Saturday, April 28, 2007

Stephen Hunter on Virginia Tech

It has been one of those awful cartoon mornings — the macaws throwing the remnants of their breakfast, in this case soybean hulls, to Alf the Wonder Beagle, who wolfs 'em down and promptly throws up while Pokey-san the cat stalks Ripley, my grey parrot, like a scene from Tweety and Sylvester...heaven help the poor cat if he ever succeeds in catching Rip! Yes, my Sweetie is getting a sleep-in day!

I need a whip.

Meanwhile, here's a fascinating thought piece from our friend Stephen Hunter, writing in the Washington Post on the "cinematic" elements of Cho's rampage. Steve, of course, won a Pulitzer Prize for his movie criticism a couple of years ago and is arguably the world's greatest living authority on violence in the cinema. It's also interesting to note that I wasn't the only person who, upon seeing the first picture from Cho's NBC Secret Stash, thought, "good's Jeffrey Chow!"
[John] Woo pioneered postures with guns not seen in movies until that time (discounting cornball pre-World War II westerns). He was the first modern filmmaker (though there was Don Siegel's "Madigan" of 1968) to embrace the stylistic advantages of putting a gun in both hands of his hero, which became almost his signature. So when you see any of the famous photos of Cho with his arms outstretched and a gun in each hand, you cannot help but think, if you've seen any of them, of the Hong Kong gangster movies and the super-cool Chow.

But it goes even further than the resemblance between the photos of the blasphemy and the movies of the '80s. In at least three regards, Cho's activities so closely reflect the Woo oeuvre that it seems somewhat fair to conclude that in his last moments, before he blew his brains out, he was shooting a John Woo movie in his head.

First is the peculiar nature of the gun violence. Cho, it seems, wasn't a sniper, a marksman. He wasn't shooting carefully, at a distance. He wasn't, one can assume, aiming. He was shooting very much like Chow in the Woo pictures, with a gun in each hand, as witnesses state, up close, very fast. Woo saw gunfights in musical terms: His primary conceit was the shootout as dance number, with great attention paid to choreography, the movement of both actors within the frame. He loved to send his shooters flying through the air in surprising ways, far more poetically than in any real-life scenario. He frequently diverted to slow motion and he specialized in shooting not merely to kill, but to riddle -- his shooters often blast their opponents five and six times. Perhaps all that was at play in Cho's mind as well.

But it gets stranger: The first gunfight in Woo's most famous movie, "The Killer," is an almost eerie anticipation of the Cho attack. Chow's professional assassin moves stealthily down a corridor, approaches a door, knocks. Once it is opened, he dispatches the opener, then steps in to confront seated human figures. He darts among them, a gun in each hand, blazing away as they rise and flee. They're playing cards, not sitting in a classroom, and the setting is a nightclub backroom, not a school. But the kinetics of the remarkable encounter are strikingly similar to what must have happened Monday.
One thing you can always depend on from Steve is that he will make you think, reconsider the reality you were previously so sure of. I suspect I will never be able to watch The Killer — which happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time — again without seeing the echoes of Cho's rampage.

1 comment:

Chris Byrne said...

Michael, looking at the pictures of Cho, the very first thought I had was, 'this kid thinks he's in a John Woo movie".

Trying to explain spre shooters to people, they never seem to understand, it's about power, control, and "recognition" or acknowledgement. These people are looking to live out their power and control fantasies, and to be remembered, not as the weak people they were, but as some glorious figure.

It's not a video game to them, it's a movie in their head. They are the stars, and the people they are killing aren't any more real than extras in an action movie.