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A History of Violence

April 25, 2010

milk does a baddy good.

At some point in 1988, I summarily rejected violent films. Partly, upon realizing how cheesy Cobra and Commando shotgun blasting their way through entire towns – instead of using their words – I was left somewhat embarrassed by my teenage blood thirst; partly and possibly more importantly, La Mommie stopped renting them – save Die Hard and Lethal Weapon I (before we knew for sure Mel was bonkers). She decided to “purge” the evil (done and said sarcastically) from our top loading VCR with such heart warming films/rituals as Footloose and a third generation copy of a live action version of Alice in Wonderland featuring Carol Channing and Sammy Davis Jr. Not to be confused with Billy Davis Jr. who was not in that adaptation.

Before that it was not uncommon to find my sister and me – 13 and 15 respectively – tucked away for hours in the upstairs den watching Michael Dudikoff avenging yet another grisly slaughter of loved ones and old ‘Nam buddies. The aptly titled Avenging Force being one of our favorites in the genre.

On noting that Dudikoff’s black friends always seemed to die rather quickly, despite his much touted martial arts and weapons training, La Mommie said, “I’m sure he’s a qualified weapons specialist and all, but he’s done the black people no favors!”

This observation would taint our subsequent viewings of his films.

Midnight Express

Without access to the stable of Dutikoff/Stallone/Govenator (save Terminator) films, I was left to cultivate a taste for “important films” ones with long, punishing plots, scripts spoken in faraway accents, actors dressed in vintage glad rags and of course meaningful discourse.

Except I didn’t realize those had violence too! So it wasn’t that La Mommie was outright banning violence, but a specific kind of film, which utilized violence in lieu of script, plot or direction as usually understood in the film industry.

Dirty Harry could shoot all the motherfuckers he wanted and that was fine cause it was Eastwood and he was given to occasionally making “important films”, which of course I had no interest in viewing. Still don’t! I will watch Firefox a billion more times before I’ll ever watch Gran Torino. We had one when I was kid – with the wood paneling – and watching it sit in the driveway would probably be as much fun as watching Eastwood’s most recent “important” outing.

Do fiddy bullets in your ass "make your day"?

Bring on Magnum Force and The Gauntlet! Bring on Space Cowboys!!!

I could request Full Metal Jacket or A Clockwork Orange – since it was Kube – and have that request granted. I could request Iron Eagle III and go begging. Hard to Kill became Hard to Rent. And this was what I finally figured out:

  • Movies with star studded casts who mostly stand around processing some painful act of violence, particularly if the act was egregious was perfectly legitimate viewing. An example being: Lethal Weapon – Riggs was jacked up and violent cause they killed his wife!
  • If the movie was based on a real life event/person. I could see all the DePalmalicious eye gouging and baby carriage bingo I wished if there was Kevin Costner involvement. Ditto for Silverado, which was basically The Big Chill – which I was allowed and required to watch/study – in the wild west.
  • The DeNiro clause. I could evoke this no matter how offensive the material – Angel Heart – or how inappropriate the movie – The Deer Hunter. Though I don’t think I actually called it such then. This could also be called “The Willis Clause as well given Die Hard was a household favorite.
  • Western or Sci-fi. I was free to view the fiery ritual of Carousel to my heart’s content or discover every good, bad or ugly thing about a particular Eastwood western.

But that all changed with the introduction to Tarantino and excited shrieking of the familial battle cry, “TWICE THE VAN DAMAGE!!!” Then it was business as usual, except not for me. I had seen too much – The Marathon Man – and felt too much – Midnight Express – and liked it. Iron Eagle and Tom Berenger kept on killing without me watching.

I couldn’t go home again.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2010 3:43 pm

    Charles Bronson movies were a big part of my Brooklyn adolescent culture — Death Wish, the Mechanic, Mr. Majestyk — he was another non-talker whose violence was justified by them dunning him wrong. I guess back then parents didn’t really think much about what films their kids went to. That, or they knew there was no sex, the “M” rating meant just meant “Murder”.

  2. April 25, 2010 3:52 pm

    Yeah I cut my teeth on Bronson too! Good stuff. Nothing more satisfying the sound of thug flesh tearing.

  3. April 26, 2010 9:37 am

    The violence in Midnight Express puts it in a very small set of films I’m glad I’ve seen and don’t ever want to see again. Another (for being massively depressing) is Leaving Las Vegas.

  4. April 26, 2010 11:11 am

    As my mother says, “It makes you hate dogs, Turkey and Jail! things you might otherwise have neutral to no opinion of!”

  5. Heather Flescher permalink
    April 27, 2010 1:20 am

    “Midnight Express” is a hell of a movie. Too bad they couldn’t keep the consensual gay relationship from the book…

  6. hsofia permalink
    April 27, 2010 10:51 pm

    I’ve still not seen Midnight Express … I was too busy watching Money Pit and Troop Beverly Hills . But Charles Bronson, Bruce Lee, and Clint Eastwood – these were the tough guys of my childhood!

  7. April 28, 2010 3:03 am

    hsofia – I can’t even recommend Midnight Express to folks. It’s way harsh. I mean if they want to see it, that’s fine, but having seen it once I’m all set with that one.

  8. April 28, 2010 3:04 am

    @Heather – agreed. I have reread the novel, and found it a lot more easy to handle, in that I can walk away from it when it gets to be too much, which it often does.

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