Moving Pictures: The Day of the Locust. Nathanael West.

March 24th, 2023

I borrowed the title from Terry Pratchett’s novel and from the 1981 Rush album of the same name. There have been a couple of movies recently about one’s love of film – how it can heal, save, and construct a history. Spielberg’s love letter to his youth, to an industry that nurtured his love of film, Mendes’ love of the actual cinema space as a healing tool. 

Naturally, we’ve reviewed both. It got me thinking about a novel I read last year, how Hollywood is a construct, how film can clarify as much as it can disguise. So, for the sake of balance, here’s a review of how the dream of a film can lead to an imagined present. 

Set in Los Angeles in the 1930s, the novel is about the tension that exists between the past and present. That’s a fairly literary sentence and one in which will cause groans or small squeals. Or both. Either way… whatever, let’s continue. 

Tod Hackett arrives in LA with one ambition: a desire to work in the movie studios. LA is something of a time-hole – a plaster actualisation of Ancient Roman Facades on a boulevard of dreams. Movie sets made from plaster populate this novel. The ‘characters’ of Hollywood, Tod Hackett, Faye Greener, cowboys, waxed figures, and discarded humans, are all trying to navigate their way through the sinews of the past – the past is a film set, and the film set has become their present. 

The tension is brought out through various scenes of quintessential ‘Wild West’ films; the ‘stars’ of the novel act in various adaptations where some are occasionally ‘spat out’ of the film industry as quickly, and with as much enthusiasm, as one spits out phlegm that has been resting on the throat for half an hour. 

All the stars in the novel are in search of their ‘big break’ – Hollywood is chic, modern, captivating, and destructive. The pain of rejection is pertinent here. The modern, reinvented present is represented as a series of western films – scenes of history, of origin, of place and of comfort. 

The reinvention of the present is a return to a past that no living person has ever experienced; the past is something that exists only in their mind. ‘Modern’ Hollywood is merely devoid of meaning, of creativity and of mercy. 

The American Dream – the big break, the economic security, the glamour, is all elusive, a dream: it is dead. 

Bleakness aside – film can still be beautiful and meaningful. This is why we have a podcast with 62 episodes!

Callum Hyde, London, 2023.

The Glacé Film Club is a podcast hosted by Callum Hyde and Marcus Johnson. It sees them dig deeply into the themes behind a film and discuss the wider impact and resonance of the picture. Along the way they find themselves engaging in creative conversations with individuals from the film industry and beyond. You can stream the back catalogue of the podcast over on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.