Working Through The Queue: Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008)
Before I get into the actual film, can we just quickly talk about that weird thing Amazon Prime does where they list incorrect dates for films? This one is listed as 2020, which threw me off because once I started watching it I noticed Neil Gaiman looked a bit younger and I started wondering if he had a painting in an attic somewhere. Which would explain a few other things as well, but I digress. Then I recalled that I thought I had seen this film floating around the streaming ether previously and that Amazon had goofed before, so alas there's no direct evidence of Gaiman cutting any deals with a devil. Yet.
Anywho, I had previously seen this pop up online somewhere and for reasons I can't quite recall it didn't really call out to me and I put it off. It disappeared from my radar for a couple years I guess, but as I was queue building I saw it pop up again and rechecked the list of people they interviewed. And while I'm always down to listen to Guillermo del Toro talk about literally anything (and sure Gaiman is there too), this time around I noticed S.T. Joshi's name. Thanks to Alan Moore and his series Providence I now actually know who that is, which I guess is both a sad and an awesome thing to declare because on one hand yay comics, on the other hand maybe I should know more about things without the help of comics.
Regardless, Moore's respect for Joshi and his choice to put him into the series as a sort of honored witness to the end of the world left an impression. So whenever he popped up in this I paid extra attention. The guy knows his Lovecraft.
I don't think I'm well equipped enough to really judge this as a documentary as I don't watch enough of them to properly compare against any baseline standard of quality. And seriously, don't read the online reviews because it's a hodgepodge of weighty opinions, such as 'They talk too much about racism' VS 'They barely talk about racism'. Like seriously, they talk about it just enough for a 90 minute documentary, and they have to talk about it because you don't just mention the name of the black cat in 'The Rats In The Walls' without touching on it. If you don't want to talk about it go somewhere else, if you want to talk more about it then go somewhere else. They gotta condense a man's life and impact on an entire genre to 90 minutes so shut up.
That being said, they spent a pretty hefty chunk of time addressing Lovecraft's xenophobia and racism and it's interesting to see a number of writers and scholars find different wording to address such a subject. Some are more blunt than others, some do the usual 'it's the time period' dance, and others really try to contextualize it and talk about how it manifests and impacts the different works.
Other online complaints highlighted the poor audio, but honestly nothing terrible caught my attention. Granted, I pretty much always have captions on anyway so I might not have been too picky, but in general it was fine.
Most confounding of the complaints I saw was that they credited the creators of all of the highlighted artwork as they were displayed. Uhm. Whut? How.....is that a problem?
First of all, I love that they included a very wide range of artwork. Especially pieces from Coulthart like the one above because I have that book and I'm always a little excited when other people also have and like it. Second of all, some artists have multiple pieces featured, and they all do get a listing at the end, but only one piece of art given as an example. If they didn't credit each one as they came up, you might not be able to track down the info you want. And I love being able to easily track down and research artwork because that is my jam, so all the love for their decision to credit as they displayed.
I did really enjoy that as the timeline progressed they spent a pretty solid amount of time talking about a lot of key stories. Some were definitely glossed over and plenty others skipped (90 minutes! Go go go!), but each interviewee's appreciation for the works they talked about shined through plus they had plenty of additional insights. Connecting these insights to how some of the works were originally received or how much Lovecraft was paid for them also adds plenty of interesting context.
I would say that this documentary works as a solid summary of the basics with some interesting insights, and that it works as a decent narrative of Lovecraft's life. It's the exact kind of package I would give to anyone who's interested in learning more and needs a solid launchpad, and then they can spread out depending on their particular interests. And what's great is that all you have to do is pick a speaker from the film (maybe less so on Robert Price) and just kind of branch out from there.
And hey, Amazon, I get it, you have like a million movies to catalog. But if you keep putting wonky dates on stuff I'm just going to go ahead with creating conspiracy theories where Gaiman is a time travelling dark wizard who sold his soul to always look young in random documentaries.