Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Safe Color is Yellow

I am the first to admit that when it comes to cinematic violence, I am a big fat baby. I still remember being about seven or eight and the terror that would strike when the theme music to Tales from the Crypt came on. My mother, who was probably sick of small children dominating the TV, let us watch a behind the scenes episode where it appeared that the Crypt Keeper was perhaps not as fake as I was originally lead to believe. For years the moaning of the organ fighting against the eerily cheerful bells forced me deeper and deeper under the covers. My internet research has recently revealed that the theme was composed by Danny Elfman, which now sounds obvious. I'm surprised I didn't notice it at the time, as Beetlejuice was one of my favorite films. And I must admit that I feel slightly betrayed.

It does seem strange that I would like one slightly comedic horror work and completely eschew the other, but who am I to argue against the vagaries of a seven year old? But this is how it's always been with my taste in movies and violence. I absolutely adore Vin Diesel's XXX (and you can all shut your faces). Lots of explosions, fights, hot double agents with Russian accents - it has it all. But no one dies violently or openly. The blood is at a tasteful minimum and the bad guys get it in the end. Yet I can do bloody, if it's at over the top levels of ridiculousness, such as with Kill Bill or Versus.

What I find myself incapable of handling is violence that appears too real. The moment I can identify with the violence, I shut down. I wince or bury my head in AK's shoulder (and he knows when to tell me it's safe to come out). This amazing ability is not limited to live action. Last night we watched the animated Beowulf, which deserves a separate rant. AK was in his chair and curled up in a corner of the couch with my knitting (we are boring old married people and that is what currently passes for an exciting Saturday night). Within minutes of the opening credits I began to cringe and yell "Oh for fuck's sake" at the screen. Did I need to see Grendel tear that guy in half? Did they have to have that much screaming? I spent the rest of the movie throwing snarky comments towards the screen (since I've read Heany's translation once, I am clearly a Beowulf expert) while reading.

What struck me about Zemeckis's version of the epic tale is how I felt much more aware of the violence in the poem. Of course a soldier devouring demon and a dragon are going to do some damage, but it felt less real on the page. Violence in books always feel less real to me, perhaps because I can choose how much I want to see and how much I want to feel. I lack that option with movies, short of closing my eyes or getting up and leaving the room. Emotional tension is harder to block out on the page, but perhaps that's because it's harder to stop myself from feeling than it is to stop myself from visualizing. This is why I still have not finished Natsuo Kirino's Out.

Maybe I'm sensitive or maybe I'm not. It's hard to say when the only perspective I have is my own. Maybe my distaste for a certain form of movie violence comes from being human (though does that necessarily make those who can deal with or enjoy it not human?). All I know is that I'm sitting here at my dining room table while AK watches The Village.

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