- Bad: Infamy, Darkness, Evil, and Slime on Screen
The aspiration of this wide-ranging collection is winsome - a political and economic approach to the cinematic depictions of the depraved, violent, perverse, and baleful aspects of the human condition. As editor Murray Pomerance notes, by the opening of this century, 'it had become virtually unthinkable to see a film entirely without a moment of egregious - typically fantastic - violence, destruction, immorality, threat, or torture.' The twenty articles included here attempt, with varying success, to probe the sociological, cultural, psychological, and historical roots of such screen malevolence.
Several stellar articles explore the notion of systemic or institutionalized violence, and how such economic and political structures are rarely [End Page 453] critiqued in Hollywood cinema. This point is effectively made by Aaron Baker's treatment of Los Angeles police films that serve up individual heroism of the 'good cop' as the only antidote for entrenched racism and political corruption. Henry Giroux, in his study of the teen-angst film Ghost World, provides a searing indictment of neo-liberalism, and how its project of rabid individualism eviscerates the promise of solidarity and collective action around issues of social justice and democratic public culture. Lester D. Friedman's trenchant analysis of images of Nazis in American film creatively explores the question of whether celluloid depictions of Nazis encourage imitation for those who are sadistically inclined or merely provide a safe cinematic indulgence of their perverse fantasies, and whether Hollywood's obsession with Third Reich flicks is a reflection of our culture's 'hunger for the horrible.' Friedman's conclusion - that we must seek out ways to remember victims of systemic violence without advancing the philosophies of the perpetrators - could serve as a concluding hope of the entire volume.
Pomerance, in his incisive introduction, builds on a point often made by George Gerbner, indicating the marketing rationale for the profusion of violence in contemporary film. Violence 'travels well' in the global marketplace, requiring little translation as international media corporations peddle their films from Cleveland to Cairo.
Some of the articles, however, such as Gwendolyn Audrey Foster's critique of evil 'white body' flicks and Kirby Farrell's overview of films which 'rage against the corporate state,' though intriguing, eschew some of the trenchant political economy of other contributions. Moreover, it is curious that, while several authors allude to the Production Code, which terminated in 1964, the volume does not include a full-blown analysis of Hollywood's ostensible 'filter' of evil (which also blocked out, for economic reasons, unfavourable depictions of pre-1941 Nazis that might hurt German ticket sales).
One also wonders why a book dealing with evil in the cinema did not invite a theologian or ethicist to elucidate various notions of evil and how they pertain to certain film representations of malignancy. 'Bad,' after all, is a moral term, and the lack of an ethicist's perspective here is discernible.
Despite such concerns, Bad is a lively, important, and welcome attempt to probe and critique the social, political, and economic reasons for the variety and volume of 'infamy, darkness, evil, and slime on screen,' exposing aspects of our collective lives that is anything but entertaining. [End Page 454]
Stephen Scharper, Department of Cinema Studies, University of Toronto