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the week of two mondays
a film series _ 01 : 47 : 21 : 11
volume zero






They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is a book written by US writer Horace McCoy (1897-1955), published in 1935. The novel is a dark parable, which covers touchingly-albeit-distantly a ‘dance marathon’ competition which takes place in a seedy atmosphere, and is an actual metaphor for the dehumanizing hard times of the Great Depression in 1930s America. The pace of the story, as well as the impact the book has, are literally exhausting. It was adapted for the cinema by director Sydney Pollack in 1969, and later translated into a fashion story for Vogue-Italia in the nineties. It also inspired a fashion show by designer Alexander McQueen in 2002. Not to mention in the mid-1940s, the novel gained sight of the French existentialist writers. But what makes it a brilliant, powerful novel is the way it looks into how much pain or humiliation a human being can take in order to fight for their own (and others’) survival. Besides that, the novel clearly portrays the absolute lack of hope in some people’s lives, while they endlessly dance towards that allusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The novel can be seeing as a breathtaking portrait of dehumanization and powerlessness. The plot of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? might strike one as a basic, straightforward storyline, but this very existential novel actually has much deeper sub themes – such as, the exploitation of people, and what makes someone a criminal or in what situations (if any) killing someone can be considered a moral act. The story also focuses on the theme of how people carry pain and sorrow from childhood heartbreaks onto adulthood. As the saying goes, ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’, and fewer things in life look more desperate than a ‘dance marathon’. As the dance competition goes on, into the second and third weeks, the public’s interest grows and more and more people come to watch it. The media comes out, as well, wanting to cover and sensationalize the contest – as perversely hoped for by the contestants. The physical and mental strain brings out the worst in the dancers, and a suicidal aspiring actress alienates everyone around her as she tries to convince her partner to put her out of her misery. The brutality of the story is lessened by the poetic beauty and precision of McCoy's narrative, revolving on the characters’ strong desire to achieve something, pushing themselves into a certain undetermined or unspecified longing, that might bring satisfaction or enjoyment into their unflinching existence, away from the distressed and agitated voices in their minds. The story is centered on the couple Gloria Beatty and Robert Syverten. He wants to become a film director, she is also drawn by the cinema industry, but not succeeding in getting a chance as an extra in Hollywood movies. Both join the marathon dance competition, aiming for the final prize ($1,500 as described in Pollack’s film). The contest becomes very extensive - in total there are 879 hours of marathon madness, non-stop, but the characters gradually begin to disintegrate in the hall floor - physically and mentally, under the eyes of the spectators, hungry for the disgrace and degradation of the exhausted couples. Beatty and Syverten begin to realize that the whole competition is just a scam, filled with tricks, deliberately created by the organizers, to attract media cover and more money, but without a final winner. The disillusionment and alienation take Beatty to the extreme - when the couple give up the contest and go outside the dance hall; where Syverten, mentally and physically shocked, becomes a solution to Beatty’s hopelessness and anguish sorrows. She hands Syverten a pistol and asks him to kill her, which is done without hesitation. Beatty carries a tremendous, negative energy, which reveals how obscure and inhuman life can be under the Hollywood signboards. Her character turns out to be destructive on several layers - one can say that her septic personality, as well as the enormous lack of hope in relation to herself and to the world, are what make this novel so contemporary. Nihilism fits here, as the best word to describe Beatty, her anguish and the troubled ways she lives her life and sees the world. In his 1988 book, Relational Aesthetics, French curator Nicolas Bourriaud argues that art had stopped being a collection of objects and had become a state of encounter… The work of every artist is a bundle of relations with the world, giving rise to other relations, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum. For Bourriaud, artists are facilitators, not makers, and art is information exchanged between the artist and his/her viewers. In this perspective, the artist gives audiences access to power and the possibility to change the world. Bourriaud’s views on the reverberations of a work of art through time is what happened when McCoy’s novel was converted into an intricate sequence of adaptations: from Pollack’s version to Vogue-Italia’s editorial to McQueen’s fashion show. Pain, distress and misery, revealed in different medias, in the form of different creations, thought of by the minds of different people. As far as clothes go, the book does not make any clear references to or actual descriptions of clothing items - except for the occasional mention of the uniforms that the dancers are wearing during the competition (‘tennis shoes, white shorts, white sweat-shirts’, or merely ‘track suits’), besides some extra leather items; and the odd allusion to sponsorships (inevitably in the form of clothes) paid by local firms. On the other hand, in Pollack’s cinematic version, whatever the characters may be wearing help recreate the atmosphere and the spirit of the 1930s. It goes without saying that clothes are the prime element in Vogue-Italia’s story, as well as in McQueen’s show.

