Nostalgic viewing and reading: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Presently I am re-reading Horace McCoy’s masterful work, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They (1935), about a brutal dance marathon in Hollywood during the American Depression. The protagonists endure weeks of dancing non-stop, except for breaks to sleep, use the bathroom, eat and, if they can fit it in, a quickie. It was made into a film in 1969 directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, Red Buttons and my personal favourite, Bruce Dern. Both the book and the movie are deeply moving, although as often happens the book is in many ways better than the film, despite the great performances in the latter. What ensues is a terrific if not tragic insight into the concept of death, completely overturning the values we place in life. Death comes as the greatest gift of all in what Simone de Beauvoir calls “the first existentialist novel to have appeared in America.” It certainly probes the existentialist theme, quite brilliantly so. In a time and world where people were at the mercy of social and political movements, this great work by McCoy establishes a rhetoric of death being something we should place greater value on, how sometimes life is scarier and more elusive than death.


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