Uwantme2killhim? (2014)

uwantme2killhim?

Director: Andrew Douglas
Writer: Mike Walden
Starring: Jamie Blackley, Toby Regbo, Joanne Froggat

2003 seems so quaint to us now.  Before YouTube, before Facebook, before Vine, before Instagram, before Snapchat, internet communication meant instant messaging: text, no pictures.  It was mindblowing.  It was possible to strike up a conversation with a stranger anywhere in the world, via a chatroom, or a random connection (‘Who’s Online Now?’) and build potent, ongoing friendships, without ever seeing anything but a low-res avatar to indicate what the other party might look like.  Now, wary of catfishing, we demand selfies and corroborating social media accounts, but back then, the person on the other side of your screen could be virtually anyone – anyone you, or they, wanted to be.

Based on a true story, Uwantme2killhim? takes us back to those heady days, charting the fervent late-night friendship between sixteen year-old Mark (Jamie Blackley) and his instant message pal, Rachel (Jaime Winstone).   Outwardly, soccer-playing, good-looking Mark seems like one of high school’s winners, the type of boy who would find it easy to form strong friendships IRL, but the intensity of his bedroom chats with Rachel reveals his deep-seated insecurities.  For Mark – as for the majority of suburban teenagers – modern life is rubbish, and he grasps at anything that will make his day-to-day existence seem the slightest bit special.

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The Anti Hero Era: Walt & Dexter

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall)

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall)

Television waved farewell to two of its iconic anti-heroes over the past week: Walter White and Dexter Morgan. Although these characters were worlds apart in style and execution, at their core they both embodied the essential oppositions of the anti-hero. After eight seasons each, they will be missed, albeit for different reasons.

The anti-hero is a compelling character type within fiction.  On one level, he or she is a subversion of the traditional hero, devoid of the typically heroic qualities of loyalty, morality, nobility, physical strength and beauty, athletic skills, intelligence or confidence.  The anti-hero is flawed — often fatally — and answers only to him or herself, and their internal values (which may not be values in the truest sense of the word). The anti-hero is the Jungian shadow of the hero, the dark untrammeled self, the cautionary tale of what happens when an individual steps outside the light.

Nonetheless, the anti-hero still gets stuff done, often in the form of revenge or payback, or vigilante justice. Unfettered by a moral framework, the anti-hero can work outside social and legal restrictions, free to act as he or she chooses.  The anti-hero represents a seductive ‘What If…’ for audiences. What if you could make your own decisions? Enforce your own justice? What if nothing else mattered but gratifying your desire for vengeance?

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The People vs. Drive: Is Bad Marketing A Crime?

Michigan resident, Sarah Deming, is suing her local multiplex and the distributors of Ryan Gosling-starrer Drive.

Deming says the movie was promoted “as very similar to the Fast and Furious, or similar, series of movies” but actually “bore very little similarity to a chase or race action film, having very little driving in the motion picture”. She also claims that

Drive was a motion picture that substantially contained extreme gratuitous defamatory dehumanizing racism directed against members of the Jewish faith, and thereby promoted criminal violence against members of the Jewish faith”

and hopes that anyone who feels the same way will join her in a class-action suit. She’s seeking the price of her ticket and further damages.

There have been many rumblings about the way Drive was marketed prior to this lawsuit. The movie itself doesn’t have any identity problems. It’s an extremely violent, Euro arthouse flick from beginning to end. However, it was shot within the Hollywood system and contains many Hollywood stars – who all love to play against type given the opportunity – and has to earn its nut at the box office. This always creates a headache for the marketing department who have to ask “How do we reach the biggest possible audience for this movie?” rather than “Who is the best audience for this movie?”.

Thomas Rogers, movie critic and editor at Salon.com, was

“…fascinated by the target demographic of the movie — like, who’s supposed to see it in the first place? There are people who are going to see it because of Ryan Gosling, but I feel like the normal Ryan Gosling audience isn’t all that fond of seeing someone stomp people to death. The movie has these gay movie references — mostly to Kenneth Anger’s underground film “Scorpio Rising” — but there’s really nothing overtly gay about it. The title sequence has this campy 1980s lettering, which is duplicated in the film’s ad campaign — and a hilarious, awesome fake-’80s synth score — which makes it seem like it might have a romance or comedy element to it. But the film’s only sex scene involves two people touching a stick shift, and there’s probably only one joke in it. I think, basically, this movie manages to frustrate everybody’s expectations of it — to its great credit.

