Wednesday, September 5, 2012

You're My Only Hope

Violence pervades art from its earliest iterations. Cave drawings? DEERS GET STABBED. Seminal literature? Let's go kill Humbaba. Even the Bible gets after it pretty quickly: the second generation of humans get all fratricidal on each other.

I'm in a graduate school class discussing the representation of violence in literature. Our final project involves looking at two films depicting violence in America. (There are more guidelines, but those are the bare bones.) Now, I've got some ideas for films to examine. Films like The Departed, There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men, Heat, Zodiac, Terminator 2, Road to Perdition, Miller's Crossing, The Silence of the Lambs, The Boondock Saints (just kidding)...

My problem is that those are the stock films. Those are the easy ones. Those are the simple answers. Of those nine films, 6 got Academy Award nominations. All of them have been recognized as important and vital. So I won't be saying anything new when I point how awesome these films are at representing violence.

That's where I need you, friends, neighbors, enemies, and conscripts. I need your input. When you think about "violence in America", what films come to mind?

I covet your responses. Tweet me @thepontificator. Email me. Leave a comment here. Contact me on Facebook.

You don't have to say WHY your film represents violence in America. I just want to know WHAT film comes to mind when you think of violence in America.

Long live collaborative inspiration!

1 comment:

Marc said...

There are a few angles you could approach this from. One is (as I think you've alluded to already) the pervasiveness of "extreme" violence in American cinema since the late 1980s, for which films like Terminator 2, Robocop, and the Rambo sequels would make good case studies. The extent to which these films -- especially the latter two examples -- reflect public attitudes toward state-sponsored violence in the Reagan era is a topic on which a good deal of research has been done, if that's useful to your project. Other films that might be helpful in this regard are Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Dirty Harry, or any other film in which a purveyor of the law, in order to administer "justice," must circumvent the actual state/legal system(s) they have sworn to uphold.

But more interesting, in my opinion -- since we're specifically talking about American film -- are representations of violence as they relate to the perceived erosion of the American Dream. For this, I suggest looking to the early films of "New Hollywood" directors like Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man) and Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs), who reimagine the implications of violence in a tried-and-true American genre, the Western; Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), who deals with the virtual inevitability of violence in times of social and demographic change; and perhaps most of all Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven, Badlands), who juxtaposes breathtaking cinematography of the American landscape with stark, understated studies of characters driven to desperate violence by America's failure to deliver on its own "promise."

This is just a start, obviously, and a sort of typed version of thinking out loud. If you're looking to say something "new," a comparative discussion of films from different eras/movement -- Scorsese's Mean Streets with Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, for example -- might be interesting.

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