Chris’s Cult Catalogue: No Way Out (1973)

In Cult Catalogue, I offer my thoughts on cult movies, and try to determine whether or not they are essential, forgettable, or somewhere in between. Throughout this series I will endeavor to focus primarily on cultish, lesser-known, or largely forgotten films, though in the age of the Internet, nothing is ever truly forgotten, so occasionally the movies may seem more familiar. These posts will be less academic, and more in the vein of straight up reviews or blog posts, though occasionally I will attempt to bring in some sort of scholarship or academic approach to these write ups whenever warranted. More than anything, these posts simply represent my attempt to put forth my thoughts on lesser known cult films and so-called “bad” movies. Anyway, I hope you enjoy. As always, I welcome your feedback, so please, let me know what you think of this entry in the comments after the article.

Similar to Voyage of the Rock Aliens, I had never heard of the 1973 Italian gangster film No Way Out (aka Big Guns aka Tony Arzenta) prior to purchasing a copy of Trailer War, the superb compilation of old grindhouse, horror, kung fu, and exploitation movie trailers released by Drafthouse Films. When I saw the trailer, however, I knew immediately that I had to see the full movie, which stars French New Wave heartthrob Alain Delon (perhaps most famous for his role as existential assassin Jef Costello in the classic Le Samouraï from 1967). Here he plays Tony Arzenta, a freelance contract killer who has grown tired of the business of death and wants nothing more than to retire and spend time with his loving wife and son. Of course, as countless movies and television shows have illustrated, quitting the mafia is never easy, and Arzenta’s bosses waste no time in ordering a hit on the hit man himself. They plant a bomb in his car, and then sit back and wait for the fireworks. Unfortunately, while the assassination attempt misses Arzenta, his wife and son are not so lucky, and they both die in the explosion. After burying his family, Arzenta immediately sets out to get revenge on his former employers, and manages to tear up most of Europe in the process.

Continue reading “Chris’s Cult Catalogue: No Way Out (1973)”

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I successfully defended my thesis!

On Friday, September 26, 2014, I successfully defended my thesis titled “Gangstas, Thugs, Vikings, and Drivers: Cinematic Masculine Archetypes and the Demythologization of Violence in the films of Nicolas Winding Refn.” Not only did I pass, but I passed with distinction, which is the best feeling in the world after struggling with a lot of self-doubt and uncertainty during the two years it took to research and write the damn thing. Anyway, I thought I should share the final version my thesis with the readers of this blog, because it might be of interest to some of the scholarly types out there. To visit DePaul’s online depository, you can just click the link above, or just click here. Both links will take you directly to the page housing my thesis. Thank you, and I hope you not only enjoy reading my ramblings, but also find the information contained within useful.

Violent Masculinity in the films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Part IV

This is the final post in a series looking at how Nicolas Winding Refn engages with a recurring notion or approach to masculinity in his films. This series is based on the first draft of the second chapter of my Master’s thesis, titled Gangstas, Thugs, Vikings and Drivers: Global Hegemonic Masculinity and Cinematic Masculine Archetypes in the Films of Nicolas Winding Refn. This post serves as an examines how violence contributes to the construction of a recurring notion of masculinity in the films of Nicolas Winding Refn. As always, this is a work in progress, so if you are interested in quoting any of the information here, please contact me first for permission. Additionally, I welcome any and all feedback, so please feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions about how the work could be improved or altered. Thank you.

VIOLENCE AND MASCULINITY

In interviews, Nicolas Winding Refn has stated that he believes cinema does not make people violent, but it does show them how to be violent. In particular, he points to classic gangster films such as Mean Streets (1973) and The Public Enemy (1931) as primers in how to be a violent man, and considers this to be a case of “life imitating art imitating life” (Refn, 2006). More importantly, however, Refn has stated that his films are often a response to “how the media repackages and glamorizes violence and crime and all these terrible things” that he considers immoral (Westcott, 2006, online). This might explain why masculinity is often depicted within Refn’s films as being both violent and aggressive; Refn is reflecting and reacting to a recurring notion of masculinity that is informed by the hegemonic masculine ideal, which often positions masculinity as violent and aggressive (Horrocks, 1994; Jhally, Earp, & Katz, 1999;Robinson, 2000; DeRosia, 2003; Nayak & Kehily, 2008; Rehling, 2009).

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Violent Masculinity in the films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Part III

This is the third post in a series looking at how Nicolas Winding Refn engages with a recurring notion or approach to masculinity in his films. This series is based on the first draft of the second chapter of my Master’s thesis, titled Gangstas, Thugs, Vikings and Drivers: Global Hegemonic Masculinity and Cinematic Masculine Archetypes in the Films of Nicolas Winding Refn. In this post, I examine the concept of individualism as it relates to masculinity. As always, this is a work in progress, so if you are interested in quoting any of the information here, please contact me first for permission. Additionally, I welcome any and all feedback, so please feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions about how the work could be improved or altered. Thank you.

