Film chosen and introduced by Devlin
“Victims…aren’t we all.”
I probably watched The Crow in around 1995 for the first time. But it was probably a few years after this that I donned my dad’s old leather duster that he had heretofore never mentioned owning, cut some bullet holes in a long-sleeve black top that I’m sure was supposed to hug the athletic figure I certainly didn’t have, doused my already bedraggled black-dyed mop of hair with hairspray to achieve that soggy action star look, wrapped my hands and torso in gaffer tape (hastily purchased at the Spar shop at the last minute for that extra soupçon of verisimilitude), pancaked my face in white makeup and drew on that famous tragic black-lipped smile and eye liner to make my way to the small village pub where they best knew me as the unusually quiet washing up boy. This was for my friend Noel’s birthday party, so named because he was born on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t the most jovial of outfits for a festive December occasion, and, apparently, one I decided on with very little hesitation. This much I remember. By this point in my life the film had become pretty important to me. I didn’t stop to think about whether any of the patrons of The Chequers in Dalton-on-Tees had also seen this stark, grungy revenge tail of a tragically doomed rock star, played by an even more tragically doomed emerging movie star, cutting a swathe of poetic destruction through a gang of murderous miscreants. And whether them not having seen a by-now outdated cult goth movie would make my choice of outfit all the more confusing, standing out amongst the comedy store-bought costumes and more recognisable comic book icons (my good friend Hacker accompanied me as The Incredible Hulk, which consisted of ripping his trousers in to shorts and unsuccessfully painting him green) of the rest of the party goers. And what effect them seeing the washing up boy knocking about the bar looking like an alley-dwelling murder clown would have on my standing in this very closed-knit, staunchly conservative working class farming community.
See, by this time, I was firmly in the grip of Millennium Angst. I think that’s different from Millennial Angst, but it’s hard to tell when playing buzzword bullshit bingo. There I was, mainlining a steady diet of nü-metal and second wave emo bands, tumbling down a rabbit hole of discovery every Wednesday when I opened up Kerrang! and poring over the review section all the way through to the tiny three-sentence mini reviews at the back in search of that perfect album that would articulate whatever disgruntlement I was labouring under, preferably an album that was obscure enough that it would feel like it was indeed speaking only to my specific angst. Yet, given the prevalence of wallet chains, mega-sized denims that got caught under chunky trainers and chewed up by the rainy streets, and Gildan t-shirts with flaking screenprinted band logos that you’d see walking about the streets of Big Towns on rare but welcome shopping trips to exciting locales like Middlesbrough and Newcastle, there perhaps wasn’t so much specificity to be found. Late 90s/early 00s metal was a bona fide phenomenon that flared briefly but strongly, its black flame reaching even the far-flung North East.
It didn’t quite take hold in Darlington though. For most of my time in school, there were only two of us who saw the music video for Deftones’ Be Quiet and Drive and had our tiny minds blown. We formed a very small support network, buying different CDs because the mechanics for actually hearing most of this stuff before paying for the album itself weren’t really in place, and the crushing disappointment of having been led astray by an overenthusiastic review and dropping an entire night’s wages (I was on very shitty wages) on a clunker could at least be shared and halved. We drew band logos on our backpacks with impeccable accuracy. We caught the train to Newcastle every few weeks to see our heroes in person, usually in the sweaty basement confines of the Students’ Union in front of adoring masses numbering a couple of hundred. If one of the big hitters was coming on tour from the States, we’d grab a lift with his exceptionally patient parents and set off for the Manchester Evening News Arena or Apollo, black nail polish applied because it was a special occasion and the likelihood of seeing somebody you know and getting laughed at, or indeed getting punched by a stranger for it, was greatly reduced. We’d watch every support band, tentatively patrolling the edge of the moshpit and diving in when it didn’t look too violent (fully aware that I would often be the smallest person in there by a good few inches).
For those few years, the threat of getting punched by a stranger for outfit choices was, for some reason, quite real. All these years removed it seems like an insane fever dream that this was the case, but by the time we reached college (and met a few more like-minded folk who shared our penchant for enormous denim and hand-scrawled band logos) we’d all at one time or another experienced some form of random street violence (luckily nothing too severe) for being, in the parlance of the region, “fucking boggers”. I’m sure your town had a similar word for it, a catch-all term for the black-clad kids who usually cornered some weirdly specific area of town (the bench in Stanhope Park opposite college in our case). I now realise that it’s just the thin end of the wedge of a mentality that results in actual, serious prejudice towards marginalised groups; it’s a comparatively silly concern that I’m trying to avoid getting too sociopolitical about lest I inadvertently diminish an enormous and far-reaching topic in a rambling train-of-thought essay about a film with characters with names like Skank, T-Bird and Tin Tin, but one that nonetheless shaped a large part of my formative years, and isn’t always so trivial.
