry, tragic story is writ large as the apocalyptic fate of an entire society.

This is the kind of pumped-up, rather ersatz art movie, full of Los Angeles Sturm und Drang, which goes down best if – like me – you see it at the age of about fifteen, at the trembling dawn of cinephilia. (Today, in the light of what Schlesinger’s films became, it seems more camp than it once did.) The film plays well to the adolescent-sublime sensibility, with its melancholic intimations of desire and death forever entwined.

MORE Schlesinger: Eye for an Eye, The Next Best Thing, Pacific Heights

© Adrian Martin December 1992

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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