Thursday, September 22, 2005

Sex, Violence, and The Good Book.

A History of Violence
2005, USA
David Cronenberg

“Cronenberg Sells Out”, the headlines blare, and the movie hasn’t even come out yet. How it would even be possible for a director who’s clearly an iconoclast and probably a sex offender to sell out is beyond me, but ever since Richard Pryor starred in Superman III, I guess anything is possible. But Cronenberg in the mainstream is like a particularly poppy Angry Aryans tune; sure, it’s got a great hook and high production values, but once it gets to the chorus, they’re going to stop reviewing it on Good Morning America, unless Marysol Castro is particularly vocal in regards to ‘race-traitors’. Personally, I don’t think Cronenberg could sell out even if he wanted to. The man is like a living thesis defense for the auteur theory, which states that truly great directors essentially make the same film thirty times and then die, getting a nice write up in Sight and Sound by Andrew Sarris when they do. Depending on how you look at it, this is either an argument for the unified cogency of their artistic vision, or a metaphor for how Doritos keeps changing the color of their Cool Ranch spice and marketing it under a different name, like Salsa Verde or whatever the hell Black Pepper Jack is. Which ever opinion you subscribe to, Cronenberg is definitely a textbook auteur. His films inevitably revolve around disease and sex, usually in combination, which can be quite scarring and involve intensive topical cream application. As such, I hold him in high regard as Canada’s finest film director, despite the fact that I don’t like any of his movies.

The inevitable result of viewing a Cronenberg film.

How is this possible, you ask, seconds after deciding whether or not to continue reading a review that mentions race-treason within the first three sentences? Well, it simply boils down to the fact that I believe that there’s a distinct difference between liking a movie and recognizing that a movie is good. Hopefully, unless you’re Peter Travers, these two should coincide, but this is not always the case. There are plenty of movies I like which I realize are bad, and a few that I know are good, but I can’t watch. Much of Cronenberg’s canon falls into this latter category, particularly Crash. I appreciate the underlying themes of interconnectedness between sex and violence, and the all-consuming addiction to hedonism, but there are better ways to spend an evening than watching James Spader fuck an open wound in Debra Unger’s leg. Like, say, enjoying an adverse drug reaction to meth-amphetamines and having your body temperature rise 8 degrees while you throw up the contents of your colon. Sure, it sounds awful, but afterwards I feel cleansed and refreshed, like the aftereffects of a good sauna, which is in stark contrast to the three days I spent scrubbing my body with rubbing alcohol after watching Crash in a rep theatre with sticky floors.

Does this make me gay?

But that’s neither here nor there. The point I’m trying to make is that while A History of Violence might seem to be a mainstream film, with its Hollywood cast, big budget, and comic book-based script, it’s not even close. It’s got an ending that feels empty unless you think about it, something a mainstream audience is not likely to do so long as there’s The Daily Show to do it for them. And though for the most part the film plays like a heavy character study, each of its lengthy and lyrical scenes are separated by shocking and cartoonish violence, like the film version of Attila Csihar singing the chorus from Scarborough Fair and replacing the lyrics with the entire text of American Psycho’s chainsaw rape scene. It’s too boring for meatheads, and too violent for Oscar bait, so the netherworld it exists in is anything but mainstream. Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, a small town diner owner with a shady past that comes back to haunt him and his family. Said past involves not only organized crime, but horrific sociopathic murder. While the trailer does indicate this twist, for once it only references the first half of the movie, leaving several shocking revelations to be discovered like sewage hidden in dim-sum wrappings. Watching this movie is like finding out that Mr. Rogers is not only a pederast, which was already clear from the first time you saw his show as an adult, but has a particular predilection for eye-sockets. And Cronenberg, true to form, treats Stall’s violence as a disease, and a hereditary one at that, as well as making his usual link between sex and violence, via Maria Bello in a cheerleader uniform.

Now that's just wrong. Bring back the leg scar.

And it’s exactly this combination of sex and violence that makes this film unsuitable for a mainstream audience, mainly because the mainstream is American, and America still appears to be under the impression that sex is for communists and witches. This is not an original thought, but it’s amazing to me that you can buy assault rifles but not dildos in Alabama. I understand this on a personal level, as I am much more revolted by the exchange of bodily fluids than the act of scrubbing them out of my floorboards before the landlord comes up to find out what all the screaming is about, but the way this is accepted in the US is ridiculous. I realize that the only books they have in the States are ones originally translated for King James, but one would think that every once in a while someone would immigrate from Canada or the UK and accidentally pack some common sense in their carry-on luggage. Consequently, you can show Hannibal Lector wearing another man’s face with impunity, but show Kevin Bacon’s wang and you make headlines. Just in a different way than Cronenberg.