By attempting to broaden the target audience (including Ryan Gosling fans, Fast and Furious Fans, crime caper fans, even Mad Men fans thanks to the presence of Christina Hendricks) the studio ended up disappointing a lot of people and generating some horrible word of mouth. That’s the kiss of death in today’s Twitter-driven marketplace. And now it’s generated a lawsuit.

Whether Deming’s case ultimately gets dismissed as frivolous, or settled out of court just so it will go away, remains to be seen. However, it does raise some interesting issues about what audiences feel they are being duped into by the Hollywood machine.

For decades, movie trailers have attempted to make bad acting and story-telling look palatable, cherry-picking the six good moments from an absolute bomb in order to lure an audience into going to see it. Is this artistic licence, or classic bait-and-switch? Do movie-goers have a duty to inform themselves about the actual content of a film (Sarah Deming could have saved herself a lot of time and trouble by reading some of the advance reviews of Drive online) or do they have a right to expect that the general marketing honestly represents what they are about to see?

Are US audiences so infantilised by the constant stream of superheroes and aliens and fighting robots that they are unable to deal with human-on-human violence as part of a fictional story? The Italian poster for Drive (see right) makes no bones about the tone of the movie. Like the US version (top), it features Ryan Gosling, but shows him striding purposefully along a dark road, (bloodstained?) hammer in hand, murder in his eyes, NOT looking dreamy behind a wheel. Was this so unacceptable to Gosling fans entranced by his recent performance in Crazy, Stupid, Love? Was it fair to lure them into watching Drive anyway?

The furore also raises questions about why the kind of easy, casual violence and prejudice that runs rampant in summer blockbusters is acceptable to mainstream US audiences, whereas the one-on-one gritty and realistic violence depicted in Drive is not. The body count of Transformers: Dark of the Moon was way higher than Drive‘s, but Michael Bay glosses over deaths as collateral damage, the inevitable consequence of a thrilling action scene, nothing anyone in the audience has to deal with emotionally or viscerally. The potentially negative impact of the racism represented by Mudflaps and Skids in Transformers 2 far surpasses any of the anti-semitic snarls of the hoods in Drive (clue: one movie is aimed at children still forming their view of the world, one is not).

No one’s bringing a class action suit against Michael Bay and his corporate paymasters, Hasbro and Paramount. Perhaps Deming and her attorneys should be litigating against more culpable targets?

Watch the Drive trailer for yourself:

The Drive Backlash: Too violent, too arty or both? – Salon
Detroit Woman Sues “Drive” Film-makers– Click On Detroit
My “Drive” review – Planet Fury

Ephebiphobia and the West Memphis Three

Mugshots of the West Memphis Three

After 18 years in jail, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley have been released. While they were forced to submit guilty pleas, and accept a sentence of time already served, they are no longer moldering in prison (with Echols on Death Row) for a crime it has become clear (thanks to DNA evidence) they did not commit. They owe their freedom in no small part to documentary makers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, whose trio of Paradise Lost films argued long and hard for the boys’ innocence, and attracted moral and financial support for their cause from the likes of Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp and Natalie Maines.

The film-makers’ persistent questions (their first film came out in 1996) about the validity of the trial, the lack of physical evidence, and the insistence that the murders were part of ‘satanic cult’ activity kept Echols clear of a lethal injection, and also kept media interest in the case alive. Alongside social media efforts (such as Free The West Memphis Three and Facebook pages supporting the trio), the exposure provided by the documentaries meant that this case didn’t go away.

The Paradise Lost films are worth examining, not just for the light they shed on one particular miscarriage of justice, but for how they show young men being demonized for their choices in music, clothing, hairstyles and reading matter, and made into scapegoats for society’s ills.

‘Fear of youth’ is well documented (in institutional rules and government edicts), and is known as ephebiphobia. It has been part of our cultures for centuries. Young people (especially young men), thanks to their strength, energy and willingness to try new ideas, are seen as a destabilising force by those who are invested in the old order. As the oldsters are the ones with all the power, they often take brutal pre-emptive and/or retributive action against perceived threats from youth (see: the Lost Boys of the FLDS). Most moral panics revolve around an aspect of youth or street culture, as authorities are persuaded by public outcry to crack down on aberrant behavior primarily from young males.

The discovery of the bodies of three eight year old boys in Robin Hood Hills, West Memphis, in May 1993, led to a moral panic that was to set the ephebiphobic aesthetic of the decade. The horrific murders were immediately attributed to a ‘satanic cult’ believed to be operating in the area, and the name of a local teenager, Damien Echols, was mentioned as a possible perpetrator.

