Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Inevitable Death by Whale in John Huston's MOBY DICK

John Huston's "Moby Dick" deserves, I think, more attention. It really is not at all like Melville's novel, this is a good thing. It constricts the narrative, truly focusing on the madness of the whaling hunt, not simply Ahab's madness as he pursues the great White Whale. It is not a pleasant tale, but it is a powerful one.

Huston uses a dream-like camera at times, and directs the action that emphasizes the crazy atmosphere on a ship of whaling men far from home.The editing is also rather abrupt at times, but this only adds to the hazy feeling, as if the sea spray were constantly obscuring the reality. The sailors are not at home in the sea, which Melville's voluminous text loses by including so many whale details from so many men.

One of the most notable inclusions in the film are the scenes of the women as the boat prepares and sets sails. Almost entirely lacking in the novel, women do not get any large roles in the film. But if any more powerful images were needed of the madness of whaling, the faces of these women on film fit the bill perfectly. They know they are at a funeral, and they don't really look sad; they are angry, seething even, but can say nothing. In the real world of whaling, I'm sure women accepted their men leaving as the necessity of economics. But for us, and the art of film, whaling is not only brutal and unnecessary, but truly madness when done in wooden ships.

The second addition in the film that truly works is the use of music. From the haunting concertina at the beginning scene when Ishmael enters the whaling inn barroom to the haunting chanteys sung by the sailors as they progress toward their sure death, the music here completely works in tandem with the hazy shots and editing to unite the mood of dread that only grows as the film goes on.

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