American Views Abroad

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

We walked out of American Gangster on Sunday afternoon. Not having been to the movies recently, we had the urge to get back into what US films are portraying about its present state. Granted the new Redford film was our first choice. While it seemed to be praised in German reviews, it was most definitely being slammed in the US media, something even the Sueddeutsche Zeitung commented on last week. In the November 12 issue of The New Yorker which has just arrived here Lions for Lambs 'is most charitably described as Ibsen with helicopters.' It was harshly dismissed and not only in that magazine. There was, however, no afternoon showing and so American Gangster, supposedly a comment on US society, was the next choice. There is always a rather endless assortment of commercials preceding films here, some of them almost naively amusing in an unprofessional way, particularly if the product is a local one. It's something you more or less take for granted while finding your seat and settling in. Immediately following these ads are those for upcoming movies and this time it was one violent scene after the other while the loudspeakers blared on making these almost physically painful. There was an inner plea for the film to start, but the violence was never ending and the scenes from ads to current film were seamless. The violence and the blood-letting continued unabated and the shrillness coming from loudspeakers on both sides were unbearable. Finally a break and we could flee.

Do we really need to spend 19 Euros to see such appalling violence at the movies when all we have to do is turn on the evening news? Perhaps it's because here in Europe the news can be picked up on public TV many times in the evening and is rather thorough in letting its audience know what's going on in the world. The scenes these last four years from Iraq have not covered up the blood-letting and tragedy there. Perhaps too it was all that up-front shooting in the film that got under our skin. There was a school shooting in Finland, of all places, recently where a number of students and teachers were killed so in the face. There is the case down in Cologne where two young adults were planning to stage a rampage in their school but did an about face. One has since committed suicide after being confronted with his site and idea. Violence is ever-present on the web and continuously being hammered home to us on the nightly news and obviously being glorified for commercial reasons in films. Light hearted comedy hardly reflects these times. If Lions for Lambs really deserved to be so dismissed by its home critics is something we'll have to see for ourselves soon.

Violence and gore are huge turn-offs if inserted gratuitously. There is a fine line between that and using it to advance the story. I'd say the movie that does this best is Full Metal Jacket. It's violent, but never unnecessarily so.

PS: I like your reference to the ads before the films, especially the local ones. So true! There are a couple of alternative Kinos in Hamburg - Zeise and Abaton - which show the same ones over and over and over.
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