Have been watching snatches of American movies of late. Quiet time rules the house between 4.30 - 5 p.m. when I make the tea. For company I flick on the TV. Recent fare has been Sleepy Hollow (1999) starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci. I've also been in on the action at Wall Street starring Michael Douglas and all the double crossing. The latest is Shooter but I was shot out of the film when the lights went out :(.
What has struck me is the fertility of the American imagination to make/produce movies as varied as these. Sleepy Hollow directed by Tim Burton is based on a story published in 1819-20 along with 'Rip van Winkle' by NewYork City-born writer Washington Irving (1783-1859). It is set in the county of Sleepy Hollow, New York in 1799 where Depp as Ichabod Crane is an investigating agent. There is a throwback to the American Revolution of 1776 as the masked marauder responsible for the deaths rides on a confederate(?) horse. I love period movies and the costumes and the macabre took me back to the heaths of Heathcliff. Having seen The Conjuring and noting the release of its sequel Annabelle this week I wanted to see horror in a different guise.
The Gothic is unmistakable in this movie heightened by cinematic effects. The haunted house and horseman; steeds careening wildly a la Dracula (Dir. Milos Forman) set in Transylvania; beautiful women and unbridled sexuality-- and of course, a dark secret. A scarred childhood as a reference is a nice touch and serves as a leitmotif. Shot predominantly in dark tones of black and mostly sepia, Irving's Ichabold is much like Poe's investigator Dupin in his detective story 'The Purloined Letter.' The headless horseman may be overplayed for its sheer shock value and closely parallels Durer's woodcuts of Death as the avenging horseman.
Irving’s take on the classic ghost tale has a decidedly American slant, owing perhaps to the author’s interest in New York history. Written during a time when Americans were trying to create an identity for themselves and their new country, Irving’s stories lent the young America its own sort of mythology. Sleepy Hollow, for example, is set in Tarrytown, a bucolic real-life location along the Hudson River in Upstate New York. The mythic horseman in Irving’s Legend was rumored to be the ghost of a Revolutionary War soldier, tragically decapitated by a flying cannonball. “Crane is also the archetypal Yankee,” notes Catherine Whalen, a professor and expert on American material culture at the Bard Graduate Center, New York City.
Wall Street (2010) directed by Oliver Stone is a much more recent movie about Gordon Gekko (Douglas) trading Wall Street to build his empire. 'Money Never Sleeps' is the tag line for this one and the ruminations over global capital looks like a page from Cronenberg's Cosmopolis.
Shooter (2007) by Antoine Fuqua is a conspiracy film about a shooter who is framed for killing the President. The movie is based on a novel by Stephen Hunter, an American novelist and Pulitzer prize-winning film critic.
Images: Title page of 1899 edition of Sleepy Hollow, quoted text and image courtesy designsponge(dot)com; map idecide(dot)com real estate