Jun 1, 2011

The Crow


Seeing The Crow as a kid of about eight or nine in the theaters was pretty pivotal. Aside from Jurassic Park, it was the first movie I had really anticipated prior to its release, for any number of reasons (I was already well on my way to being a goth-lite social reject, it was based on a comic book, my dad and his girlfriend deemed it cool and at the time I had a raging crush on her and didn't yet long to crush my dad's head with a cinderblock, the "Lee family curse" the media kept on and on about). As the months ticked by, I would scour the magazines at the Tower Records magazine rack for any passing mention, taped episodes of tacky tabloid news shows exploiting the on-set slaying of star Brandon Lee, and tried on at least two occasions to steal copies of the graphic novel because the assholes at the comic store deemed me too young to read it and my parents were too lazy to accompany me to the store so I could read a comic where the hero dispatches bad guys with Joy Division quotes in place of the usual groan-inducing puns . By the time the flick hit theaters, my excitement had reached a fever pitch, and as genuinely stoked as dad and his flame were to see it, I was positively obnoxious, wanting to go the very first matinee showing in clown makeup (my dad drew the line at the idea of his son wearing makeup of any kind) and reciting the entire plot to people waiting in line as I understood it from Entertainment Weekly articles and my own imagination. Two hours later, give or take, the lights came on and I begged my dad to watch it again. As his girlfriend had been giving him a handjob through his pants throughout the entire movie, he relented, and showed me where to hide in the theater to wait for the next showing and promised to come back for me in a couple of hours. For months I would proclaim my love of The Crow to anyone and everyone, adult and classmate alike, without provocation. Something about a guy in a goth get-up blowing away a multi-cultural gang of goons in an endlessly raining, nigh post-apocalyptic Gotham-esque shithole spoke to me on many levels, mainly that of how cool it was to see the goth guy, instead of being spindly and getting molested by jocks in a locker room after refusing to dress out for Phys Ed, running on rooftops and looking good with his shirt off and saying shit like "Victims aren't we all?" before fucking some dude's shit up something fierce.


Flash-forward to this past weekend. While scavenging through a box of old VHS tapes my mom had deemed either garbage or storage worthy, I rescued all manner of perennial childhood favorites- The Toxic Avenger, Face/Off, Taxi Driver, Godzilla Vs. Megalon, The City of Lost Children, and yes, The Crow. With my girlfriend over and having ample time to kill, we decided to dig in and watch a few tapes, first Taxi Driver (still resonates perfectly after all these years- Paul Schrader might very well be the screenwriter I relate to most) and then, after the requisite jokes about Hot Topic to distance myself and preserve my illusion of "cool", I popped in The Crow...


...and it too held up after all these years. But for different reasons. No longer do I love The Crow because it is a cut above other comic adaptations, or for its "deep" themes, or because with Brandon Lee's passing I can attach a greater meaning to it all a la how Joy Division resonated so much more to 14-year old me when I read up on Ian Curtis' suicide. No, my love for The Crow continues unabated because it is charmingly awful - a mid-nineties time capsule that is the perfect ode to how silly the post-Dark Knight Returns "gritty" comic book thing got, stuffed to the gills with plot holes and inexplicable behavior all in the name of coming across as "edgy" and "alternative."


