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Jake Horsley. _The Blood Poets: A Cinema of Savagery 1958-1999_. 2 volumes.
Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1999. $75.00, paper. ISBN 0-8108-3672-6
(2 vol. set).
Jake Horsley has an ambitious project, one that warrants spreading the text
out over two volumes. His goal is a survey of almost every film of
significance and of significant violence to have come out of the United
States since 1958 (as well as including the work of the ex-pat Stanley
Kubrick and of the very Canadian David Cronenberg). Horsley breaks the films
down into thematic groups, themselves arranged chronologically, and then
plunges into detailed analysis of each film. This analysis is more thematic
than technical, and is an often heady mix of socio-cultural considerations
and myth criticism.
_The Blood Poets_ is something rather unique in film criticism in that it is
also a two-volume love letter to Pauline Kael. Horsley certainly doesn't
suffer from any anxiety of influence Kael casts a long shadow over the entire
work. If Kael reviewed any film that Horsley discusses, then a fair portion
of that entry becomes a dialogue between Horsley and Kael, with Kael's
assessment of the film becoming the axis around which Horsley's evaluation
revolves (even when he disagrees). Kael's writing style also informs _The
Blood Poets_. Horsley shares with Kael a tendency to make emphatic
pronouncements (about specific films but also about Art and Artists) that
have a distinctly romantic/mythic edge. For instance, in the context of
explaining how he feels _Apocalypse Now_ destroyed Coppola as an artist,
Horsley informs us that "[a]n artist exchanges his life-force for his vision,
and the one imbues and enlivens, and finally embodies the other giving form
to a *new* life beyond that of its 'creator' (just as the mother delivers her
child, which is also a sacrifice but hopefully not a loss)" (Volume 2, 2).
How the reader feels about this statement and its tone will largely determine
how s/he feels about the text as a whole.
This tone, however, is also part and parcel of the very distinct voice (Kael
influence notwithstanding) with which Horsley writes. Agree or disagree with
him (and there were times at which I found myself in quite violent
disagreement), Horsley is always *immensely* readable. He does nothing in
half-measures, and no one will ever accuse him of writing dry academese. He
is unafraid to insert himself personally into the text, and the biographical
elements at times become almost uncomfortably confessional. Yet this is true
to Horsley's project, in that he is as interested in the effect of violent
films on viewers as he is in thematic and artistic concerns. He thus includes
himself as part of the audience so affected. The book is then very engaging
and deeply personal.
It is also unorthodox. Horsley's research ranges far and wide, even if Kael
has pride of place, and I cannot find fault with his secondary sources, at
least as far as film studies are concerned. I am puzzled, however, by the
strange error of Martin Sheen's Captain Willard character in _Apocalypse Now_
being consistently referred to as "Willow." There are also a few footnotes
that give one pause. Horsley quotes, for instance, with apparent approval
from the conspiracy theory bible _Casebook on Alternative 3_. Horsley's
political commitment is admirable and is as passionate as every other aspect
of his work, but this occasional venture into fringe waters can be rather
Ultimately, though, Horsley wants his text to leave us no more indifferent
than do the films he examines. In this, he is very successful. Whether we
recoil from the political musings, or wish to rant against his almost total
dismissal of Kubrick, we wind up engaged in as passionate a dialogue with the
text as Horsley has with his films.
University of Manitoba David
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