Wednesday, October 20, 2010

a murder of crows

Two years ago your proprietor wrote the following:

"On the spur of the moment, after videotaping two shows at the Dark Room I grabbed a cab up to the Clay Theatre, where they were screening Alex Proyas' The Crow at midnight. This film was a staple of a short but memorable time in my life - I saw it four times when it screened back in 1994. A friend visiting briefly during an overseas gig was surprised that the thing had been released, in light of star Brandon Lee's on-set death (mirroring that of his father, Bruce Lee). As powerful as the film was, with its star's death paralleling that of his character, opinion was split of this curious film, among critics and among our friends: Sean thought it was a waste of time; Josh though it was too, unrelentingly dark; a woman I know had an orgasm during the nightclub shootout.

"As for me, I cried every time I saw it - the very act of watching the film was magic, its star a ghost haunting his final film, brought back to life every time the thing unfurled, projected on a screen. Those screenings remain precious memories, and solidified (though I was too young to realize it at the time) my belief in the cinema as an act of worship, as a tribal magic.

"And now fourteen years later, I returned to watch the ghost animate one more time (I could never watch the film on video). Tonight's service had maybe twenty attendees - even a pre-screening performance by a punk cabaret ensemble wasn't an inducement (hell, maybe the audience knew something about the band that I didn't, and went the following night).

"The film has dated all right, I'd say - Proyas' mise-en-scene is still remarkable, as artificial and lovely in its own dark way as the scratchy art and fragmented script of James O'Barr, creator of the original graphic novel. The songs and soundtrack still moved and amazed. The film's weaknesses, to which even as rapturous a convert as I back in '94 wasn't blind, still remained, and have not been made any less clunky by the passage of time. The whole "destroy-the-crow-and-you-destroy-the-man" thing remains an unhappy means of developing third act tension, despite the fact that Eric Draven, as invulnerable as he is, has already had everything taken from him, and could not possibly be more destroyed. The film's good points and bad points were remembered, and taken in with my older, more discerning eyes and more detached heart.

"But when the crow takes flight, propelling Eric toward the first fight in his quest for vengeance, Trent Reznor's cover of "Dead Souls" (itself haunted by original singer Ian Curtis) taking all of us over this damned city, carrying us along the rooftops as Brandon/Eric leap, stride, and run across them, the ghost lives again. I breathe in, softly, and cry."

The thing was wide open for sequels - any number of dead souls could be brought back for vengeance, and sequels proliferated across the screen, yes, but also in comics and novels. The cinematic franchise immediately saw diminishing returns: Vincent PĂ©rez was just dandy in the lead (and much of the supporting cast were more than game), but the screenplay seized on and amplified the "destroy-the-crow-and-you-destroy-the-man" and collapsed into a mess. Further sequels went straight-to-video, and many of them had their moments. But none of the subsequent films could come near to capturing the ethereality of the first: the thing's too charged with the ghost of its star, rendering any sequel a pale, too-solid imitation.

Maybe for that reason I'm having a hard time getting worked up over the news that Mark Wahlberg is rumored to be cast as Eric Draven in a forthcoming remake/reboot. Perhaps I'm just numb to Hollywood disintering yet another franchise in lieu of paying a screenwriter to come up with something new. Perhaps because the original film is too close to my heart, too fast, too ghostly, too keenly felt, to be anything but unassailable.


  1. A) Hollywood is reboot-happy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The Crow is a film, as you said, with ghosts... it can't be recreated in a sequel or an updated remake because the tragedy that sticks to it is impossible to clone. Anything they try to make will come across as heartless... not like they care, as long as they make a buck.

    B) Sadly, this remake will probably fall into the formulaic superhero genre that seems to have infected the entertainment landscape. I can just see Mark Wahlberg spewing awful superhero/vigilante dialogue while pointing two identical 9mm pistols at a faceless bad guy. *shudder

    C) From what I can remember, the new film will take place in New Mexico (I smell a Native American spirit guide). In my opinion, this relocation can only take away from the eerie atmosphere that I fell in love with in the first film. The deep, dark representation of L.A. was like a character of its own, creeping into every scene like a beautiful cockroach ready to pounce. I mean, seriously... how can you have a decent Crow film without a grungy urban environment?

  2. For the record: at least one of the sequel comics dealt well with a desert setting (and placed the Crow within Native American mythology), so the setting isn't necessarily the problem.

    But I'm pleasantly past this.