September 22nd 1975

“Nothing much all day. Holly gave me some badges. Watched film “They Shoot Horses Don’t They” – very good indeed”

Set in depression-era America, the premise of “They Shoot Horses Don’t They”? pre-empts the 21st Century’s fascination for what has become ‘train wreck’ television and how some people will happily pay to watch other people self-destruct.

Starring Jane Fonda, Susannah York and Michael Sarrazin the story revolves around the fortunes (or lack thereof) of a group of people all vying for the $1500 top prize in a dance marathon. The person – or couple – who lasts the longest on the dance floor over a period of several consecutive days and nights wins it all as it is played out in front of a paying, baying  and braying audience eager for ‘blood’.

It’s a haunting and hard film to watch, the excruciating pain the contestants are going through very evident in the actor’s eyes. The backdrop to the main story is the profit being made by the event’s organisers, proving again that there is money to be made from any misery if you are unscrupulous enough to do so.

Jane Fonda, Bruce Dern and Red Buttons (yes, that Red Buttons) are nothing less than superb in their roles is the put-upon dancers, all as eager for their regular meals and sleep-breaks as they are the main prize. But it is Gig Young as the smarmy host and promoter who impresses the most. He literally oozes ‘sleaze’ and is well deserving of the Oscar he eventually received.

As a film it holds a mirror up to our ‘dark side’, the one where some of us somehow like to see other people squirm and fail. The premise of ‘anguish’ on show is no different than Christians being fed to lion back in the mists of time or to the spectacle of a bunch of no-hopers parading their combined ignorance on the latest series of Big Brother.

It’s a film I have returned to many times since this Sunday night in 1975 and was actually one of the first I recorded and kept on videotape after I got my very first VCR. I watched it again more recently with the wife and it remains a powerful and enduring piece of period drama.

In happier news, Holly gave me some badges. So, does she like me or not?

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