Hooray for Violence
In 1994, the nonpartisan Washington group Center for Media and Public Affairs studied a single 18-hour day of television programming and found 2,605 scenes of violence on the 10 channels representing all major program genres. The center's count constituted a 41 percent increase in scenes of violence over a survey taken in 1992, and while statistics can be manipulated to suit any agenda, the "family values" advocates have a point: There is more violent entertainment available to the younger members of our society than ever before.
The real problem, however, is that most of this Hollywood violence is of such lousy quality. No American over the age of 5 is affected positively or negatively by depictions of gunfights between ponytailed male models wearing Hawaiian shirts. Nothing breaks a kid's heart more than paying money to see a motorcycle hit by a bazooka and slammed into a gasoline truck, and having to mutter under one's breath to a friend, "Man, this is really lame."
Come to think of it, that's what adults say to each other.
Contrast this with the bruising fight scene in John Carpenter's 1988 classic They Live, a nasty 15-minute, bare-knuckled brawl that should be required reading in any film school. When 300-pound pro wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper's bloody face hits the pavement, you know you've been entertained.
Or take a screening of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs at high volume. It's one of Jason's favorite movies. And Dave's. And Ron's. And Maggie's. They should know. They rent movies for a living. And who has a better bead on visual entertainment than these video store night-shift clerks?
Jason works at Leather Tongue Video in the Mission, and besides Reservoir Dogs, he is partial to The Killer by John Woo and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, "because it sort of crams the whole American violence back down the American throat."
To Ron at Gramophone Video on Polk, the Steven Seagal action picture Under Siege is "just like candy." He cites Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch "for the time it came out, because it showed up the entire system," and on a contemporary note votes for Reservoir Dogs, because "everything was treated as real."
Gabrielle at Marina Video is a firm believer in Pulp Fiction, but also dips into the archives and chooses The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, because "there are so many different levels of violence."
Another Quentin devotee is Dave at Captain Video on Lombard, a big fan of the Tarantino-scripted True Romance, as well as the Scottish film Shallow Grave. Fellow employee Eric also gives the nod to Shallow Grave, and Abel Ferrara's King of New York, with Christopher Walken: "It was so well-choreographed that you really didn't notice it." Eric then mentions The Crow, the film where actor Brandon Lee died in an accident on the set.
"It sort of puts a whole brooding on the entire film. It's a different film than it would have been if he had lived."
What kid can resist?
Over at the Video Cafe on Geary, talking over the noisy background of the restaurant, Stewart votes for The Professional, Street Fighter, and Nikita. And at Naked Eye in the Lower Haight, Maggie and friends are partial to Reservoir Dogs, The Wild Bunch, and Man Bites Dog.
One clerk begs anonymity because he works for a national chain of family-oriented video stores, and says "we can't speak to the press on any issue whatsoever." Let's call him "Jim." But personally speaking, totally independent from his big conglomerate employer with a blue-and-yellow logo and which edits the movies it rents, "Jim" is another big Tarantino junkie: Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Natural Born Killers.
Killers, with story credited to Tarantino, is also a favorite of Stacy's, who works behind the counter at the Wherehouse on Geary, as well as the napalm/neck-biting combo of Platoon and the vampire film The Lost Boys.
A guy named Muttt at Tower Video on Market Street checks in with a surprising choice: the PG-rated Raiders of the Lost Ark.
"It's fun violence. The people get punched around, they get killed, they get shot, and it's all done with a good nature." Muttt also casts votes for Deep Cover and King of New York, "because it's exciting, it's thrilling, but it's gritty and sort of realistic."
But if you do your shopping for violence in the Sunset District, better call first before going to Rudy's on Judah Street. When queried about her three violent favorites, a clerk replies blankly, "You'll have to talk to Warren. He won't be in until tomorrow."
What have we learned? Violence can be a very rewarding entertainment experience if it's justified. It can be good-natured and well-choreographed. Realism is a plus. And former video clerk Quentin Tarantino has a very long career ahead of him.
Address all correspondence to: Slap Shots, c/o SF Weekly, 425 Brannan, San Francisco, CA 94107; phone: (415) 536-8152; e-mail: Slapshawtsaol.com.
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