Damien attracted suspicion, not because he had a track record of violent criminal behavior (although local police had been trying to pin all manner of crimes on him) but because he was different. In this staunchly Baptist community he had sought spiritual answers elsewhere, through Buddhism, Catholicism and Wicca. He grew his hair long, listened to Metallica, read Stephen King novels. He had also been treated for depression, and habitually wore black, including a long black coat. The local community believed that these circumstances made the unhappy and isolated young man ‘sinister’, and so the witch hunt began.

Instead of reviewing evidence dispassionately (which might have led them to one of the stepfathers of the murdered boys), the local police decided that Damien was to blame, and set about gathering gossip and hearsay that, in their eyes, could prove their case in a court of law. When solid proof of Damien’s guilt was not forthcoming, they hauled in “witnesses” who, tempted by the $30,000 reward money on offer, were happy to make up any amount of lies about what they had seen and heard. They also corralled Jessie Misskelley, an acquaintance of Damien’s. Jessie was mentally disabled, with an IQ of 72, and eventually, after much prodding from police, came up with a confession that implicated himself, Damien, and another boy, Jason Baldwin, in the murders.

Despite the gaping holes in Jessie’s confession (which he later recanted), and the lack of any substantial evidence, the local media, police and community were insistent that the boys were guilty, that they were Satanists, and that the victims had been sacrificed as part of some crazed blood ritual. Christianity is a force to be reckoned with in West Memphis, and the locals found it easier to believe that Satan was working among them (via Damien) than to confront uncomfortable questions about child abuse within the victims’ families. The crime was firmly pinned on the ‘Others’, the young, disenfranchised outsiders. The kid who had dared to be different was sentenced to death.

Throwing three innocent kids in jail didn’t solve the wider issues. The alienation felt by young American males was still there, and became an increasing part of the cultural zeitgeist, their inarticulate anger explored in movies like The Basketball Diaries, and songs like Pearl Jam’s Jeremy.

Did the songs, movies and video games of the era create monsters, or just call them out of the dark?

Luke Woodham, Kip Kinkel, Michael Carneal, Jamie Rouse, Barry Loukaitis, Colt Todd, Andrew Wurst and Evan Ramsey were all aged between 14-16 when they opened fire on parents, teachers and classmates in small towns across America during a period of just over two years (February 1996-May 1998). However, before any of these boys brought a gun to school, or wrote a note, or built a bomb, or posted on an internet bulletin board, society was already afraid of them, thanks to the specters of the West Memphis Three. The school shooters simply bought into the idea that because they were different, they were doomed. Give a dog a bad name, and he might shoot himself.

The media jumped on their perceived common traits, depicting them as a homogenous group of depressive, bedroom-dwelling, video game obsessed, grunge or metalhead, friendless losers – younger brothers to Damien Echols – and, with a national Satanic panic out of the question desperately tried to link these disaffected killers to specific media texts, rather than say, the medication many of them were taking. These boys wore black, especially in the form of long coats, as a way of expressing their otherness amongst the colorful plaid and sweats of their peers. They came to signify a national malaise, an army of Others who could pop up, guns blazing, in any high school corridor near you.

By the end of the decade, thanks to the Internet, and to the murderous actions of Klebold and Harris in Columbine, this tribe of misfits acquired a label: the Trenchcoat Mafia. The stereotyping begun with Damien Echols was set in stone, and outsider equalled killer, to be isolated and ignored, despite the fact that many of the teens who adopted the attitude and uniform of the subculture had never even handled a gun.

It’s 2011. Now Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley are free men, perhaps we should look again at the prejudices that falsely convicted them? Is it possible for us to learn from the mistakes of the past? Now, instead of demons in dusters, we have hoodie horrors; the outer layer has changed but the inner bogeyman remains the same. Adolescent males are still being ostracized and criminalized by adult society. They are forced to the fringes, denied status, affection, hope for the future, paraded as straw dogs in movies like Eden Lake, Harry Brown, even The InBetweeners. Should we be surprised when they bite back, as in London and Philadelphia recently? Will we continue to substitute stereotyping for genuine understanding?

The West Memphis Three – Comprehensive case history from TruTV Crime Library
Who Are The Trenchcoat Mafia– BBC archive from April 21st, 1999, which shows how quickly the media jumped on the term.