Camera Obscura 17.2 (2002) 155-189
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Can "We All" Get Along?
Social Difference, the Future, and Strange Days
Several of the disparate character-driven narrative threads in Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days (US, 1995) connect with the murder of Jeriko One (Glenn Plummer), a popular African American political leader and rap musician. Jeriko One's entry into the film occurs by way of a television newscast that reports his murder, which we see on the television screen in Lenny Nero's (Ralph Fiennes) apartment. The two opening sequences present Lenny, a white man, as the film's protagonist; he is shown in a business meeting with a friend and in his gold Mercedes as he drives through the chaotic nighttime streets of Los Angeles. A shot-reverse-shot pattern constructs a link between the television, functioning as alarm clock that displays the date and time—30 December 1999, 2:14 P.M.—and the dozing Lenny, who is shown in a bed, turned in the direction of the television.
The television image shifts from alarm mode to a newscast that focuses on an Asian female news anchor and the images of the police as they march in full riot gear, overseeing roadblocks [End Page 155] and patrolling the streets of Los Angeles with tanks. We have already seen the police "firsthand" when Lenny drives through the streets of LA in the film's second sequence, so these mediated, televised images are familiar, but the film alters their tone in the televisual second instance with the news anchor's voice-over. She states, "New Year's Eve, 1999. It's being called the party of the century, but it may be the biggest party ever. No one has ever seen preparations like this, but preparations require care and insurance, and the LAPD is one insurance company that doesn't want accidents." The voice-over contextualizes and interprets the images, following newscast conventions, so that the streets are transformed from images of chaos to images of party "preparations" by the LAPD, the aforementioned insurance agents. The film then cuts from the voice-over to rap music, which coincides with two quick visual cuts—from the newscast to a medium shot of Lenny in front of his refrigerator to a direct-address close-up of a black man as he raps in a music video that now appears on the television. After several seconds, a sudden wipe eclipses the music video with a red-and-black graphic that includes the text "MURDER" and an artistic rendering of a bullet hole as the anchor's voice-over resumes:
The bodies of two men found earlier this morning under the Hollywood freeway have been identified as rap star Jeriko One and band member James Poulten, known to fans as Replay. Both men were shot repeatedly in what police are characterizing as an execution-style killing. The body of an unidentified woman was found with them, also shot numerous times. Police earlier said that the killings appear to be gang-related. With his band the Prophets of Light, Jeriko One's outspoken political stance and his violent lyrics have stirred nationwide controversy.
We determine that the black man who has appeared on the television is Jeriko One, whose prominent introduction as a character coincides with the announcement of his death. The amalgamated televisual format of music video and newscast emphasizes the hybridity of Jeriko's work and his public persona as they are presented throughout the film, a presentation that stresses the ways [End Page 156] his work straddles the supposedly discrete spheres of entertainment and politics. Yet while Jeriko is the focus of the televisual sequence, the film turns its attention back to Lenny as it cuts from the close-up of the television to a wide shot of Lenny eating a red, white, and blue Popsicle. The television's now offscreen presence is maintained both by the path of Lenny's eye line in its direction and by the anchor's voice-over. After a brief pause, Lenny...