Eric Draven is some photogenic grunge rocker dude with a hot fiancee, Shelly, who wants to bring about housing reform but then the night before Halloween, or maybe it's Halloween night, or the night after (somewhere in that general time frame), a multi-cultural gang of uniquely nineties miscreants including a black guy with dreads and a leather overcoat and throwing knives, a retarded speedfreak named Skank, and two others I've already kind of forgotten break into their fancy loft and rape and kill Shelly (as choir music hums over the soundtrack to underscore the tragedy of it all) and shoot Eric, who goes through the ornate, gothic window and plummets to the ground. Their skateboarding alterna-kid friend Sarah shows up at the scene, all tough and exchanging last words with a dying Shelly, and is consoled by Ernie Hudson, playing the dedicated, bumbling black cop with his heart of gold on his sleeve. A year goes by and in keeping with some opening narration from the kid, Sarah, sometimes when a crime is so heinous a crow will bring a person back to life a year-to-the-day of when they shuffled off and that person will show no signs of decomposition whatsoever and will crawl from the grave shivering with rock hard abs and strands of their long, rocker mop all plastered to their face and then they'll wander back to their formerly fancy loft that has been left as is and that no one has moved into (a lucrative piece of real estate, too- like ten floors up, very top floor, penthouse perfection all the way) and with The Cure moaning over the soundtrack slather on some white face paint, dab some black around the eyes, tear up some black duds all Edward Scissorhands-like, and hunt down the baddies one-by-one, supplanting tough guy one-liners with Edgar Allan Poe quotes and shit because, even though judging from the flashback scenes and press photo of his band the guy was anything BUT a goth (more a second-rate pretty boy Cobain-aper a la the guy in Bush), I guess if Nine Inch Nails covering Joy Division is going to blare on the soundtrack whenever you run around rain-soaked rooftops looking for revenge, you'd better affect the leather pants and talking like a Freshman Lit major with a hard-on for Clive Barker vibe, plus I reckon dead, raped girlfriend is an acceptable reason to wear eyeliner as having no real prom prospects or snarky Columbine jokes or whatever it is nowadays that convinces kids to stay out of the sun and blare Sisters of Mercy when borrowing dad's car to drive to the mall ("Woe is me, forced to adorn the thorny crown of Hot Dog on a Stick").


Anyways, in one poorly conceived, anti-climactic kill scene after another, Draven (Draven...sigh) totally mindfucks his killers by regenerating after being stabbed or shot (bullet through the hand, looks through the hole as it closes, and might have made a quip about Jesus, but then again, might have been me making a quip about Jesus to my girlfriend between guffaws) and has to continually go through great lengths to remind them of who he is despite apparently having the power (as he illustrates to his new best bud, Ernie Hudson) to grab someones hand and make them re-live his death, or his fiancee's death, or something like that. Turns out this Crow fella has some very ill-defined powers. To the best of my comprehension these abilities include CGI-enhanced regeneration, super-speed, the ability to wig out friendly black cops, to see through the eyes of his companion crow, and to lecture everyone all self-righteously about not smoking and doing drugs and shit because, um, Crows don't do drugs or because he is trying to impart some wisdom from beyond or something? Maybe it's supposed to be ironic? Whatever it is, it definitely neuters the guy as an undead vigilante some- what the fuck does he care if the cop smokes or if Sarah's mom is a junkie? He came back to kick ass, not to be a DARE spokesman in corpse paint. At one point, he even drains the morphine from Sarah's mom's arm after incapacitating one of the bad guys, whom she happens to be fucking, (apparently another of his powers? what else can this fucker do- unscrew lightbulbs with his mind? drink a case of beer without a hangover? wait...no...Crow's got the edge), prompting her to make scrambled eggs for Sarah in the morning. That's cool, I guess. Your mom is a morphine-addicted whore barmaid draining the balls of a guy who raped and killed your friends, but some scrambled eggs should prevent costly therapist visits and rehab stints, no? Speaking of Sarah, with all of the advice this guy doles out, why does he never think to mention to her that skateboarding in the rain all the time is a bad idea? When I was a young skatepunk about her age I made the mistake of skating in the rain a few times and it fucked up my trucks, completely undid my grip tape. And maybe someone should give Mr. Draven some advice when he takes some down time to shred on his guitar atop a building...motherfucker, it's sprinkling out, the rooftop is soaked, and yet you have your amp and tons of electrical cords everywhere? I know this won't affect you, dude, you're dead, but lead by example. That shit is dangerous, and you are doing it for no other reason than to look cool (does your Slash-lite solo-ing further the plot any?), which is definitely in line with, say, puffing on the occasional cigarette, you hypocritical prick.


Tangent aside, as Draven works his way through the gang we come to realize via clumsy expository dialogue that they were only acting on orders of their boss, Top Dollar (Michael Wincott, one of the sole bright lights of the film), a comically confused gangster who is equal parts Southern gentleman (his accent and delivery), Samurai (his mane, sword, and Asian half-sister fucktoy, played by Bai Ling), with just a dash of Trent Reznor for good goth measure. Wincott invests what is a fairly laughable only-in-a-Hollywood action movie/comic book kind of role with a degree of menace and charm that definitely had me wishing the guy had more screentime and a better written role, or maybe a starring vehicle as a half-Taiwanese fur-trapper/cocaine dealer or something. Whatever the case, Top Dollar makes it his mission to bye bye Birdy Brandon Lee, The Crow's powers, whatever they are, begin to waver near the climax, and, to quote Sarah quoting a song of Eric's band earlier in the film "It can't rain all the time." (Again, for all the goth-posturing, this non-cigarette smoking bore wrote a song about how it can't rain all the time? Come on!)


