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Review: Exegesis Lovecraft

— by WILLIAM STERR —

“Exegesis – the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture.” The creator of this documentary has taken a liberty in applying it to a person, although, for many, the writings of Howard Philips Lovecraft have taken on the attributes of scripture.

For those readers not familiar with the writings of early 20th century Lovecraft, let it suffice to say that he toiled in relative obscurity during his life (1890-1937), with his modest output finding publication only in the pulp magazines of his era. However, since the 1950s he has been recognized as the father of modern horror fiction, ranking with Poe and others. He has also been condemned for the racism implicit in some of his works and explicit in his voluminous letter writing, of which an amazing 20,000 examples exist today (out of an incredible 90,000 estimated). This condemnation has become especially pronounced in these days of hypersensitivity to all issues racial.

Enter Qais Pasha, writer and director. An emigre to Canada from Pakistan, young Qais found himself an outsider, unable to fit into the culture of this new land to which his architect father had brought him. Later, returning to Pakistan for his education he again found himself an outsider, caught between two cultures and fitting neither.

Then he discovered the writings of HP Lovecraft, whom he found wrote so eloquently about outsiders and their inability to fit into their surroundings – usually with most disagreeable results. Qais had found a kindred spirit.

After graduating from film school in Totonto, Cais set out to explore his hero along with noted Lovecraft expert ST Joshi. Joshi is himself an immigrant, from India, who has studied and written about Lovecraft and other “weird” writers from an early age. Together they examine Lovecrafts formative years, his New England surroundings, and especially his racist writings. This film is the documentation of their findings and their own evolution in how they view this highly flawed, highly creative, individual.

An extensive group of interviewees, male, female, white, and POC; writers, researchers, and others, contribute much to the film. They not only present information about Lovecraft, his writing, his associates, and the places and events that formed him as a creative individual, but also hold varying opinions on the man. Some accept his racism and other flaws without letting it color their appreciation of his work, while other decry such separation and in effect disavow him and his influence on their own work.

Filmed in many of the locations where Lovecraft either lived or visited during his 47 years, the color photography and editing are excellent, despite the creator, Pasha, decrying the low budget in an interview recorded specifically for the World Premier of his film. Interspersed with the footage are numerous stills from the subject’s life, and slips from movies that illustrate the points being made by Pasha, Joshi, or the many others.

This documentary is definitely not for everyone. However, for those interested in one extraordinary facet of the history of weird fiction in the 20th century, for those interested in Lovecraft himself, and for those interested in an airing of Lovecraft’s controversial beliefs with analysis from all angles, this film is a must. Each of us, as viewer and analyzer bring our own preconceptions and prejudices to every subject. So do the interview subjects. We live in an age which relishes exposing the ‘clay feet’ of historic, artistic and celebrated individuals. That is a good thing, as long as we remember that none of us are totally free to cast the first stone.


Runtime: 127 minutes
Showing: World Premier at the HP Lovecraft Film Festival, Portland Oregon, October, 2021
Currently seeking distribution.


Credits

Director, Producer, Writer, Editor: Qais Pasha
Music: Jamie Ruben

Participants: Qais Pasha
S.T. Joshi

Interviewees: Steve Marconda
Donovan Loudes
Jason C. Eckhardt
Mark Michaud
Paul G. Tremblay
Silvia Moreno Garcia
Molly Tanzer
David Nickle
Heather Cole
Peter Cannon
Johnathan Thomas
Jihae Koo
Cage Prentiss
Leslie Lee III
Richard Stanley

Organizations: Chapo Trap House
Providence Arts Club
Brown University Library

. . .

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