The conundrum of Night Terrors, what Hooper does that entices so much, is enter a constant dialogue with the "narrative of mechanics" - that is, with the Towers screenplay that must be transposed and taken seriously, to some degree, for art cannot take itself lightly, and art that is obligatory is a defeatist art. An art that does not believe in, to some degree, the story it is telling cannot enter into useful dialogue (just an impertinent one). Hooper entices with a rigorous dialogue between the form and his content, one that does not condescend or self-celebrate, only asserts yet another attenuation of narrative convention by essentially questioning the very core of any film that would follow such a plot at face value (not that it is a bad plot - again, art should not be self-defeating - but that it is a burdened plot). This is what Hooper did in The Funhouse (with the teen slasher picture) and Lifeforce (with the sci-fi epic). Where Jess Franco inserts poetry into the paradigm of the Euro-sleaze production, Hooper inserts personal thematic inquiry.
The trade-off made for this bit of true enticement - seeing Hooper work with a script that seems contrary to his habits and inclinations for narrative - is that Night Terrors does, in fact, feel like a B-side in Hooper's filmography. It is not quintessential Hooper, it simply contains some of his most interesting intents. It is the light-hearted Elena and Her Men to Renoir, the Under Capricorn to its Hitchcock. What Night Terrors lacks is the unitary course of time, the unitary location, the disinclination towards intrigue and what-will-happen-next plot indefiniteness. Hooper's choice of stories, usually, are always steeped in the inevitability of the void, or sacrifice. Here, a judicial fervor is wielded, both narratively and formally, the finale an unequivocal meting of justice, ex aequo et bono (in contrast to the usual sigh of irresolution and melancholy finishing many of Hooper's films), while Hooper presides over the order and the law of the sequences (dreams weave with reality, historical snippets - made meaningful even though largely specious and clumsy; this film is, one can say by design, not Paddy Chayefsky - invert the present, and Hooper's cinematic backcountry is held to his thoughtfully writ constitution).
I do love Night Terrors, though, which does function on a conventional level, a fact which both momentarily disturbed and then forged my love. Its most illogical plot points became somewhat explainable; its sense of build-up, where I had previously sensed none, came to the fore. This realization began by threatening, slightly, Hooper's lustrous work as a maker of connections rather than narratives, but soon the unwelcome logic of the narrative of mechanics began to congeal, itself, into something else, simply strengthening and making more robust the aspirant moral structures that pinned tightly the film's various threads, like a cloth doll affixed together by straight pins. It was the film's self-reflexive intelligence, the existence of the logic being like a second organism in the same host body as Hooper's artistic inquirer. Within this host body, it is not so much that there is not enough room for the two of them, but that they must be in constant relation to each other. It was the realization of this dialogue between content and form, of the ability of something to be both competent and subversive, of something to be both somewhere on the fringes of the acceptable (such as an erotic picture) and dignified where ever it stands. In an almost-inversion of my default stance on form trumping content: Form must be self-critical. Content must be valued and of value.
Genie's "journey" through the party scene continues with her meeting Chevalier (Robert Englund), the rupture point at which her journey becomes less about her drifting and more about the hard-and-fast oppositions and triangulations between her, her host, and his various guests (including Sabina, her companion whom she arrived with). The conversation is depicted through a series of precise, segregated frames. What better depiction of the evolution of conversation, and the accompanying stakes? Precise like battle strategy, segregated like battalions. Night Terrors is a film of conversations, encounters, and the underlying battle and transformations beneath every one of them. As Hooper's films are conversations with themselves, this scene is the perfect embodiment of Hooper's self-reflexive rhythms and his spirit of inquiry. Night Terrors exists as his B-side, an outré piece of unmarketable niche filmmaking, one that stews in its imperfections, but that is also the greatest expression for Hooper's controlled instincts and search for the ethics in art. Night Terrors is the battle between form and content, the tug-of-war between shoddy provenance and a genuine artist's curiosity and respect.
(A temporary low-quality picture until I can get a high-quality capture.)
Hooper Article For Revista Détour
ICYMI: I wrote an article for the online arts/photography/literature/film publication known as Détour (Revista) (@tdetour), run and organized by some very illustrious writers/critics/cinephiles in Spain and which is currently in the midst of their Edition No. 7. They premiered my long-form article this last spring in their Edition No. 6, and I was beyond honored (check out their Facebook page or their blog for a sense of the sheer swathe of art, life, and culture they put a magnifying glass to).
Premiered in a Spanish translation that I cannot thank Détour co-editor Óscar Brox enough for finding it worthy of his invaluable efforts he put in translating it, they were also kind enough to publish it in English.
Naturally, I already regret my wordier instincts in the English version of this article, but that's the way the publishing cookie crumbles. Warning: Contains Nuri Bilge Ceylan potshot, which I apologize for but do not retract. Note #2: This also marks the moment I stop being patronizing towards Hooper's Toolbox Murders. It's a great movie. The single-take shot of Angela Bettis with a beer while conversing with her husband is a stunner. The dissolve to police lights as she is rescued by her husband is an image to treasure.
As for the article, I hope you enjoy it.