Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Crow (1994)

The Crow (1994)

Director: Alex Proyas

Cast: Brandon Lee, Michael Wincott, Ernie Hudson, Rochelle Davis, 
Bai Ling

When I saw The Crow on its original release back in 1994; it had the same effect on me as when I saw Heath Ledger in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009); I felt I was seeing a ghost. There’s something eerie about seeing an actor’s last film; you feel as if the actor still lives on even though they’ve just recently passed away, somehow immortalized by film. These types of films are more of a shock when they have scenes dealing with the death of the character the dead actor played. For example, in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Heath Ledger has a scene in which he hangs himself from a bridge. This was a chilling scene to watch, but the full effect of this scene isn't felt until minutes after, when Ledger pops out of a treasure chest, alive and kicking, like some twisted magic trick being played on all of us. The end result, when watched in the darkness of a theater, is truly eerie. Brandon Lee pulled of a similar magic trick in The Crow because as most of you undoubtedly know, he died while making that film; which makes the scene in which he literally crawls out of his grave so  macabre, emotional and undoubtedly powerful. The irony can be cut with a knife. There’s a scene in which Officer Albrecht recognizes The Crow as being Eric Draven, the young man who had been brutally murdered a year ago. Officer Albrecht tells Eric Draven, “Don’t move Snow White! You move, you’re dead!”  and Brandon Lee slowly looks up to him, with white make up on his face and says:  “And I say I’m dead, and I move!” How brutally ironic and in a way fittingly poetic when we take in consideration the source material; James O’Barr’s poetic graphic novel, The Crow.

From inception, the idea behind The Crow was fueled by death and tragedy. James O’Barr, the creator behind The Crow started working on his graphic novel as a way to exorcise his own demons. You see, O’Barr’s girlfriend was run down by a drunk driver and as a way to get rid of all the pain that her death caused him; he started working on The Crow. The result was a romantic and poetic bullet opera fueled by despair. O’Barr told The Boston Phoenix that “there is pure anger in every page”, he even went on to mention that instead of being cathartic; he was even more messed up by the time he finished working on the book. The untimely death of Brandon Lee amplified his sadness and anger, making him wish he’d never done the book, blaming god for his luck in life. “God is a bastard” said O’Barr in an interview he did for the Boston Phoenix, “If there is one.” Tragedy it seems, was meant to follow James O’Barr throughout his life because while the comic and the film brought him success, his life was still mired by tragedy. The Crow was a bitter sweet victory. 

The production of this film was muddled by a bunch of weird accidents like a carpenter accidentally drilling a screwdriver through his hand, another carpenter getting burned by power lines, a disgruntled sculptor crashing his car on to the set, a truck catching fire on the set and Brandon Lee getting cut by break away glass! This collection of accidents, plus the death of Brandon Lee leads some to believe that The Crow was one of those cursed films, like the Poltergeist franchise. Of course that’s all a lot of bull crap, these are all things that could and have happened on any film set, which are usually a maelstrom of craziness, more so on films with smaller budgets. Best part of the whole ordeal is that an amazing film shined through the troubled production. In my book, The Crow remains a masterpiece of Gothic cinema. So much so that I try and pinpoint a film that is like it, but nothing pops up. I mean, sure, it’s a revenge film of which there are many, but none of them have the combination of elements that brought The Crow together with such panache. It is in my book a rather unique film.  

James O’Barr’s graphic novel is a mixture of romance, violence, poetry and rock and roll and this is one of the things I love most about the film, it’s just so damn rock and roll! This movie is so rock and roll that Eric Draven walks around with a freaking guitar on his back! No amplifier or anything, just the freaking guitar on his back, because you know, it makes him look that much cooler. Even though James O’Barr is constantly quoting Joy Division and The Cure songs (two bands that inspired O’Barr as he drew and wrote) it was actually the filmmakers who made Eric Draven the lead singer of a rock band named ‘Hang Man’s Joke’, probably as a way to reference the death of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, who hung himself. How rock and roll is this film? Well, there’s this awesome scene in which Draven is sitting on a roof top, playing his electric guitar as the sun sets. That scene is in my book the epitome of rock and roll coolness. So yeah, while the book displays an obvious affection for rock and roll as a means to channel the whole melancholic sadness that Eric Draven is going through, it was the filmmakers who amplified this angle to the max. And it was Alex Proyas, the films director who opted to make the film dark and noir-ish, originally, Proyas wanted to film the whole thing in black and white, but the studio opposed so he went with a color palette infused with a lot of black and white, a lot of grays. The result is one of the darkest films you will ever see. Almost the entire film takes place during the nighttime which gives it a very unique feel. 

Of course, there are some differences between graphic novel and film, characters are switched around and eliminated as is common place with book to film adaptations. One noticeable change was that in the book, they don’t attack Shelly and Eric while they are in their apartment. In the comic, the reason for their murder is a lot more random. Funboy and his goons are out on a drug infused joy ride when they come upon Eric and Shelly, whose car broke down on a lonely road. In the book, the one who suffers “thirty hours of pain” in a hospital is actually Eric Draven himself, not Shelly. The comic has way more poetic passages of Eric Draven remembering Shelly and their times together, also, there’s the mysterious ghost/zombie cowboy that lurks ominously in the background of the comic, guiding Eric Draven through his mission here on earth. They actually shot some scenes with this ghost cowboy character; he was played by Michael Berryman. Unfortunately those scenes were deleted for pacing reasons. Still, even with all these alterations and deletions, I’d say that the film is an excellent translation of the graphic novel. Not only does the film capture the spirit and essence of James O’Barr’s comic books, it also adds a more rock and rollish vibe to the proceedings.