The conundrum at the heart of all this was the idea that these kids wanted to be ‘different’, but often ended up dressing similarly and listening to the same bands. I think this always missed the point about what communities mean to people, and also the innate confusion of teenagers as they awkwardly stretch in the direction of adulthood. Declarations of individuality come with the territory as kids try to shrug off the blanket of childhood security and tentatively stake out their place in the world. Most kids use clothes and music and films to help them define what that looks like to them, latching on to one or another trend that fits best, because that’s what they have available. And if along the way you can find a sense of belonging with a little community that you find mutually supportive, then those young people will feel validated and accepted for a version of themselves that they feel real ownership of, and they’ll continue to gravitate to similar things. Including (we’ve really gone the long way around here) The Crow.
“And I say I’m dead, and I move.”
Even in those early internet days, you could go ahead and find yourself a thousand bands that you’d love. Aside from the often retrospectively embarrassing metal bands in the above Spotify list, in that same era I found myself drawn to an enormous number of artists whose work I still like and in genres and subgenres that still form the core of a lot of my listening tastes to this day:
But films that spoke to us? They were far more sparse on the ground. Especially the kind of films that would be accessible to small-town teens with limited access to super independent productions. Hollywood didn’t jump on this particular craze with any real zeal. Sure, you’d get some major label metal tacked on to teen horrors, but it always felt like corporate synergy and as such, inauthentic. Despite the ridiculousness of the concept, this kind of authenticity matters to ‘sensitive’ young folk, or at least it definitely did. As Kurt Fuller’s Russell says in Wayne’s World, kids are smart. They can spot phonies.
So this film, this odd little comic book adaptation, this strange alchemy of an inexperienced Australian director and his 2nd generation movie star with something to prove, with such a genuine vision and almost a surfeit of sincerity, struck such a huge and long-lasting chord with kids like me. We self-proclaimed ‘weirdos’ only had few films that seemed to be infused with the appropriate amount of earnestness, bordering at times on cheese, that seemed to capture the spirit of those times. No doubt due to the tragic circumstances of the creation of the original comic and story, it carries a weight that all the subsequent Crow material sorely lacked – a purity of doomed and perfect young love cut down before it could develop all those prosaic wrinkles that real relationships develop over time. It speaks to young people who perhaps feel things in similarly uncompromising terms. The film’s view of Eric and Shelley’s relationship is not especially deep, which perhaps for older viewers is a flaw, but to me that surface level iconography is entirely appropriate for the film it needed to be. Eric’s love for Shelley is what matters, not so much their relationship together, if that makes sense – it’s a pretty self-absorbed portrait of grief, as grief tends to be. Eric mourns for his lost love, certainly, but he uses that as the basis for a super-righteous, badass enrampagement that includes lots of cool poetic dialogue and no little amount of theatricality. That performative element is, of course, what gives the film its undeniably iconic look, and is wholly appropriate to the goth/metal/rock fans that it primarily appeals to. Posturing in the dark as a way of life. And once you add to the mix the real-life tragedy of a talented young actor cut down in his prime, as ghoulish as that fixation might be, well, there’s a reason that prematurely deceased movie stars are elevated to the level of idols. Human nature, or at least our 20th/21st Century celebrity-obsessed culture, has its own pantheon, and a combination of fame, talent and physical beauty being cut down before their time will always gain access. Cross-pollinate that with a fictional story that has tragic parallels, and the continued hold this film has makes a lot of sense.
This film takes me back to this specific time of my life with a mixture of fond nostalgia and a pretty healthy dose of cringe. In retrospect I’m glad I felt comfortable enough to put on that ill-fitting leather jacket and let my face-painted freak flag fly. I was, at least, very enthusiastically in to things and apparently not easily dissuaded from dressing like a bit of a dick, both in costume and out of it. Needless to say my pop cultural fixation on all things dark and spooky helped foment and incubate my love of the Hallowe’en season, which means that even though there’s not a slasher or a jump scare in sight, it’s my choice for this HalloRe’ewind season.