catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 23 :: 2007.12.14 — 2007.12.28


A night with the hunter

“I know with certainty that a man’s work is nothing but the long journey to recover, through the detours of art, the two or three simple and great images which first gained access to his heart.” Albert Camus captured something that really resonates with me. The movies have always been some of these images which fuel both my production and consumption of art. Art! There’s a loaded word. If we surveyed the queue at the local movie theatre I’m sure we’d get an array of answers as to what it is, what it means, and how to do it. I do think back to those early moments of watching movies with my dad. Whether a Texas sunset or the Rocky top dusk of Denver, images have a searing quality. One thing I’ve noticed about art regardless of the medium is that it takes time. You’ve got to savor it. It doesn’t seem fitting to scarf art like some sort of summer condiment on a greasy fried concoction. Having visited the local museum quite a bit, you tend to take notice of the slow stroll amateur art connoisseurs whispering and pointing, lots of nodding. Me, I go to the movies. Still adjusting from the price of a movie in the Northeast and getting established in a new city, of late I tend to go to the movies at home.

However, recently I was able to get out to my first movie in some time. My brother-in-law and I went out to the newly renovated Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in downtown Austin, Texas. I guess you might call it an Art House cinema experience. If there’s one place everybody knows about in Austin, it’s the Drafthouse. It offers an array of food options and a plethora of beers, and for many, what could be better than food, beer, and movies? Not much. Anyway, we went to see the highly acclaimed No Country for Old Men by Joel and Ethan Coen based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of same name. The Brothers always impress me. That aside, the experience was a treat. It’s not just about the movie, it’s about the experience. This for me encapsulates art, the experience. Not a but the experience. Holistic! It did get me thinking about the movie mega-theatres in relation to this tiny two-screen hideaway. They tend to be referred to, at least in colloquial banter as Art Houses that feature cinema. They typically play a combination of foreign, independent, or just-plain-niche films that are to obscure to appeal to the masses. Occasionally movies of this stature end up catching fire and the masses take notice. Pulp Fiction comes to mind. These are the movies that typically don’t play in the mega-theatres because they probably wouldn’t bring in enough butts to satisfy “the man.”

So, I’ve sort of made my little humble abode my Art House. I have folks over as often as possible to watch movies. I watch movies with my wife. By myself. Most of all I enjoy movies with my daughter. The movies were always something that I could do with my dad as opposed to simply watching him do. It’s communal in nature both in its production and consumption.  In my home Art House, I have access to literally thousands of movies and though it doesn’t necessarily compare to the big-screen, it’s satisfying. Lying cozy on the couch with the power to pause for more popcorn or bathroom breaks—what more could you ask for?

On this evening in my Art House, I spent the night with a hunter—The Night of the Hunter, to be precise. If you haven’t seen it, chances are you’ve seen a reference to it as some point and just not realized it. For those who haven’t experienced this flick, I encourage you to create your own Art House for an evening and give it a gander. In 1955 this box-office-flop-now-classic-gem opened to little fanfare or critical success. It was acting buff Charles Laughton’s first and only directional work. Every facet of this film is both disturbing and stunning. Based on Davis Grubb’s novel of same name and adapted both by Laughton and film critic James Agee, Hunter is a chilling movie. It stars the great noir-man Robert Mitchum as a bluebeard preacher who’s tending the Lord’s work of dispelling evil. Preacher ends up following a money trail from prison to the Ohio River Valley where he meets and connives his way into the lives of two young children who hold the key to the secret. We initially meet Preacher on the road in a prayerful discourse, driving to the local burlesque dance-hall. It’s a beautifully constructed scene with its use of light and shadows. It’s here that we catch our first glimpse of his hands.

Perhaps the most referenced element of the film is the images of the words LOVE and HATE on the fingers of our evil preacher. Tattooed hands of love and hate have found their way into the Simpsons, Blues Brothers, Do the Right Thing, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, to name a few. The story of Right-Hand-Left-Hand is the story of good and evil.

The movie is significant in many ways but too many to note in brevity. It has a significant influence drawn from German Expressionism and the films of D.W. Griffith. It deals with the dichotomy of human nature’s great toil, love and hate. It’s a fairy tale of sorts.  It has silent icon Lillian Gish. It has vivid lighting and a particular haunting scene, a recreation of which finds its way into the Coen Brothers film The Man Who Wasn’t There. The point is that the experience of this movie always affects me. Each view gives me something different. Even if I’m alone, I can share that experience with others who’ve seen it.

That’s one of the great characteristics of art is its sense of community, something everyone can share in. It’s the talk about the painting or the movie or the concert that gets us in those moments of memorable conversations where we agree to disagree and it’s great.

It’s great because stories are simple ways to imagine and create, to fill the gaps of life. Ways we can live vicariously through others lives, cultures, or time periods. It’s something I did with my dad and it’s something that I do a lot with my daughter. It’s the experience. I hope that regardless of where you watch movies you’ll be able to get away some time to garner a new experience. Ironically, time and experience is something that we tend to either squander or avoid. Even if we do make time it’s merely a fleeting escapism to the next thing. In order to actualize thought and reflection, we’ve got to make the time if we’re going to capture the Art House experience.

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