Thursday, April 29, 2010

Renegade April: Hasty Wrap-Up

Renegade April: A month of upstarts and discontents, confronting the systems that enforce an oppressive status quo. Granted, not all these films are about evil kings or villainous law enforcement; to the contrary, many of them portray an opportunistic rebel in the face of a fairly benign order. Even so, sometimes it takes a desperate act of defiance to define yourself, and the renegade will follow through, even if it means going to war with a shadow.

Within this space, I've followed the traditional renegades of history and myth: Robin of Locksley (who will inevitable return next month in Scott's adaptation), Taketori Washizu (channeling MacBeth, Shakespearean king-slayer extraordinaire), and Perseus, human champion rising against the wrath of Mount Olympus. This was an escalating sequence, with heroes opposing first the local law enforcement, then the national monarch, and then the Gods themselves, those capricious and unscrupulous patriarchs of the Greek legends.

After this, I watched four late 60's / early 70's films of crime and pursuit: Bullitt, The Getaway, Easy Rider, and Bonnie and Clyde. Among these were two Steve McQueen vehicles (pun lol), two stories of star-crossed lovers on the run from the law, and two controversial and iconic 60's masterpieces. McQueen is the epitome of a brooding loner, struggling for his freedom against the constraints of a law-abiding world; Billy and Wyatt are cowboys on metal horses, birds above the fray, bypassers bearing witness to our degenerate world. Clyde Barrows and Bonnie Parker are the Jack and Diane of the public enemy era, restless and dangerous in the suffocating years of the Depression.

To all of these characters -- Bonnie and Clyde, Doc and Carol, Bullitt, Billy, and Wyatt -- vehicles represent space and mobility, the means to escape from personal oppression. They are all on the run, both from the law, and from the abstraction that the law embodies, and their engines seem to emancipate them from the everyday bullshit that has made them so volatile. To the criminal, the road is the only true home. Bullitt is the least dependent upon his vehicle as his gateway to freedom, but even with him, you can see and understand the connection he feels to that automobile, the force of his true nature that kicks in when he swerves around a San Francisco block.

The other two movies in this month's Renegade ouvere weren't about opposing a system, so much as they were about raging against a morally-degenerate world. Kick-Ass brought us Dave, Damon, and Mindy, normal(ish) humans who decided to stand up to the criminal element of their version of New York City. Lady Snowblood - final movie of the month - was about Yuki, daughter of the netherworld, born and trained to destroy four petty criminals carrying the bad karma of rape, enslavement, and murder. These were renegades against a rotten world, the vigilant scythe cutting away the dead appendages of a hateful world.

It seems strange, perhaps, that both of these two final films had revenge as such a strong theme. Dave was ineffectual... the true spirits of death were Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, and their quest was built on hatred for a particular criminal, rather than on a principle of moral order. The same is true of Yuki, who was assigned not with restoring moral balance, but with exacting bloody revenge on the people responsible for her mother's misfortunes. Big Daddy and Yuki were assassins, more than crusaders, interested primarily in the bloody act of murder. Justice was just a welcome side-effect.

Of course, revenge is a sort of karmic force, the embodiment of a person's sins coming back to destroy their perpetrator. These offenders may be protected by the law and the civil order, but that's why we need the blade of the outsider to step in and take action. The Renegade is the outward sign of a cosmic process: in this world born of Manga and comic books, it's the process of good stepping aside for a moment, knowing that evil will punish itself.

This was a month of ass-kicking, show-stopping, mold-breaking rebellion, the epic acts of defiance on behalf of the freedom-loving human race. It was a great month of movies. Tune in soon for next month's cinematic theme.


Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves - Robin of Locksley
Throne of Blood - Taketori Washizu / MacBeth
Clash of the Titans - Perseus
Bullitt - Frank Bullitt
The Getaway - Doc and Carol McCoy
Kick-Ass - Dave Lizewski, Damon and Mindy Macready
Easy Rider - Billy and Wyatt
Bonnie and Clyde - Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrows
Lady Snowblood - Yuki / Lady Snowblood

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