“A testament to the meaning/meaninglessness of life”
“Exceptionally creepy and unsettling depiction of human depravity as spectator sport”
“Fashion through physical pain and discomfort”


The film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, was released in 1969, receiving 9 Academy Awards nominations (and winning in 1970, the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Gig Young). Apart from many awards (9 wins) and other 24 nominations around the globe, this was one of the most acclaimed films of its time. It has much license taken with the novel, and the theme of struggle for survival and the distinction between social classes during the Depression is more overt. The film is richer than the book, in terms of visual aspects: director Pollack masterfully presents the shabby atmosphere of the 1930s with skillful touches: the settings, the costumes, the music, and the jargon of that era. With his edgy, fast-paced style, Pollack managed to build on the original plot, and develop richer, deeper levels out of McCoy's bleak storyline. It is regarded as one of Pollack’s finest films, as a director. Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin are among the dance partners endlessly dragging themselves beyond their own limits, mercilessly prompted by the master of ceremonies, played by Gig Young. Though the flash-forward narrative may be peculiar, the film’s photography is just right in depicting the hardships of the era, as in the harsh lighting in the dance salon, turning everyone in the spotlight into a sickly grey apparition, and the limited colour palette, practically devoid of blues and greens in the dancehall scenes. The cameras linger inside the ballroom, focusing on details of the rising despair of the dance competitors, highlighting their exhaustion and the sheer futility of the competition. The patterns of the dancers, round and round the dance floor (constantly moving, yet going nowhere) is the metaphor for 1930s America. Pollack does a fantastic job ‘stretching out’ the material: he and the actors manage to prevent a potentially claustrophobic (ballroom) scenario from turning into a long and dreary cinematic experience. The dynamics of the ‘dance marathon’ are compelling to watch, and Gig Young’s character stands out with his constant patter. Jane Fonda manages to invoke pity for her character: a hopelessly cynical, venom-tongued Gloria has pretty much given up on life and does not expect much from anyone (apparently), but you can’t help feeling that all that sourness is actually a cry for help. It is a technically proficient film. The accelerated pace draws you into the marathon. The actors are all outstanding in their roles; in addition to the cinematography by Philip Lathrop, the sets by Harry Horner, the musical orchestration by John Green, and the costumes designed by Donfeld; all collaborated beautifully, to create a huge puzzle of a meaningless and empty life. It can also be described as a mere movement that seems to go on and on until it crashes to an end. What Pollack did can be considered a horror piece, but not in the denotative sense, but rather in its way of expressing the internal emotions and dark thoughts of it characters. Very unsettling but important film.


                                                                                                                                                                With
Jane Fonda   Michael Sarrazin   Susannah York   Gig Young   Red Buttons   Bonnie Bedelia   Michael Conrad   Bruce Dern  Al Lewis   Robert Fields   Severn Darden   Allyn Ann McLerie   Madge Kennedy   Jacquelyn Hyde   Felice Orlandi   Art Metrano   Gail Billings   Lynn Willis   Maxine Greene   Maxy Gregory   Robert Dunlap   Paul Mantee   Tim Herbert   Tom Mcfadden   Noble ‘Kid’ Chissell   Ian Abercrombie   Guy Apollo   Hugh Bell   Ronnie Bright   Robert Buckingham   Teddy Buckner   Hadley Caliman   
Teddy Edwards   Thurman Green   Joe Harris   Marilyn Hasset   Bobby Hutcherson   Ike Isaacs   Michael Jeffers   Kenner G. Kemp   Peggy Adams Laird   Richard LaMarr   Harold Land   Philo McCullough   Beverlee McKinsey   Cynthia Myers   Flower Parry   Les Robertson   Mabel Smaney   Sheela Tessler
   
