Category Archives: Turn to the Left

Film: Is The “Crank” series the grind cinema for our time?

I’ve spent the past 4 1/2 years studying film. This past year, my hard work was rewarded with a framed piece of paper that solidifies this. And pretentious babbling on our own blog is going to be the only way I use said degree.

One thing I took away from my studies is a new-found appreciation for, what is largely know as, trash cinema. How did I spend my past two Saturday nights? Why, the director’s cut of The Toxic Avenger and re-mastered edition of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, that’s how! Grind films are as horrific as they are entertaining to me. They present the kind of freedom/surrealism in cinema that Salvador Dali could appreciate despite the fact that someone like Frank Capra would be puking all over his shoes. Counter-culture films are how I like to see them.

Grind films were the most prevalent in the 70’s and 80’s, then kind of got washed away for a few years. There were some cases that popped up in the 90’s (I would argue that some of Lynch’s films, ie Lost Highway, share some similarities), but for the most part, it had nearly dissipated. Thus, when Crank first appeared in 2006, a dim light had be re-ignited. Hell, Crank was so extreme, it flared up like a fire in Backdraft.

Sexploitation, class abuse, racial stereotypes, and top it all off with a bit of the old ultra-violence. It was an immoral, cinematic car wreck that had me calling “Shotgun!” I loved it! A true escapist film. A sympathetic hitman who, when poisoned with “The Chinese Shit,” is forced to keep his adrenaline up in order to stay alive…or at least long enough to get his revenge! It was the kind of film that hasn’t been seen in cinemas for a long time.

Crank was filled with send ups for a generation fueled by video games, blood-thirsty media, energy drinks and Google. A grind film in every way possible. Last weekend saw the release of it’s hellbent brother, Crank: High Voltage. After surviving the events of the first film, Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) returns to hellish streets of Los Angeles. This time, someone’s taken his heart, and replaced it with an artificial one, and he has to keep it electrically charged until he can track down his original ticker. For the next 80+ minutes, the film somehow manages to offend, entertain, and disgust more than the original.

Crank has kicked opened a door that was on it’s way to being dead-bolted. So, the question is, “What comes next?” I’m hopeful that another entry in the series is on the way, but what about the rest of Hollywood? With studios like Lionsgate and Rogue, true genre pictures have a haven, but it’s not a very lucrative one. In the wake of a water-boarding administration, can Americans seek refuge in the likes of characters like Chev Chelios and The Toxic Avenger? Or are we afraid that Jack Bauer is sitting two rows behind us?


I Hear America Singing

obama I was thirteen when the Supreme Court appointed George W. Bush the forty-third president of the United States. This was the same year I first wrapped my sweaty palms around Orwell’s 1984, as well as the only biography of Malcom X in the Madill Junior High library. It was also the year I discovered punk rock. More than the year of the “hanging chad,” or the world’s first teetering step into a new millennium, the year 2000 was especially pivotal for me in that it was the year during which I began to get an inkling of the kind of adult I would later become.

Since then, I’ve had a borderline obsessive infatuation with American politics. While it may have started in my bedroom, endlessly spinning The Subhumans’ The Day the Country Died on my first turntable and pretending that I knew something about injustice, this puny expression of small town frustration — symptomatic of the more troubling and increasingly undeniable sense that the way I was beginning to see the world was exponentially different from everything that I saw and heard from everyone around me — had come to be an indisputable fact of life. I’ve since read more, absorbed more, and learned why people like George Orwell, Malcom X and The Subhumans were so upset in the first place.

I was seventeen when John Kerry lost his 2004 bid for the presidency. Oh, how the times had changed. I had read Chomsky, gluttonously consumed every Dylan album my anemic movie-jerk paycheck would accommodate, and had spent weekends composing and distributing my own leaflets and reading lists outside the two movie theaters showing Fahrenheit 9/11. As I was four months away from being of legal voting age, the only exercisable option afforded me during the months leading up to the election was to  canvass door-to-door throughout the cultural backwash of South-Central Oklahoma. Back then, there was no quicker way to get a door slammed in your face than to utter the words “Hi, I’m Jezy Gray and I’m representing the John Kerry campaign.”

The election was as tough a loss for me as it was for most thoughtful Americans, but so far it had been the nature of the game: you work from the outside, from the fringes — and you lose. Always.

I don’t have to tell you that 2008 was a truly extraordinary year. Not because of the mind-boggling circus of a primary and general election, the surreal ecstasy of seeing the first black man elected President, the near-collapse of our entire financial framework, or the crushing disappointment that America’s first experiment with socialism in the 21st Century was the lobbing of money at corporate Goliaths  in order to see what would stick (surprisingly little, it turns out). What made 2008 so undeniably extraordinary is that it’s the first time — in my experience at least — that we won something big. As the handful of hours left in the Bush administration begin to pare closer and closer to oblivion, the reality of it all is becoming more and more electric. We won.

There are some people who will try to convince you otherwise. And when your TV set is perpetually looping images of vacuous celebrities spouting off empty buzz words like “change” and “hope,” chased with a two-hour special on how Obama takes his coffee, it’s easy to forget this simple, irrefutable fact: you won.  If the images from Abu Ghraib make you ashamed to live here, you won. If the last eight years have left you feeling bitter, defeated, hopeless — you won. If the sobering reality of living in the most violent, brutally aggressive superpower of this century leaves you feeling sick at your stomach, you won. If the war against the poor, against women, against homosexuals, against black people and brown people, against literacy and journalism — against rationality, in general — has made you regard the term “American idealism” as inherently laughable abstraction, then you’ve won something very real and very imporant.

Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

Chase that feeling.