All snark aside, Brandon Lee's on-set shooting death was quite tragic and without a doubt the reason this movie carries some of the weight it does. It is hard not to wince a little in every scene where Draven is shot, even with the knowledge that the offending footage was not used in the film. Death aside, Lee turns in as good a performance as anyone could with such an underwritten character, and is quite adept at laying on the charm or unhinged mania whenever the scene calls for it. With his leading-man good looks Lee could have likely turned in another big screen action performance or two before drifting into DTV-obscurity, and it's a real shame he didn't get the chance, leaving behind a fiancee of his own (which also adds some weight to the proceedings, making one wish these real-life parallels were matched up to a better film). I could also use this space to get into the graphic novel and the real-life tragedy that inspired it, but the book is similar to the film in that, despite having such weighty real-life events tied into its creation (in the case of the book, the drunk driving related death of author James O' Barr's girlfriend), it just...isn't...that...good, unfortunately. I should also point out that even the films detractors tend to point out the visual style of director Alex Proyas, and I will say- the film does do well in creating its rain-soaked noir atmosphere of a dying cityscape on the brink of extinction, a lot of which is rendered moot by some painfully dated nineties-isms like the cheesy industrial club that exists only in the imaginations of forty year old production designers that would rollerblade to work circa 1992, 1993, but still, the film looks nice, moves at a good clip, and judging from some DVD extras I saw back in the day, a few of the action scenes would potentially have been pretty good (especially the scene with Lee vs. the gangsters seated at the table in Top Dollar's board room) had they not needed to be pared down due to matters of sensitivity to Lee's death, MPAA, inability to do re-shoots, etc.


As it stands, while all of this may come across as a pretty harsh drubbing, it is actually still an enjoyable film. A frame of reference- at about the time I first saw this film, I absolutely adored Glenn Danzig. I listened to nothing but the first four Danzig records, Samhain, and The Misfits, and even made Danzig the topic of my first zine (I was eight...my cover lobbied for Danzig getting the role as Wolverine if an X-Men movie should ever come to pass)(sigh). As I got a bit older, I became pretty embarrassed by all of this, and rejected Danzig outright. "I only enjoy refined, critic-proof ART" became my unspoken motto. But in the past couple of years, I've come around. Fuck it, I love Danzig. Sure he's cheesy, and fails miserably at being the imposing figure his 5'4" frame wants to put across. Yeah, searching "Danzig's Book Collection" on Youtube should make milk come out the nose of even those who aren't drinking milk. But fuck, I know all of his songs by heart and as silly as much of it is, I can't help but love it.. Not everything in black and white- some things, like Glenn Danzig or The Crow, exist in that weird grey space somewhere alongside nostalgia and "so bad it's good", neither of which quite explain the appeal. All I know is that my girlfriend and I got some good laughs out of it and I'm not as ashamed as being on this movie's nuts as an eight or nine year old as I would had I been fifteen or twenty-four when I first caught it, and while part of me almost wants to bemoan the dearth of truly badass undead goth vigilantes (though I will say that The Crow is about a thousand times more hardcore than Edward and Bella and co.), um, fuck goths. Dudes with pasty skin wearing fishnet shirts and black lipstick fetishizing death while continuing to live in their parents' basements don't deserve a kickass cinematic analogue. Just uncomfortably homoerotic bro-pummeling, and lots of it, until they either grow a pair and fight back and stop supporting Cleopatra Records or give in and join Ian Curtis and Rozz Williams for absinthe and sullen shuffling in the great goth club in the sky.


-Jon-Christian

1 comment:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Brandon Lee celebrated his 23rd birthday on the very day that Heather O`Rourke snuffed it ("February 1st" 1988) and then exactly 5 years later to the very day (once again on that fateful date "February 1st" 1993, the fifth anniversary of Heathers death and Brandon's own 28th birthday) filming on "The Crow" began, 2 coincidences that cannot easily be dismissed i think you`ll agree.