INDIVIDUALISM AND MASCULINITY

In addition to stoicism, Nicolas Winding Refn is also using his films to explore the concept of individualism, which is another important component of the hegemonic masculine ideal that is perpetuated by mass culture (Cowen, 2004; Connell, 2005; Nestingen, 2008). Indeed, many of the films that Refn claims he is drawing upon when making his own films feature lone heroes, such as in the Leone Westerns, or protagonists who consider themselves tough individualists, such as Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) or Popeye Doyle in William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971). Furthermore, stoic heroes are often portrayed as rugged individuals who possess an excess of physical toughness and a personal set of skills (Robinson, 2013). Thus, stoicism and individuality appear to be two hegemonic masculine traits that often go hand in hand. The protagonists in nearly all of Refn’s films are (or consider themselves to be) rugged individuals who are determined to make it on their own, whether they directly embody the hegemonic masculine ideal, or are simply engaged in an act of complicit masculinity in order to gain the benefits of hegemony (Kahn, 2009). Therefore, Refn’s exploration of individuality indicates that he is once again drawing from this mythical masculinity that represents a stable notion or approach to masculinity that has been created and reinforced by mass culture.

Continue reading “Violent Masculinity in the films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Part III”

Violent Masculinity in the Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Part II

This is the second post in a series looking at how Nicolas Winding Refn engages with a recurring notion or approach to violent masculinity in his films. This series is based on the first draft of the second chapter of my Master’s thesis, titled Gangstas, Thugs, Vikings and Drivers: Cinematic Masculine Archetypes and Violent Masculinity in the Films of Nicolas Winding Refn. In this post, I examine the concept of stoic masculinity, which is a vital component of the hegemonic masculine ideal. As always, this is a work in progress, so if you are interested in quoting any of the information here, please contact me first for permission. Additionally, I welcome any and all feedback, so please feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions about how the work could be improved or altered. Thank you.

STOICISM AND MASCULINITY

In addition to violence, aggression, and emotional constipation, one of the defining traits of dominant hegemonic masculinity is stoicism. Whereas men are often positioned as existing outside of language, and their silence is used as a way of emphasizing their lack of power, men who exist outside of language are often positioned as having an excess of power, and they are depicted as not needing language because they instead let their actions speak for them (Lehman, 1993). Indeed, the muscular tough guy characters that embody dominant hegemonic masculinity in Hollywood films (particularly action movies) are traditionally depicted as men of few words who are quick to act (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: In the film Commando (1985), John Matrix (as embodied by Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a prime example of the strong, silent type. Image credit: http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/tracing/tracing.htm
Fig. 1: In the film Commando (1985), John Matrix (as embodied by Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a prime example of the strong, silent type who lets his actions speak louder than his words. Image credit: http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/tracing/tracing.htm

Continue reading “Violent Masculinity in the Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Part II”

Violent Masculinity in the films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Part I

This is the first post in a series looking at how Nicolas Winding Refn engages with a recurring notion or approach to violent masculinity in his own films. This series is based on the first draft of the second chapter of my Master’s thesis, titled Gangstas, Thugs, Vikings and Drivers: Global Hegemonic Masculinity and Cinematic Masculine Archetypes in the Films of Nicolas Winding Refn. This post serves as an introduction to the concept, and features a brief introduction to Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, as well as a brief look at the four films I am focusing on in my research. As always, this is a work in progress, so if you are interested in quoting any of the information here, please contact me first for permission. Additionally, I welcome any and all feedback, so please feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions about how the work could be improved or altered. Thank you.

INTRODUCTION

In this post, I will examine how Nicolas Winding Refn’s films Pusher, Bronson, Valhalla Rising and Drive engage with a recurring notion of contemporary masculinity and violence. The question of what type of masculinity Refn draws upon in the construction of his own characters is vital to the discussion of his films. In order to determine whether or not this is the case, I will begin by conducting an examination of Refn’s own discussion of his body of work through interviews and DVD commentaries. Along with this discussion, I conduct a textual analysis of the four films I have chosen to look at for the purposes of this study to determine whether or not the depictions of masculinity in each film conform to the recurring notion of masculinity Refn has described. I believe that this analysis will provide insight into how transnational and transcultural media images – particularly those associated with cinematic masculine archetypes – are contributing to the construction of a gender order that includes a conception of globalized hegemonic masculinity. More importantly, this analysis will allow me to situate Refn’s films within the larger discourses surrounding the notion that masculinity is in crisis during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and will contribute to my discussion of how Refn’s films visually and textually project the troubled state of masculinity at the turn of the millennium.

Continue reading “Violent Masculinity in the films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Part I”

Language and Masculinity in the Films of Nicolas Winding Refn

Over the weekend, I created my first ever video essay for an assignment in Dr. Paul Booth’s class on Communication and Technology (CMNS 545) at DePaul University.

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That time I was on the Director’s Club Podcast…

So a couple weeks back, I was asked to appear on the excellent Director’s Club Podcast (hosted by Patrick Ripoll and Jim Laczkowski) to talk about one of my very favorite filmmakers, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives).  We focused primarily on Pusher and Bronson, but also managed to cover pretty much all of Refn’s films in the process.  Along the way, we discuss everything from Quantum Leap to Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner to Bowfinger to House Party 2: The Pajama Jammy Jam.  I’m pretty proud of my appearance on the show, and very grateful to both Patrick and Jim for letting me come on to gush about one of the most exciting and polarizing directors working today.  So if you haven’t already done so (or even if you have, and just want to do it again), you can check it out right here.