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Cult Vault #8: Michael Robinson on The Day of the Locust

Film artist Michael Robinson recommends 30s LA 

flick about interwoven lives

Taken from the November 2010 issue of Dazed & Confused:

Film artist Michael Robinson claims his short films “give things from the past a demonic afterlife”, using pop detritus that can include everything from Little House On The Prairie to National Geographic to Guns’n’Roses’s November Rain. Dazed caught up with the filmmaker during MOMA’s GNY exhibition to get his cult film recommendation. Here he discusses The Day of The Locust, John Schlesinger’s 1975 film based on Nathanael West’s 1939 novel. 

The Day of The Locust is about a handful of desperate souls struggling in 1930s Los Angeles whose lives are interwoven, and who only drag each other down. Karen Black is extraordinary as aspiring actress Faye Greener, tragically charismatic but ultimately helpless and empty. Donald Sutherland is a spineless sweetheart who Faye takes full advantage of, and William Atherton is an aspiring art director, a careerist also in love with Karen who won’t take no for an answer – by the time you’re halfway through the film, you’re not sure you like anyone. 

It feels like a predecessor to David Lynch’s Los Angeles-based stuff, especially Mulholland Drive. Taking place largely in an apartment complex in seedy LA, the characters’ aspirations exemplify grim desperation and American greed. But where Mulholland Drive declares itself as a surrealist nightmare, here the trauma and surrealism are kept just below the surface. Stylistically, it’s really woozy, with a powerful 70s slowness: it weaves a really weird spell in its portrayal of the failed American Dream. Hollywood’s false reality is the film’s antagonist, ruining all the characters and bringing about anapocalyptic ending.”