The Crow (1994)
Director: Alex Proyas
Cast: Brandon Lee, Michael Wincott, Ernie Hudson, Rochelle Davis,
When I saw The Crow when it was originally released back in 1994; it had the same effect on me as when I saw Heath Ledger in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009); I felt I was seeing a ghost. There’s something eerie about seeing an actor’s last film; you feel as if the actor still lives on even though they’ve just recently passed away, which in a way is true because they’ve been immortalized on film. These types of films are more of a shock when they have scenes dealing with the death of the character the dead actor played. For example, in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Heath Ledger has a scene in which he hangs himself from a bridge. Seeing this scene knowing that he had recently died made it all the more chilling to watch; but even more powerful is the fact that in the film, a few minutes after he hangs, he pops out of a treasure chest, alive and kicking, like some twisted magic trick being played on all of us. It feels as if the actor has returned from the dead, immortalized and living for ever through the magic of film. The end result, when watched in the darkness of a theater, is truly eerie. Brandon Lee pulled of a similar magic trick in The Crow because as most of you undoubtedly know, he died while making that film; which makes the scene in which he literally crawls out of his grave so macabre, ironically emotional and undoubtedly powerful. There’s a scene in which Officer Albrecht recognizes The Crow as being Eric Draven, the young man who had been brutally murdered a year ago. Officer Albrecht tells Eric Draven, “Don’t move Snow White! You move, you’re dead!” and Brandon Lee slowly looks up to him, with white make up on his face and says: “And I say I’m dead, and I move!” How brutally ironic and in a way fittingly poetic when we take in consideration the source material; James O’Barr’s often times poetic graphic novel, The Crow.
From inception, the idea behind The Crow was fueled by death and tragedy. James O’Barr, the creator behind The Crow started working on his graphic novel as a way to exorcise his own demons. You see, O’Barr’s girlfriend was run down by a drunk driver and as a way to get rid of all the pain that her death caused him; he started working on The Crow. The result was a romantic and poetic bullet opera fueled by despair. O’Barr told The Boston Phoenix that “there is pure anger in every page”, he even went on to mention that instead of being cathartic; he was even more messed up by the time he finished working on the book. The untimely death of Brandon Lee amplified his sadness and anger, making him wish he’d never done the book, blaming god for his luck in life. “God is a bastard” said O’Barr in an interview he did for the Boston Phoenix, “If there is one.” Tragedy it seems, was meant to follow James O’Barr throughout his life because while the comic and the film brought him success, his life was still mired by tragedy. The Crow was a bitter sweet victory.
The production of this film was muddled by a bunch of weird accidents like a carpenter accidentally drilling a screwdriver through his hand, another carpenter getting burned by power lines, a disgruntled sculptor crashing his car on to the set, a truck catching fire on the set and Brandon Lee getting cut by break away glass! This collection of accidents, plus the death of Brandon Lee leads some to believe that The Crow was one of those cursed films, like the Poltergeist franchise. Of course that’s all a lot of bull crap, these are all things that could and have happened on any film set, which are usually a maelstrom of craziness, more so on films with smaller budgets. Best part of the whole ordeal is that an amazing film shined through the troubled production. In my book, The Crow remains a masterpiece of Gothic cinema. So much so that I try and pinpoint a film that is like it, but nothing pops up. I mean, sure, it’s a revenge film of which there are many, but none of them have the combination of elements that brought The Crow together with such panache. It is in my book a rather unique film.
James O’Barr’s graphic novel is a mixture of romance, violence, poetry and rock and roll and this is one of the things I love most about the film, it’s just so damn rock and roll! This movie is so rock and roll that Eric Draven walks around with a freaking guitar on his back! No amplifier or anything, just the freaking guitar on his back, because you know, it makes him look that much cooler. Even though James O’Barr is constantly quoting Joy Division and The Cure songs (two bands that inspired O’Barr as he drew and wrote) it was actually the filmmakers who made Eric Draven the lead singer of a rock band named ‘Hang Man’s Joke’, probably as a way to reference the death of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, who hung himself. How rock and roll is this film? Well, there’s this awesome scene in which Draven is sitting on a roof top, playing his electric guitar as the sun sets. That scene is in my book the epitome of rock and roll coolness. So yeah, while the book displays an obvious affection for rock and roll as a means to channel the whole melancholic sadness that Eric Draven is going through, it was the filmmakers who amplified this angle to the max. And it was Alex Proyas, the films director who opted to make the film dark and noir-ish, originally, Proyas wanted to film the whole thing in black and white, but the studio opposed so he went with a color palette infused with a lot of black and white, a lot of grays. The result is one of the darkest films you will ever see. Almost the entire film takes place during the nighttime which gives it a very unique feel.
Of course, there are some differences between graphic novel and film, characters are switched around and eliminated as is common place with book to film adaptations. One noticeable change was that in the book, they don’t attack Shelly and Eric while they are in their apartment. In the comic, the reason for their murder is a lot more random. Funboy and his goons are out on a drug infused joy ride when they come upon Eric and Shelly, whose car broke down on a lonely road. In the book, the one who suffers “thirty hours of pain” in a hospital is actually Eric Draven himself, not Shelly. The comic has way more poetic passages of Eric Draven remembering Shelly and their times together, also, there’s the mysterious ghost/zombie cowboy that lurks ominously in the background of the comic, guiding Eric Draven through his mission here on earth. They actually shot some scenes with this ghost cowboy character; he was played by Michael Berryman. Unfortunately those scenes were deleted for pacing reasons. Still, even with all these alterations and deletions, I’d say that the film is an excellent translation of the graphic novel. Not only does the film capture the spirit and essence of James O’Barr’s comic books, it also adds a more rock and rollish vibe to the proceedings.
At the same time, there are scenes which are perfect translations of the comic, for example, the scene in which Eric Drave visits Gideon’s Pawn Shop is an almost panel for panel translation of what we get in the comic…another faithfully translated sequence is the one in which Eric Draven visits Top Dollar’s hide out, stands on the table and starts shooting everybody. The only difference is that the comic is actually a hell of a lot more violent with that shoot out. The Crow isn’t a story about a hero, in fact, James O’Barr himself says that he doesn’t see Eric Draven as a hero, rather, he feels that “He can be absolutely cold-hearted and ruthless at times. When he goes into a room to get one person, everyone else in the room is probably going to die as well. I think what he is doing is terribly romantic, but I wouldn’t call him a hero” I agree. I’d say that there’s no mercy for the wicked when it comes to Eric Draven. He figures if you’re in a room with Top Dollar and Fun Boy, then you must be a bad guy, and bad guys gotta pay, they gotta be stopped. Both the book and the film are infused with a burning hatred for scumbags.
And speaking of that shoot out, I recently re-watched the film to write this review and damn, I was blow away by how good it is, it has to be one of the all time best shoot outs ever, right up there with the shoot out from Michael Mann’s Heat (1995). This shoot out has to be one of the coolest, most extended shoot outs in film history! It goes on forever! Bottom line is The Crow is perfectly Gothic, dark and extremely violent film. The black leather, the rock and roll, the gothic churches, the stormy lighting filled nights…it all adds up to the perfect gothic masterpiece. I still to this day love it and considering the rest of his body of work, I still consider it Alex Proya’s best film. It’s also Brandon Lees best film, the one that made him a star, it’s the one he is most remembered by. He pulled off such a sensible performance, you feel his pain and his love for Shelly. True, Brandon Lee went out before his time, his death was as untimely as it could get, but what an amazingly beautiful swan song this film is. My hats down to you Mr. Lee. It’s true, you are dead, but you still walk my friend, you still walk.
Rating: 5 out of 5