Two weeks ago the Top Ten By Year: 1978 zine became available to purchase on my etsy page. It is a variety of collage, illustration, and celebration of the films of 1978, including write-ups on my ten favorites. In February I released one for 1943. For both projects, my plan was to rewatch the films and revise what I’d originally written years ago when I chose these years for my Top Ten By Year project (in which I spend 6 months to over a year with a particular year in film). What I quickly found was that none of it was nearly good enough to include. In the end, a handful of thoughts remained, but almost everything I wrote for both zines is entirely new.
I want to give people a peek at what I wrote, and hopefully, if you like it and would like to see more, you’ll consider picking up a copy. I’ll post three write-ups from each. Here is the first from 1943: The Seventh Victim.
The inescapable lure of death is a hell of a thing to make your movie about. The Seventh Victim‘s philosophy, which producer-auteur Val Lewton admitted flat-out, is to embrace death. It’s a shocking statement, for 1943 or 2019; one that RKO only got away with because the film wasn’t top brass enough for anyone to notice. The Satanists are not the enemy. They are an empty placeholder, an unsuccessful attempt for Jacqueline (Jean Brooks) to find escape from her melancholia (in fact, the cult is seen as similarly desperate – a mundane and lost group). Jacqueline dons a fur coat while her jet black hair frames her face with severity; a protective shield from the world. Her eyes are large lost pools of hope hanging on by a thread.
The Seventh Victim is existential horror packaged as a detective story. On the surface, the film is guided by Kim Hunter’s (in her debut) search for her missing sister, but she (and us) are actually guided by recurring images of hanging nooses, locked rooms, and staircases. Everything feels like it’s communicated, whether visually or through dialogue, with the weight of the forbidden. In a pre-Psycho shower scene, murder is not committed, but vital information and threats are passed through curtain and shadow while water drips off Hunter’s shoulders (side note: this movie is pretty gay, yet another plus!).
We are with Jacqueline through the final act. Hunter, the lame poet, and the inconsequential husband have been a means to an end. Her walk through the streets, as she flees a pursuer, is a walk of the mind. She resists and finds escape, but it’s futile. Her search for a light at the end of the tunnel is conveyed through the lighting, the unwanted bacchanal celebrations of a theater troupe her only out. And then there’s that profound exchange with Mimi (Elizabeth Russell), a dying specter who makes herself known in the final minutes. The scene stops me dead in my tracks every time. Mimi defiantly chooses to meet death through living. Jacqueline, once again without answers, limps resignedly towards hers. At that crucial moment they meet in the middle. Both headed towards the same fate (as are we all), which they’ll arrive at in very different ways for very different reasons. The Seventh Victim may look like it’s about missing sisters and Satanists, but it’s not. To Die or Not To Die: that is the question.