Thursday 28 April 2011

The Whole Wide World (1996)

Robert E Howard was long my least favourite of the Big Three weird writers, as a person. While Lovecraft shared his racism, he was also a reclusive, cat-loving, atheistic ice-cream eater, all qualities I can relate to. Clark Ashton Smith always seemed the most fully-rounded personality of the three and the one with the most liberal, sensible views on life. Howard came across as a racist social misfit who wrote the stories he did as a sort of wish-fulfillment for the life of machismo that he longed for but was born too late to have. I've actually read a bit about his life, including extensive excerpts from Novalyne Price's memoirs, but this movie finally put it all in perspective for me. It doesn't soft-pedal anything except the racism, which is completely side-stepped. Howard is shown as a dreamer, someone whose stories were as much the product of a powerful imagination as they were of a deeply unfulfilled personality. His relationship with his mother is there in all its obsessive dimension, as is his penchant for ungainly macho posturing. Despite all this, we see a sensitive, intelligent man who was driven driven: both by personal demons, demons that eventually triumphed, and by something that conforms more to the classical concept of the genius; a sort of tutelary spirit whispering wondrous yarns into his inner ear. The movie also bypasses the question of poverty - the Howards' finances were a major concern for REH and his depression over delayed payments for his stories contributed in large measure to his depression. Still, this was a wonderful experience and a take on REH that feels right in the context of what I can conclude about the man from his fiction.You don't need to like the authors you read, but I think I have a better, more sympathetic sense of Howard the man today.

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