At the same time, there are scenes which are perfect translations of the comic, for example, the scene in which Eric Drave visits Gideon’s Pawn Shop is an almost panel for panel translation of what we get in the comic…another faithfully translated sequence is the one in which Eric Draven visits Top Dollar’s hide out, stands on the table and starts shooting everybody.  The only difference is that the comic is actually a hell of a lot more violent with that shoot out. The Crow isn’t a story about a hero, in fact, James O’Barr himself says that he doesn’t see Eric Draven as a hero, rather, he feels that “He can be absolutely cold-hearted and ruthless at times. When he goes into a room to get one person, everyone else in the room is probably going to die as well. I think what he is doing is terribly romantic, but I wouldn’t call him a hero” I agree. I’d say that there’s no mercy for the wicked when it comes to Eric Draven. He figures if you’re in a room with Top Dollar and Fun Boy, then you must be a bad guy, and bad guys gotta pay, they gotta be stopped. Both the book and the film are infused with a burning hatred for scumbags.

And speaking of that shoot out, I recently re-watched the film to write this review and damn, I was blow away by how good it is, it has to be one of the all time best shoot outs ever, right up there with the shoot out from Michael Mann’s Heat (1995). This shoot out has to be one of the coolest, most extended shoot outs in film history! It goes on forever! Bottom line is The Crow is perfectly Gothic, dark and extremely violent film. The black leather, the rock and roll, the gothic churches, the stormy lighting filled nights…it all adds up to the perfect gothic masterpiece. I still to this day love it and considering the rest of his body of work, I still consider it Alex Proya’s best film. It’s also Brandon Lees best film, the one that made him a star, it’s the one he is most remembered by. He pulled off such a sensible performance, you feel his pain and his love for Shelly. True, Brandon Lee went out before his time, his death was as untimely as it could get, but what an amazingly beautiful swan song this film is. My hats down to you Mr. Lee. It’s true, you are dead, but you still walk my friend, you still walk.

Rating: 5 out of 5   



Debbie Rochon said...

Francisco, its true, that, as you said, a lot of people would`ve felt a real sense of loss about Brandon Lee when they first saw this film on its original release but it would`ve still been nothing in comparison to the genuine feelings of pain and sadness that they experienced 6 years earlier in June of 1988 with regards to the loss of Heather O`Rourke when they first saw Poltergeist III, i remember i saw it on June 10th 1988 (its very first day of release in North America) and when Heather first appeared on the screen an incredible hush and silence fell over the audience, it was an electrifying moment that i will never forget, nobody could believe that Heather had snuffed it just 4 months earlier, it was so bizarre and strange. Even to this day whenever i watch Poltergeist III i still cant believe that Heather is gone, she was so magical and incredible and totally irreplacable. I suppose thats why i still watch Poltergeist III almost every day, to literally try to bring Heather back to life, i`ll never be able to accept the loss of Heather, NEVER.

Franco Macabro said...

Debbie: Yeah, Heather O'Rourke is a similar situation, it was also a shock for me seeing her as a kid on the silver screen. They had a similar situation in that film, same as in The Crow, they had to finish the film with body doubles. Only difference is that in The Crow they used computer technology to superimpose Lee's face in some scenes, they also took scenes they had filmed and use them within the context of another. But Brandon Lee only had 8 more days of filming to go, he pretty much had the whole film in the can, which helps the film immensely. Same with O'Rourke, she wasn't available to film the films climax, and you can immediately tell when it isn't her on the screen, her absence was felt on that film. Not so much with The Crow where Brandon Lee's on screen all the way through the end of the film.

Same situation with Furious 7 (2015), Paul Walker had filmed a lot when he passed away. I remember when Paul Walker says his cinematic goodbye, a few sniffles where heard in the audience.

Debbie Rochon said...

I wonder if they`ll ever release a Blu-Ray of Poltergeist III with the original ending intact where they`re all frozen in that room (That Heather actually filmed in June of 1987) with a commentary from Gary Sherman, that would be superb. That footage has been elusively hiding away in MGM`s vaults for 28 years now!.

Sergei Kolobashkin said...

The Crow is a masterpiece. It's very hard for me to watch this movie. The movie gives me a deep feeling of loneliness. I do feel sorry for the hero and respect his urge for revenge. I haven't read the comic book because I don't want to get disappointed. After watching the original movie I don't want to touch the sequels, reboots, comics etc. I believe that I will be cheated.

Franco Macabro said...

Sergei, I don't think you'll be dissapointed with James O'Barr's original graphic novel, it's a masterpiece on its own, even more violent and poetic than the film. Take it from me, I only read the good stuff and the art work and the writing on the original graphic novel are superb, highly recommend searching it out. I've posted a link to the graphic novel if your interested in buying it through amazon. But in respects to the sequels, if you haven't seen them...don't bother, those are not anywhere near the masterpiece that Alex Proyas' film is. With those sequels I can assure you, you will dissapointed.


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