“Are you making a pass at me, Mrs. Blaylock?”
The Hunger, 1983 (Catherine Deneuve), MGM/UA
Bauhaus is considered “post-punk”, which is simple short-hand for the in-between years of the death of Disco, the birth of New Wave, the seminal jazz of New Romantic crossed with what would become Goth and Alternative. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” opens The Hunger with Peter Murphy performing appropriately aloof. Can you imagine New York City in 1983? It was a city alive, steeped in bastard culture, the figurative melting pot; millions of people doing what they wanted, all the time stiffs in cheap suits acted as though they were in control. They weren’t.
I love this movie because it speaks to a city that no longer exists, but only in photographs; the difficult photographs you can’t upload. The photographs you have to dig up out of your photo albums and scan if you want anybody else to see them. It was an uncomfortable, even excruciating mix of the pop culture sensibilities of the time.
Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie are a crazy-sexy, chic couple of kooks, fabulous and beautiful, but they also happen to be vampires. They subsist on the blood of the unknowing, live in a fantastic brownstone (with an elevator!) – that’s what comes from immortality; at least you know where to keep your money, but nothing changes. People still want. People are still victims of their stupidity. Nothing changes for this pair. All they seek is food. Bowie begins to notice his aging. It’s not fair. He was promised immortality from Deneuve’s embrace, and now he’s pissed.
Enter Susan Sarandon’s character, Dr. Sarah Roberts, who seems to be pioneering work in advanced aging, which sparks Bowie’s interest. One of my favorite bits in the movie has to be Bowie waiting all day for Roberts to see him, meanwhile he has aged 50 years in the waiting room, while she ignores him. This is what it feels like in a doctor’s waiting room! Eventually, he is consigned to a coffin, and Deneuve gets friendly with Sarandon, and when I say “friendly”, I don’t mean pleasant, cordial smiles and flowers. Deneuve’s only (albeit predatory) interest in Sarandon is sustenance and companionship; the same, self-serving reasons she chose Bowie’s character 300 years before. In her highly-publicized (not to mention extremely erotic) love scene with Deneuve, Sarandon is deliberately made up and photographed to resemble Bowie.
The Hunger was unfairly maligned at the time of its release for being nothing more than a feature-length MTV music video. The first time I saw the movie on cable, I was instantly smitten with the visuals and the long dialogue-free passages telling a story in pictures, and the presence of the super-cool Deneuve and Bowie as sophisticated New York vampires who masquerade as music teachers during the day and blood-thirsty creatures by night. When laserdiscs became affordable, I actively sought out this title, so I could see the film unfettered and unmolested in letterbox format.
The bloody and (admittedly) ridiculous finale notwithstanding, The Hunger was an extremely influential film, not only to modern cinema but the mythology of vampire movies as they would evolve in the next thirty years. As depicted in Whitley Streiber’s source novel, they are not dreamy-eyed teenybopper bait yearning to be loved. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing searching for food, and when they find you, they will destroy you.
The Hunger was Tony Scott’s first feature-length film. He would go on to an illustrious career; the director of choice for action movies, Tom Cruise, and Denzel Washington. Scott directed Top Gun, Revenge, True Romance, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State among many other movies. He died in 2012. Mr. Bowie passed away last week, so I rushed this one in tribute to the Thin White Duke.
Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.