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Written by James Poe and Robert E. Thompson
                  (based on the novel by Horace McCoy)

      Cinematographer: Philip Lathrop
      Edited by Fredric Steinkamp
      Associate Producer/Music: Johnny Green
      Choreography by Tom Panko
      Costume designer: Donfeld
      Production designer: Harry Horner   Executive Producer: Theodore B. Sills   Produced by Irwin Winkler, Robert Chartoff

Released by Cinerama Releasing
Running time: 129 minutes




In 1997, under the direction of its former Editor Franca Sozzani, Vogue Italia, an influential player in the fashion world, did an important editorial inspired by Pollack’s film; They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. The feature was shot in New York – at Laura Belle and Roseland clubs, by fashion photographer Steven Meisel and released in its March issue with the cover title: ‘Fashion Marathon’. The images were portrayed in a complex manner, revealing the depression in both denotation and connotation practice throughout the story. As seen by the exasperation and despair that exhale from the models, over their body language movements, one can detect the undertone of depressive emotions and its contour of gloom and mental irregularity on every page of the editorial. The styling is restrained, as a reference to the costumes and wardrobe of the 1930s - interpreted through the nineties; in perfect alignment with the novel’s mood of the Great Depression in America, reflecting the dark days and lack of money. There are no accessories, jewellery or any type of embellishments, apart from some embroidery on the dresses. Fashion stylist Brana Wolf quintessentially infused the story with mid-and long-lengthed sleeveless chiffon and mousseline dresses, flowery in their majority; mimicking the popular pattern used in the thirties, in conjunction with some plain jersey dresses and tops, used with Mary Janes/one-strap shoes (with socks) and underwear/undergarments throughout. The imagery is perfectly orchestrated by Meisel, who cinematically addressed the subject, conveying the film’s sensibility to the context of fashion, but not losing its core. Instead, Meisel adds his stated manner of consideration over it, and enhances the drama with volumes of emotions, that are accompanied by physiological changes, where one almost feels the increased heartbeat, respiration, sweating and the shaking/crying of the models, bringing exhaustion and despair to a haunting voltage, by merging light and darkness, joy and bitterness, sensuality and decay, sorrow and happiness, in a sort of utterly visceral fashion tableau of ‘impossible communion of comfort’. This fashion story can transport a whole world with it, and yet is not being diminished by the use of references borrowed from other medias (McCoy or Pollack). Resonating further its capability of influence under other fields.


Vogue n. 559 _ edizioni Conde Nast _ marzo 1997 _ sped. Abb. post. _ comma 26 Art. 2 L. 549/95 _ mi _ lire 10.000



Prada   Fendi   Alberta Ferretti   Helmut Lang   Anna Sui   Gianni Versace   Valentino Boutique   Iceberg
Anna Molinari   Malerba   Manolo Blahnik   Luciano Barbera   Cividini   Alessandro Dell’ Acqua   Callaghan   DKNY   Roxanne Assoulin
Yohji Yamamoto   Di Sandro   Missoni   Alberto Biani   Erreuno   Rena Lange
Anna Sui   Blumarine   Cerruti 1881   Chanel   Lawrence Steele   Calvin Klein
Amber Valletta   Kristen McMenamy   Karen Elson   Naomi Campbell   Carolyn Murphy
Danielle Zinaich   Kylie Bax   Vincent Gallo   Steven Meisel   Brana Wolf   Pat McGrafh   Garren



“Disturbing and poetic… with sudden bursts of violence”
                                                                    “A haunting symbol of dark physical emotions”
                                                                                    “Thoughts of stardom and suicide”


Author: Horace McCoy
    Country: United States
Language: English Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 1935
Media Type: Print (Hardcover)
Title: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Pages: 121


