Last week, I finally got around to watching Brandon Lee’s The Crow. I was surprised it had taken so long. My predilection for the darker, heavier side of pop culture and music had been long established, and yet somehow I’d never made time for the 1994 film until now, the year of our dark lord 2023. I think it was Brian’s typically wonderful anniversary piece on it from a few years ago that provided the light nudge to the start of the domino trail that would eventually lead to me putting it on—that, and it was my partner’s turn to pick the film to watch that night, and you obviously have to respect the iron laws of The System.
Whatever the reason behind it, I’m glad I did get to see it. It’s a good film. I think it’s a bit light on characterization and depth, but it’s clear that that’s what the filmmakers were going for: A striking splash image, reminiscent of the comic book tradition the source material comes from. Director Alex Proyas’ music video background is writ large on The Crow’s framing and pacing, as events chug along towards the inevitable conclusion, taking a few moments to breathe with its characters, but often condensing entire arcs that in modern movies might take up fifteen minutes over the course of the film into a quick dialogue exchange that lasts less than a minute (Sarah and her mother’s kitchen reconciliation scene being a particularly striking example). The film also has that lean and direct approach to setting up and maintaining motivation that a lot of mainstream modern cinema seems to lack.
The Crow is famously a visual feast above all else, of course, and it didn’t disappoint in that regard. Proyas and his cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski (Dark City, Prometheus, The Martian), serve up an explosion of chiaroscuro backed up interesting camera work which made the film notable even among its contemporaries, but which in the current cinematic landscape serve to dramatically highlight how so many filmmakers seem to struggle with framing an object competently, or to block with any purpose whatsoever. That’s a massive generalisation obviously—and we’re talking about a particular stream of mainstream, American cinema—but nevertheless, in case it’s been a while since you’ve seen The Crow, let’s take a quick, sumptuous journey together:
A movie based on a comic book, yes. Noir, yes. Naturally, then, it wouldn’t make much sense to compare the contrasts and lighting in The Crow with, say, a mumblecore family drama.
Anyway, here’s Captain America: Civil War:
Excuse me while I pour some acid into my eyes for relief.