Thursday, June 11, 2020

Peeping Tom: The Hunger (1983)

(My "Peeping Tom" series is my dives into the choices filmmakers make with the look of their films. It also serves as a general appreciation of the visual aesthetics of certain films. This is the first, centered around Tony Scott's film The Hunger.) 

So, I really don't talk about this enough, but I really love The Hunger. What's not to love about it? You've got bisexual vampires, goth rock, monkeys, addiction metaphors, and a terrific threesome of lead actors in Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie and Susan Fuckin' Sarandon. So, despite the studio messing with the film and forcing a new ending on filmmaker Tony Scott and everybody involved in an attempt to turn The Hunger into a franchise (RE: cash cow), it's definitely up there for me as one of the great vampire movies.

There is one question I've had about the movie for a while, though:



this movie




Seriously, the film is so blue for most of the runtime that I have wondered for years, why did Scott choose this for the aesthetic of his film. So, I decided to do some research into what influenced Scott's choice of aesthetic for the film, including looking through some websites with discussions dedicated to The Hunger, as well as listening to Scott and Sarandon's DVD audio commentary. Here's what I found:

First, Scott, on the DVD commentary, discusses his personal influences on the film: First is his brother, fellow film director Ridley Scott. Now, even though I never remember that Tony and Ridley Scott are brothers unless I'm googling Tony Scott whenever I try to figure out why his name sounds familiar, I can definitely see Tony trying to mimic Ridley's style. Specifically there are visual similarities between The Hunger and Blade Runner including the super blue color palettes and the use of smoke in the setting through both films.

Comparisons between the aesthetics of Blade Runner (1982) & The Hunger (1983)

Next, Scott states that, particularly with regards to fashion and lightning, he took inspiration from the photographer Irving Penn's work. When you compare some of Penn's works with some of the mise-en-scène in certain shots composed by Scott and cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt, you can see some of Penn's fingerprints on The Hunger.

The influence of  Irving Penn on The Hunger

Among other influences of Scott's on The Hunger include filmmaker Nicolas Roeg and his film Performance, Stanley Kubrick and his film Barry Lyndon and, specifically for the prosthetic makeup effects used in the film, Arthur Penn's film Little Big Man. I'm listing all of these together, because I admittedly have never seen any of these films. However, a comparison between the makeup used on Bowie in The Hunger to the makeup used on Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man definitely shows the influence the latter had on the former.

Hoffman in Little Big Man vs. Bowie in The Hunger

In addition to these inspirations, the story of The Hunger itself lends quite nicely to Scott's decision to blue up his film. The Hunger is quite a sad film about addiction, the fear of loneliness, murder and imprisonment. Even if you take into account that the film's current ending was not its intended conclusion, which Scott and Sarandon are on the record as stating was for Sarandon's Sarah ending the film with her suicide and Miriam is either killed by her former lovers or goes on trying to find another replacement, it's still sad that the film ends with Sarah becoming the new Miriam and rebooting Miriam's cycle of collecting new lovers and imprisoning old ones. Considering that pretty much everybody is either dead or imprisoned (except for Dan Hedaya's investigator character), it makes sense that Scott would build up these inspirations to create a story with such a cold and blue aesthetic.

The Hunger: A pretty fucking depressing movie.

It also stands to mention that while the color palette is dominated by blue, the colors of red and orange are also a noticeable part of the film. Something that was a deliberate decision, as the emphasis on blue and cold color exists to make these instances of warm colors pop out to the film's intended audience.

The warmth within The Hunger

So, now I have my answers as to why exactly The Hunger is so blue: It's a combination of choices made by director Scott that combines his personal influences, his view of the film's story and to make the instances of warm colors stand out to his audience.

Peter Murphy thanks you for your time.

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