Sunday, April 04, 2010

Renegade April kick-off

We do have a fascination with the outsider, don't we? The outlaw fixation in American pop culture goes back a lot further than Avatar and The Dark Knight (obviously)... it goes back through the gangsters of the Public Enemy Era, the folk heroes of the Old West, and right back to our national genesis, the revolutionary war, where we were successionists -- terrorists, criminals en masse, etc. You can continue to trace this back into European history, into the folklore of the Old World. Britain's celebration of Guy Fawkes, its long-entrenched legend of Robin Hood, and the celebration of other national heroes and revolutionaries, from Rob Roy and William Wallace to Martin Luther, Protestant rabble-rouser.

In the United States in particular, this romanticization of rebellion probably links strongly to the idealization of colonists, the memory of George Washington, and the spirit of rugged individualism advocated for by transcendentalists, survivalists, and generations of populist discontent with the government. Of course, the flip-side is the dystopian story best exemplified by Orwell's 1984, and then retold in novels like A Handmaid's Tale, movies like Brazil and Gattaca, and myriad other works of speculative fiction. We tell stories of great rebels and outlaws, and we tell stories of the worlds that make them necessary, whether it's due to stifling central control or to an epidemic of malaise. Contentment, loyalty, and appreciation for structure and tradition are not our strong suits here in neo-liberal Western culture.

The result is a particular brand of hero that's a product of the Western sensibility -- especially here in the United States, where modern pop culture emerges from the historical intersection of cowboys and colonial freedom-fighters -- that earns "heroic" status and title because they assert their individualism over and above all obstacles. The rugged individualist, the noble savage, the revolutionary, the iconoclast, the prodigal son... these are the fetishes of the Western imagination. This is the cud that the movie industry chews on, year after year, for better (Lady Gaga the provocateur) or for worse (Sarah Palin the Maverick).

This archetype is going to be the theme for Renegade April, here at Benefit of the Doubt. It turns out that April 2010 is a good month for swimming upstream: in major cinemas, we'll be seeing Clash of the Titans this coming week, featuring Perseus, half-human champion, facing Mount Olympus, the most powerful Board of Trustees in the universe. Later in the month, Kick-Ass premieres, a story of non-superhumans taking on the mantle of the superhero and attempting, against all odds, to take down a very real criminal element. On April 23, The Losers opens: a special-ops team finds themselves the target of government retribution, and go from being a paramilitary elite squad to being a high-profile target. There are some minor renegade-themed films coming out, as well: The Runaways earlier in the month, and Harry Brown, later on. I probably won't see either of those two, but they're worth keeping in mind.

Outside the cinemas, I'll see a bunch of classic renegade films, which may include any of the following: Throne of Blood (Kurosawa's adaptation of Macbeth), Bonnie and Clyde, Bullitt (the sourcebook for all those "against the grain" bad-boy cop movies), The Getaway (another Steve McQueen flick about a heist, from renegade director Sam Peckinpah), Natural Born Killers, and Malcolm X. Also, I know Russel Crowe will play Robin Hood next month, so in preparation for his highly-anticipated chops-busting, I'll discuss Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which I still consider a great film despite much protest from other film-lovers. Also, I'll talk a little about Scott Pilgrim, which has everyone all excited, with that new trailer circulating. All together, this should provide enough fodder for a month of movies about rebels and revolutionaries and upstarts and anti-establishment antics, and it should make April marginally more exciting than Chromatic March, with all its rumination on aesthetics and craft.

This month, as part of Renegade April, you may witness:
  • Bucking the system
  • Breaking the mold
  • Taking on the world
  • Flying in the face of convention
  • Sticking it to the man
  • Defying convention
  • Going maverick
Please stick around for a lot of conflict and catharsis, and give me suggestions for other movies, if you have them.

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