Thursday, January 23, 2014

Glitz, Glamour and the Glorification of Violence in 80s Film

The endless fight scene in Lethal Weapon
The 70s film maintained a grim realism and an unflinching view of violence. Contradictorily, the imagery in these movies was often ugly, the fight sequences clumsy and the blood and gore was often an obvious technicolor fakery that was nevertheless gruesome and also, oddly, real. The 80s film used advances in special effects to make violent sequences hyper-realistic, well-choreographed and also strangely glamourous. Villains are thrown through windows in an explosion of sparkling glass, the texture and color of the blood is much more accurate and gun fights and fist fights are edited to heighten dramatic tension. In these films, violence becomes a kind of stylistic choice rather than necessary to the narrative. In this way, the 80s film ceases to critique violence and instead celebrates or even fetishizes it.

This is not to suggest that all 70s action films were noble attempts to attack the violent behaviors of humanity. They weren't. They were, however, more responsible in presentation. The fight scenes and gunfights in the 70s film appear to be almost normal. They occur without fuss or fanfare and therefore have an un-elevated status. The 80s film becomes an expression of hyper-masculinity and along with this exaggerated maleness are sequences of over-the-top violent masculine activity. Moreover, many 80s films use music to heighten the exhilarating aspects of the many violent scenes. The violence, then, becomes a source of arousal and excitement in these films.

While the editing in the 80s film is much more careful, the fight scene itself is longer. The conclusion of nearly every 80s action film is a drawn out display of hyper violence. The confrontation between the good guy and bad guy is accented with dramatic music, flashing lights, driving rainstorms or occurs in an obviously male oriented place such as a warehouse. Moreover, though the characters throughout these films have always used weapons (whether guns, knives or explosive devices) in their confrontations, the concluding fight scene almost always involves fists- the combat must be physical, intimate. In some ways, the action is almost sexual, the previous violence a kind of foreplay and the conclusion the sex scene. That many action films are devoid of sex sequences is telling-- the violence becomes the only physical expression of sexual tension. Further, the visual and musical dramatics of the scene only accentuate this aspect of these films.

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