Blogger Sam Kahn said...

"Well, it simply boils down to the fact that I believe that there’s a distinct difference between liking a movie and recognizing that a movie is good."

Well said. Most people don't know the difference, and this is a huge problem. It pisses me off to no end, especially when trying to argue with people about movies. Ugh.

"Consequently, you can show Hannibal Lector wear another man’s face with impunity, but show Kevin Bacon’s wang and you make headlines."

This also constantly boggles my mind... this country is puritanical in terms of sexuality and "morality" but somehow this morality does not include violence. This also leads to the MPAA ratings system being a crock of biased bullshit. Of course, it doesn't help that the ratings board is made up of parents.

Sidenote: Based on the way you describe the film, this seems like another case of the marketing mis-selling the film. They're obviously trying to get the general public to see this movie, when it's not meant for a general audience. I'm curious to see how it'll affect the dropoff in box office from the first weekend to the next.

1:01 a.m.  
Blogger Jerk Of All Trades 2.0 said...

I agree.
I like alot of movies that aren't good, and can't watch some that I know are good. Citizen Cane, can't do it, can't sit through the whole damn movie. I have to watch it in 15min long sections.

I like Cronenberg's stuff, I don't know why and I don't really care why, I'll go see it.

Ash, at some point I'm going out there and we HAVE to hang out.

Also, where the hell did you find that picture of my exgirlfriend in the cheerleader outfit?
God, she LOVED to be spanked.

7:46 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Sam, arguing with people about movies is a lost cause. It's way soooo many people don't like this site. (check out metafilter). The main reason is that people tend to get insulted if you don't like a movie they do, like it's some sort of comment on their intelligence. Which it is, if the movie in question is Boondock Saints.

And yeah, the anti-sex slant is really strange. Granted, there are moments when the righteous rise up to condemn violence, after a particularly bloody school shooting, but even that is generally confined to video games and Marilyn Manson music.

But, I do think that this movie is meant for a general audience. I just think that Cronenberg couldn't quite make a normal movie. It's still worth seeing, though.

Jerk, I got the photo because I'm in your house.

I love Citizen Kane,, but it took me about four days to get through Lawrence of Arabia. And I was exagerating about Cronenberg. OK, lying. I like all his stuff, except for Crash and M. Butterfly. Rabid and The Brood are my favorites.

Sure, we can hang out, as soon as you figure out where I live. Aside from your attic, that is. I warn you, I am extrodinarily boring, and much meaner in person.

9:11 a.m.  
Blogger Jerk Of All Trades 2.0 said...

Boring and meaner.

This would make me want to hang out with you less because.........?

You're in my house?
Don't phuc with my guitars!
Wow, so you've seen the other pictures of her.
She digs skinny DARK guys, and spanking...did I mention the spanking?
I'll hook you up.

9:28 a.m.  
Blogger Rin said...

The trailer for this practically gave away the entire story. Also it looked far too straight-forward. I thought Crash and Spider were okay-ish. The only film I would half-promote to 'quite like' status is The Fly remake. I think he did some pretty effective stuff with that.

Scanners and Videodrome are fucking awful, though. FUCK OFF, CULT "CLASSICS".

6:14 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Yeah, Spider's pretty good, in my opinion. Fast Company, not so much.

I actually was surprised by the trailer. I'm used to finding out everything about the story in a condensed two minute format with dramatic voice-over, but here I found that while the premise was obviously given away, there was maybe one shot taken from the last half of the film, which is better than I'm used to. Still, like Rin, I long for the days when a trailer would make you want to see the movie, instead of feeling like you already have. That's why I much prefer teasers, usually put out before there's any completed footage.

In fact, I can't even think of a trailer I've seen in the last few years that teased instead of flashing its tits all over the place. Anyone? There was a pretty neat Dawn of the Dead one that just had silhouettes moving around behind the theatre screen that was pretty neat, though.

10:56 a.m.  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

This unfortunate trend of giving away movie plot in trailers won't stop any time soon. According to my Movie Business class, statistics show that movies with trailers that do this tend to make more money at the box office.

7:55 p.m.  
Blogger batturtle said...

This was a comic book movie? I didn't see one guy in a cape.

6:52 p.m.  


4:05 a.m.  
Anonymous ash karreau said...

yes i am thinking about cindy hinds, and how much i would like to bugger her, (as she was in 1979 of course, not as she is now)

10:04 a.m.  

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