“Contorted bodies and sweaty ones twitch to recreating the time of the Great Depression”


McQueen fashion shows were beyond a mere presentation of clothes on the catwalk: they always had underlying layers of other forms of art, blending theatre, literature, music and cinema into his narratives. In 2003, in Paris, the designer presented a collection inspired by the film/book They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, re-creating the grueling marathon from the book and the film into a powerful striking fashion performance, filled with visceral emotions, not just as a reference to its imagery, but rather reconstructing the narrative, through his clothes and personal taste of fashion. The mise-en-scène was choreographed by Michael Clark, a Scottish dancer, with the participation of models together with professional dancers, at the Salle Wagram - a nineteenth-century Parisian dance hall, for his ready-to-wear spring/summer 2004 collection called: Deliverance. The show was divided in three narrative passages. A voice-over of the announcer from the film comes out of the speakers, announcing the marathon contest. In this the overture, the designer introduces several couples - dancing instead of the traditional catwalk walking; wearing elaborately pieced tailoring in 1930s inspired clothing, mostly in black, including bias cut, Swarovski adorned dresses, embroidery tights, feather boas and one-strap shoes. The male models are split in between white marine inspired looks or in black trousers with black vests. One of the view point of this opening is the silver sequin bias-cut dress worn by model Karen Elson - who was also in Vogue-Italia’s ‘Marathon Dance’ story, adding sub layers of references to the show. Narrative two, revolves around the derby race. Whereas in the film, the girls running frantically on the track and getting hot, remove their sweatshirts showing their undergarments. In McQueen’s show, this passage is twisted and translated as leisure wear. The materials and silhouettes created in this ‘scene’ evoke a sports aesthetic, through a mixture of late 70’s disco, with its use of bright pink and neon colours in shorts, tanks, leotards, high hells and sockets, blending it with the movie’s and book’s description of the race. Under the soundtrack of Billie Holiday’s God Bless the Child and Strangers by Portishead, the models appear for the third and final narrative, wearing long chiffon printed dresses, bolero capes, Swarovski-encrusted jumpsuits; also, one of McQueen’s famous ‘bump trousers’ is reworked in frayed dark denim. In this ‘last act’ the models successively start to lose their equilibrium, with the inability to respond to their body movements, almost as in an imminent danger of falling, doing shaky gestures and dancing almost as they are about to collapse, deliberated created by Clark, suggesting the immediate likelihood of a huge falling, translating brilliantly the exhaustion at the dance marathon to the show. The last piece which closes the circle, is the same dress – with some ‘alterations’, shown at the opening, by Karen Elson. The piece is worn and rumbling, collapsing from the body of the model, into an (un)controlled act, revealing the power of exhaustion and despair that have destroyed ‘metaphorically’ Beatty’s character. The show reaches its pinnacle as Elson collapses at the centre of the stage and was ultimately carried off by Clark and McQueen. The dance-to-the-death narrative and the theme of exhaustion in dance marathons can be linked to McQueen’s body of work precisely because it resonates or reverberates at the core of its ‘inflicted’ and ‘provoked’ aesthetic, also as his personal interpretation of human feelings. Particularly in this show, the story’s plot was brilliantly interpreted throughout it, from its hope and desire to win the contesters have on narrative one, with its glamorous gowns and ‘deviance souls’; evolving into the derby race with its leisure wear/underwear garments and finally culminating into collapsing pieces from models’ and dancers’ bodies at the final part, embodying the novel’s existential theme of inevitable fatality, about life and the permanent cessation of it. In shock Beatty asks Syverten to finish with ‘her life’, giving him a pistol (which she carried in her purse). He promptly answers the request without blinking or even hesitating, this time with better understanding of Beatty’s inflicted personality.

                                    “They shoot horses, don’t they?” is his answer, after being confronted by the police about the fact. After McCoy, Horace. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?



Fashion Designer: Alexander McQueen
Stylist: Kate England
Choreographer: Michael Clark
‘20 trained dancers paired with  20 models’

                        “Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost” Pina Bausch





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