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March 1994


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Sterling <[log in to unmask]>
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 14 Mar 1994 15:50:00 EST
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this may be a bit old, but oh well.
Although I could sense the irony of the ear-cutting scene what with the
chipper radio music, I found that I was totally engrossed in the violenc
e rather than distanced.  I think the vicariousness of the torturous,
Slow Death Josh Lenius picked up on contributes to the difference be-
tween a more stylized, more sudden John Woo-type of death perhaps.  A-
mong other more "realistic" or at least powerful deaths in my mind are
examples in Schindler's List and Man Bites Dog.  (No, I haven't seen
Naked yet.)
   Much of the more overtly stylized violence I find is treated similar
to "stylized" sex: it leads you on and draws you in until some climactic
release--it's the tension building up but as soon as someone pulls the
trigger, it's all dissipated and we no longer care about the corpse or
what not.  With sex, the depiction always end with the orgasm; we never
see what happens immediately afterward: the post-orgasmic withdrawal or
confusion or intimacy, etc.  Similarly, usually we never see the post-
murder "actuality."  In Boyz in the Hood, Doughboy shoots the guy and
that's all that matters.  The only thing that seems to matter is the
action of shooting.
    With some John Woo flicks, the aftermath/consequence I suppose is
ignored at times but the difference seems to be in the absence of the
mounting tension before shooting.  This sort of tensionless/"senseless"
violence is perhaps apparent in Raging Bull, Good Fellas, and other
Scorsese works as well.
    A characteristic which makes some violence more "real" for me is
the sort of "sickness" that overcomes the criminal after the crime--
rather than necessarily any graphic detail.  I'm thinking particularly
of Raskolnikov in the book _Crime and Punishment_ and the depiction of
him after he kills the two women.  There is a post-crime physicality
when he drags the bodies around the room or fumbles with the chest or
manages to escape.  I don't think it's necessarily anything to do with
whether or not morality/conscience effects him but just the explicit
depiction of the post-crime actions instead of cutting from a shot of
the blow of the ax to a shot of him stumbling back into his room.
    But I guess this may not be necessarily true of Alex in _A Clockwork
Orange_ when he smashes in the head of the "cat lady" with the ceramic
penis, since the film sort of shows the aftermath.  But I guess the
violence was stylized with the pre-death spinning buildup and the car-
toon-like penis-camera smash.  Hmmm.
   And I didn't really care about the murder in The Player, come to
think of it.
   With a slow torturous death, the tension isn't there--or at least not
as apparent.  The ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs: the question is
not as much When is it all going to end as much as Will this cruelty e-
ver end (regardless of Mr. ?'s assurances of death).  He cuts off the
ear is a casul, periodic fashion in the same way one might periodically
check to see if the oven is on or the heater a certain temperature.
The object isn't to kill but clearly to torture and we aren't assured of
any release.
   A sort of side note: violence might also seem less real if the victim
is either left totally anonymous and identity-less or if vilified and
constructed into a gross beastly "Other."
   With Schindler's List, as someone mentioned, the overwhelming horror
isn't based just on the fact so many people died but that lampshades
were made from their skin, gold mined from their teeth, people fought
for crumbs--it isn't just the death but the "post-death" as well.
    In Man Bites Dog, there's the scene where he dumps the body from the
bridge and talks about how many stones should be used to weight down
the bodies: "For normal adult...but for a small child only...are enough.
"  Perhaps it is this juxtaposition of the horrific and mundane which
is scary.  I guess it's an obvious effect but for me it's still effect-