Friday, April 11, 2014

Walter Mosley: Little Green (2013)

I'm not a hundred percent sure what I think of the latest installment of Mosley's Easy Rawlins series.  The biggest surprise might just be that he titled it after a Joni Mitchell song:  and I doubt it's coincidence, given what Mitchell has said her song means, and that much of this book turns on an unacknowledged son of Mouse's.

I've written repeatedly that I'm mostly interested in the historical commentary these books offer:  each book carefully shows Easy interacting with historical and cultural trends specific to the year in which the book is set, making the series an ongoing commentary on black life in LA in the mid-20th century.  On that level, Little Green falls down a little bit.  It does the work - it has Easy moving among hippies and finding that the counterculture too contained racism, even as it held out the hope of moving beyond racism.  But I don't find it making any points in that regard that Cinnamon Kiss hadn't already made.  Perhaps since this is a reboot, Mosley felt he had to retread a little of this territory in order to provide a jumping-off point for the next installment.

Reboot.  I use that term guardedly.  Of course he's not nullifying any previous storylines, not reintroducing characters as if they've never existed before.  It's not a reboot in that sense.  But there's a lot about this book that suggests it's meant as more than just a continuation of the previous book, more than just picking up where that one left off.

And that's to Mosley's credit.  At the end of the last book he killed Easy off, or nearly so.  Bringing him back with a trivial explanation would have been forgivable, but he doesn't do that.  The whole book is really about Easy's rebirth.  For most of the book he's struggling with the physical aftereffects of his near-death and subsequent coma;  he's kept going only by a strange concoction provided to him by Mama Jo, the shamaness who followed Easy and Mouse to SoCal years before.  And that concoction - made of God-knows-what, maybe even dead white men (there's a hint in that direction at the end) - seems to trigger a spiritual and emotional rebirth as well.

Which means that this book has much in common with Gone Fishin'.  It's as much about backwoods mysticism as mystery-solving.  Ever since he brought Mama Jo to LA this has been a trend in these books, but never has it been as front and center as in this volume.

The result is a book that feels less like a meditation on history than a meditation on death and rebirth.  This is myth-making.  Which suggests it really is a reboot.  It leads me, at least, to expect the series, and its protagonist, to be a bit different from here on out.  I mean, I may be wrong.  But this feels like a transitional book to me.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Crow (1994)

So let's recap.  Superman comes out in 1978 and invents the modern superhero film.  But its sequels nearly kill the genre.  Batman comes out in 1989 and rejuvenates the superhero film, establishing it as one of the pillars of Hollywood blockbusting.  Ever since then, superheroes have ruled our world.

But it's a little more complicated than that.  The '90s saw quite a few superhero movies, but precious few were about the real gods.  It wasn't really until the 2000s that the real, old-school, iconic characters started to make it to the screen - your Spidermans, your Fantastic Fours, your X-Men.  Instead, in the '90s we had a studio rush, not to the classics, but to the contemporary comics.  '90s alternaheroes were better represented in theaters than their more famous predecessors.  I don't know why that is.  And I certainly don't begrudge them or their fans the jollies this phenomenon offered.  But it does give the superhero film a somewhat odd generic trajectory.  The Image and Dark Horse heroes of the '90s, and even some of the Marvel and DC print titles, were in large measure responses to, critiques of, the canonical heroes of previous decades.  Taking the films in isolation, what that means is that we get the deconstruction of the superhero film almost before it's fully constructed as a genre. 

The Crow is a perfect example.  The concept is perfect for the '90s.  It's a blank-meets-blank genre-mixer:  superhero story meets horror story.  Pure pulp joy, that.  And as an action movie that goes all in on goth atmospherics and doomy aesthetics, it both flatters the alternative aspirations of its audience while satisfying their very mainstream needs.

Is the Crow a superhero?  Good question.  He kicks ass like a superhero - the movie's rhythms are those of a superhero movie, its action sequences are those of a superhero movie.  The horror trappings can't disguise this.  And as a superhero, he's one of the greats - great origin story, great powers, great weaknesses, great mythic overtones.

With one problem.  Unlike all the others, he's a single-serving superhero.  Once he has avenged the death of his girlfriend, he's done.  He goes to meet her.  His is a story with a definite beginning, middle, and end.  Which makes his story that much more satisfying.  But it of course created problems for the filmmakers - sequels essentially had to make Crowness a transferrable quality.  Which is not a bad idea for a superhero...but which was clearly not a concept that was contemplated for this movie. 

Which means that in this movie we get to see the superhero stop being a superhero.  The god dies.  This takes us out of superhero territory - when Superman abdicates, we know he has to come back.  But the Crow, at least as Eric Draven, won't.  I think that's where a lot of this film's power lies.  It has an ending.  It's not about immortality, strange as that may seem in a film about a guy who comes back from the dead.  It's about death.  There's the horror, and more than that the goth, sensibility for you.  It's fundamentally at odds with the superhero sensibility, which is, body counts aside, about immortality and invincibility.  Superheroes are about being.  But the Crow is about doing.  And once he's done, he's done.