Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Sort Of Stuff & Nonsense

The other week I mentioned that I was getting to see Jacques Tourneur's film I Walked With a Zombie on the big screen thanks to MoMA and Martin Scorsese, and see it on a big screen I did, and it was a delight. The film drips with voodoo island atmosphere and getting to see those scenes in the nighttime sugarcane-fields projected large did not disappoint - there's some heart-stopping beauty on display as the characters drift through the stalks, a virginal white nightgown billowing out, the breeze carrying the sound of drum-beats steadily stronger.

Anyway I wrestle with the film's use of race; I'm never quite sure if it's being racist itself or tackling racism; maybe probably some of both columns. But I'm glad to see The Playlist tackling the film, and just that subject, for today's "Classic of the Week" -- there are some thought verbalized at that link that I'd had trouble doing myself.
"Though "I Walked With a Zombie" certainly trades in some uncomfortable exoticism, the majority of the "horror" doesn't come from the natives themselves (in fact, the Voodoo ritual scenes are clearly researched and shot with respectful long takes), but rather the land that both they and the white plantation owners walk upon. It's a cursed island because its existence is built upon racial entrapment and ownership, and its that "curse" that infects everyone ."

The best thing I discovered over there though was a link to the New York Times original 1943 review of the film, which is AMAZING. It's short so I'm just gonna share the entire thing here. Wowza!

""Horror" pictures are enjoying a peculiar popularity the country over at the moment, according to box-office statistics, so it seems reasonable to assume that RKO has a safe bet in "I Walked With a Zombie," which opened yesterday to a packed house at the Rialto and, at one point, drew a horrified scream from a woman patron. It's just like the days of old when "The Bat" and "The Gorilla" were scaring audiences out of their wits, and "Frankenstein's Monster" was making the night hideous for children and the more impressionable oldsters.

With its voodoo rites and perambulating zombie, "I Walked With a Zombie" probably will please a lot of people. But to this spectator, at least, it proved to be a dull, disgusting exaggeration of an unhealthy, abnormal concept of life. If the Hays office feels it has a duty to protect the morals of movie-goers by protesting the use of such expressions as "hell" and "damn" in purposeful dramas like "In Which We Serve" and "We Are the Marines," then how much more important is its duty to safeguard the youth of the land from the sort of stuff and nonsense that their minds will absorb from viewing "I Walked With a Zombie"? ? ?"


sissyinhwd said...

Was there any talk of the film being an unauthorized version of JANE EYRE

TOM said...

I've always loved this movie.
You only reason that you're feeling confused if it's 'about race or racism' is that this is the time we live in where every word or image is automatically classified as racist.
You really need to read/print the excellent review of this film in Danny Peary's great book 'Cult Movies.' It will show you how this ahead-of-his-time director, Jacques Tourneur, gave strong, positive portrayals for all women & blacks in his films! After reading that review, you'll remember why you found this film so great.