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Crow, The

Entry updated 30 January 2019. Tagged: Film.

Film (1994). Miramax presents in association with Entertainment Media Investment Corporation an Edward R Pressman film in association with Jeff Most productions. Directed by Alex Proyas. Written by David J Schow and John Shirley, based on the first four issues of the Comic book series The Crow (February-May 1989) by James O'Barr. Cast includes Angel David, Rochelle Davis, Ernie Hudson, David Patrick Kelly, Brandon Lee, Anna Levine, Bai Ling, Laurence Mason, Michael Massee, Jon Polito, Bill Raymond, Marco Rodríguez, Sofia Shinas and Michael Wincott. 102 minutes. Colour.

A rock musician rises from the dead (see Reincarnation) to wreak vengeance on the Villains responsible for the death of his fiancée.

"Revenge is a kind of wild justice," wrote Francis Bacon in his humanist proposition "On Revenge" (in The Essays coll 1625; rev 1696), "which the more Man's nature runs to, the more ought Law to weed it out." Many accept, however, that there is one set of laws for the rich and another for those less so, and whether served hot and with tragic consequence, as in the Theatre of Bacon's contemporaries Thomas Middleton (1580-1627) and William Shakespeare, or cold and at the hands of a Mysterious Stranger, as in Le Comte de Monte-Christo (1844-1845; trans Emma Hardy as The Count of Monte Cristo 1846) by Alexandre Dumas, retribution is one of the more well-worn Clichés of dramatic motivation.

What the action in The Crow shares with that of Monte Cristo or Hamlet (written circa 1599-1602; 1603) is some kind of psychological sense: the film's panoply of violence, blood and fire does not much impair the poignancy of its meditation on grief. One might locate the success of The Crow's affect in the Equipoise afforded by the Postmodernism of its aesthetic, in the Gothic sensibility by which it punctuates its Crime and Punishment plot with outbursts of cathartic Horror, in the symbolic montages of music, imagery and action derived from Hong Kong cinema or its production design and performances (and these have all, in their way, been influential) but the virtue The Crow's many imitators seem to forget is its emotional clarity. The film means what it expresses.

"Suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door," quotes the newly-arisen Eric Draven (Lee) from Edgar Allan Poe's famous narrative poem The Raven (Evening Mirror January 1845) to pawnbroker and fence Gideon (Polito), one year to the day after Draven and his fiancée were murdered by street-thugs T-Bird (Kelly), Tin-Tin (Mason), Funboy (Massee) and Skank (David). It emerges that Draven's bride-to-be Shelly Webster (Shinas) had been fighting the tenants' eviction from the address where she and Draven lived, but this is less a reason for their murders than a technicality. "Greed is for amateurs," says Top Dollar (Wincott), the kingpin who ordered their deaths and the "brains" behind the annual orgy of arson each "Devil's Night" (October 30) in the city of Detroit: "Disorder. Chaos. Anarchy. Now that's fun." "He has power but it is power you can take from him," says Top Dollar's lover and half-sister Myca (Ling) of un-dead Draven and his Superpowers of strength, dexterity and self-healing. "The Crow is his link between the land of the living and the land of the dead."

Motifs of initiation, death and rebirth transposed from the Mythology of Egyptian, Babylonian or Greek Heroes to the Identity-oriented character arcs of Superheroes in Cities continue to exert a great deal of influence on Fantastika made for Cinema and Television in the vein of the Graphic Novel. This can, in part, be traced to the popular success of The Crow, and to that of subsequent Comics adaptations such as Blade (1998), in which the death-and-rebirth arc of the protagonist is dramatized by the threat of Vampires as the Secret Masters of urban decay. The origin of many of these narrative protocols in patriarchal Religion tends, as is the case in The Crow, to reduce the role of those Women in SF who do appear with names and identities to that of dead lover, object of attraction or, perhaps, young woman who represents the violent protagonist's 'better self'. "Sf has either totally ignored women, or presented them as squeaking dolls subject to instant rape by monsters," wrote Ursula K Le Guin in "American SF and the Other" (November 1975 Science Fiction Studies #7, for which see Feminism), clearly delineating some of the more denuded Politics by which The Crow's titular character can both upbraid Drug-addled barmaid Darla (Levine) for her lack of motherly devotion – "Mother is the name for God on the lips of all children" – and then eviscerate several of the people with whom she and daughter Sarah (Davis) have been in regular contact. "Abashed the Devil stood," quotes Draven from John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667; rev 1674) over one of his prey, "And felt how awful goodness is."

Superheroes such as Batman derived much of their visual language and Inner Space from how Antiheroes from detective Magazines began to influence mainstream film noir in the 1940s; but it was not until Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe began to encourage writers to deconstruct the behaviours of the heroes themselves that the form began to connect emotional truth to societal change, and thereby to understand itself as science-fictional in intent. Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are activated (and, indeed, sometimes obviated) by the need to negotiate the relationship between conscience and violence on the streets of New York; the title character of Black Panther (2018) must take on the burdens of his continent and his planet in order to come into his full inheritance. The Crow, by contrast, is concerned only with the individuation of its title character. That the film succeeds so well in relating the grief and anger of original comic-book writer James O'Barr (over the death of his own fiancée at the hands of a drunk-driver) to a fast-moving, visual élan is in part due to an age-old human thirst for the wild justice and narrative simplicity of heroes.

The death of Brandon Lee following an accidental shooting on the set of The Crow curtailed the success of what very nearly became a cinematic franchise, if not its influence on similar endeavours or the commercial development of Sequels by Other Hands. The sequels The Crow: City of Angels (1996), The Crow: Salvation (2000), based on the tie-in novel The Lazarus Heart (1998) by Poppy Z Brite, and The Crow: Wicked Prayer (2005), based on the novel of the same name by Norman Partridge, were all poorly received. The Canadian tv series The Crow: Stairway to Heaven (1998-1999) consisted of 22 episodes. A planned futuristic sequel, «The Crow: 2037», never entered production. [MD]


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