31 October 2011

The Grasshopper

United States - 1969
Director - Jerry Paris
American Video, VHS, 1988
Run Time - 1 hour, 35 minutes

Sadly, Canada is not a subject that comes up very frequently at Lost Video Archive. When it does however, it is always interesting. That’s really no surprise when you consider that the United States is such a profoundly different place. Standing down here and looking up is like peering into an impenetrably muddy cultural pond. Having now watched The Grasshopper three times, it is perfectly clear to me that this bitter and acrimonious rivalry between the two nations is obviously a result of fundamental cultural differences. It must be as hard to understand this modern, progressive country from up there as it is to understand that conservative, traditional wilderness from here. Thankfully, over the course of its disappointingly brief hour and two thirds running time, The Grasshopper illuminates the moral chasm between these neighboring nations.

That great frigid Commonwealth of the north is above all a place where loyalty and fealty to one’s family are of paramount importance. The U.S. on the other hand is a wasteland of egoistic individual desires and dreams disconnected from concern for even one’s own kin. But the promise of personal fulfillment is a heady aroma, and as Christine (Jacqueline Bisset) hitch-hikes the long miles between the family hearth in British Colombia and her boyfriend in California, she breathes deeply of its scent. Perhaps too deeply, for when she arrives in the Golden State her dreams of immediately starting a family are instantly smothered by practical economic concerns. She balks at male rationality and strikes out on her own for Las Vegas where begins a string of exploitive and abusive relationships and increasingly degrading jobs before Christine finds herself bereaved, destitute, high on marijuana (gasp!), in police, custody and literally cursing the heavens at the end of the film.

Oh if only she had known that women shouldn't dream or have desires beyond raising a family. But many questions remain at the end of The Grasshopper, for its intentions are more opaque and nebulous than usual for an ordinary cautionary tale about too much freedom (ominous music). Yes it’s true, Canadians hate freedom and The Grasshopper (also known as The Passing of Evil) has no qualms about asserting that liberty is especially bad for women. But the film appears not to realize that Christine’s drawn out downfall is the result not of her liberation, but of male selfishness. Even this becomes more confounded by the character of Tommy Marcott (Jim Brown) whom Christine marries. He is the only man who doesn’t exploit her, but is instead gunned down defending her honor. Are we to see this as a condemnation of inter-racial marriage or the irredeemability of a soiled woman? It’s hard to say, and even if you read the film’s source novel The Grasshopper by Mark McShane, I suspect you wouldn’t get much more clarity. Those Canadians are devious people. Watching this American Video tape (how ironic is that?), what you ultimately get is a grainy, washed out film about regret, which you will regret watching.

A double bill which makes it sound as if Christine is the predator.

This poster makes it sound like a 1950's juvenile delinquency scare movie updated for the late 60's.

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