The Salvation Hunters
Director: Josef von Sternberg
Writer: Josef von Sternberg
Cast: George K. Arthur, Georgia Hale, Bruce Guerin, Otto Matieson, Nellie Bly Baker, Olaf Hytten, Stuart Holmes
Part of: Film and Music Cycle in the Konzerthaus
With music by Brad Mehldau, played by Brad Mehldau, Joris Roelofs and Michael Williams
Seen on: 2.10.2015
In the mud and grime of the docks, the boy (George K. Arthur), the girl (Georgia Hale) and the child (Bruce Guerin) find each other. Fueled by the hope for a better life they decide to move to the big city to make their luck there. The boy may dream big, but reality isn’t quite so accomodating. Will they be able to find their luck?
The Salvation Hunters is an interesting film that works in some parts, but not in others. Mehldau’s accompanying music was nice, but for me it didn’t always fit the film. Altogether though, it was a very nice evening.
The Salvation Hunters is a very American film, all about the proverbial American dream. Interestingly enough, it ties this dream closely together with a concept of masculinity: although it’s generally possible to work your way up, the boy’s dreams are useless if not combined with self-confidence and action, in this case actually violent action. As long as the boy dreams, the girl is the one who has to carry the burden (illustrating quite effectively that often the costs for men’s idealism and principles are carried by the women who support them). She almost collapses under it and starts sexworking but ultimately can’t go through with it.
It is only when the boy literally mans up and beats up the aspiring pimp that the danger of the girl debasing herself is turned away permanently, and with it the hunger, poverty and danger of their small family entirely. Successful application of the dream and the will to succeed fall together into one single moment, they become the same: if you want it enough and are willing to work for it, it is so certain to succeed, it has happened already.
I don’t buy into the myth of the American dream, especially not in that particular iteration. But it was interesting to get it this obviously spelled out – that’s rare. The film was generally entertaining and well-made with impressive visuals. Some moments seem a bit ridiculous form the point of view of today’s filmmaking standards, and the boy’s dream of a prosperous life including black servants is more than just a little racist, but even though I had to giggle at times, it was never out of malice.
Mehldau’s music now was nice to listen to, but they did stop in weird places and their use of silences in particular didn’t make sense to me in the context of the film. Why they thought that some scenes would be better without music than others, I can only guess – I haven’t got a clue to actually analyze it. For some reason they then kept playing after the film was over, quite against film music (and Film and Music Cycle) conventions. But the music itself wasn’t bad and in the moments where it worked for the film, it did work beautifully.