"Art is not a mirror with which to reflect the world; it is a hammer with which to shape it"

Friday, 7 September 2007

Shock Of Point 6*

******Here be spoilers******
for The Piano, The Fencing Master and possibly The Official Version, Hellraiser, Odishon, The English Patient and The Big Heat (depending upon your definitions)

I watched Fritz Lang's 1953 movie The Big Heat again the other night. Fritz Lang's style has always struck me as a touch cumbersome but he is how he is and the films are still better than being pegged out on a rock for vultures to peck at. The Big Heat is arguably from the last wave of the film noir cycle and can be safely described as 'hard-boiled'. It's not quite at that point which came soon after where not only were the crooks are bad, the system corrupt and all the good guys were just a lighter shade of pitch black but it was on its way there. Glenn Ford's cop here may have been pushed to the limit and started to use 'questionable' means but he's not that self-same hair's breadth away from the bad guy that comes in a film like Kiss Me Deadly. As the one character says to Ford on his insistence that he could have killed a corrupted widow, "I don't believe you could, if you had there wouldn't be much difference between you and Vince Stone (the hood)." But such rhapsodizing is merely a digression and padding to an otherwise rather short posting....

The Big Heat was notable for a new zenith cum nadir in the field of shocking Screen Violence. A rather young Lee Marvin throws a pot of boiling coffee into Gloria Grahame's face (done off screen) and I noticed it still has an ouch factor. (There's also a shocking car-bombing which everybody forgets but must have his the period audience... I can't think of an earlier one.) This coffee incident got me to be thinking of what makes a moment of shocking screen violence. I've seen Jason stab, Freddy slice and Pinhead dice; I've seen anonymous hordes shot and thumped and batted less than an eyelid but some moments always stick out. They have that bit that makes you go 'Mary, Mother of God, what the...!'

I think there are some key factors to these really shocking moments (list time!):
  • they come in films which you do not expect to be violent and look even less likely to be... imagine if you will what it would have been like to see the finale of A Room With A View with a hint of Se7en,
  • they need to involve appendages (preferably) that are held in deep affection by the general public- something to empathize with, something that you may have imagined losing,
  • they need to involve an implement that you use regularly, may use regularly or have seen used at close hand and therefore may have had paranoid fantasies about the disasters misuse or fate may bring... chainsaws still count higher than hand gun,
  • this implement needs to be something that would make your fantasy 'hideous accident' overly messy and preferably red-sticky-wet,
  • the incident itself should barely be shown- as various members of my family have put it- the pictures are better on radio... the imagination is a powerful tool sometimes it's better to use (and get a more audience friendly 15 cert.)
  • they need to involve a character that has a name and has some kind of connexion to the audience.

I'm sure there's a couple more reasons but those are the big ones that struck me. So, where can we find such hideousness? Here's the incidents that are quite high up my list and in no particular order.

  1. The Piano: Holly Hunter's meeting with an axe,
  2. The English Patient: Willem Dafoe's date with some nasty Nazis,
  3. The Fencing Master: Assumpta Serna's date with Destiny,
  4. The Official Version: involves a door... and most of us will have come close to doing it ourselves,
  5. Hellraiser: doesn't involve fish-hooks or the like but does involve a sticking out nail and a hand...
  6. Odishon: the whole end section rather comes out of, not so much left-field but, an entirely contiguous field altogether!

I know there's a couple that I can't remember right now but there you go... distance over time equals forgetfulness... possibly.

The lesson for today is: if you want to make an audience squirm, badly hurt a character that they know with an everyday object that they have used. Then light it nicely and put everybody in period costumes! So, we're looking at Merchant-Ivory's Helena Bonham Carter in the Edwardian conservatory with Professor Plum and a chainsaw....

*Shock Of Point 6 is a track by My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and is quite good. Best title I could come up with at short notice.


Jason Arnopp said...

Love the post, sir, but p'raps a spoiler warning at the beginning for The Piano especially?

Ooh, shockingly memorable moments of screen violence. Where to start? :)

Jon Peacey said...

Glad to be of service...

...I did wonder whether The Piano thing constituted a spoiler. Then I thought it's 15 years old and it seemed ambiguous. But I've done some spoiler-ass covering! :)

(I'll have to go back to Lucy's place and check her perspicacity on the subject.)

Jason Arnopp said...

Cheers, Sir!

Oh, don't ask Lucy 'bout spoilers. She delivers spoiler warnings, but grudgingly at best... ;-)