C. Scott Combs (Footprint/Columbia University Press) 2014, 276pp, RRP $129.00
Combs’ academic work attempts to get to grips with the whole slippery notion of death and its representations in cinema but, despite a cover that suggests he’ll be tackling films like , instead everything here gets bogged down in forgotten silents, The Jazz Singer, How Green Was My Valley and Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (one of thousands of movies where the plot revolves around the fairly surprising death of a main character, and while the event happens quite quickly onscreen, Combs nevertheless squeezes many pages of dryly intellectualised analysis out of it).
The author’s key notion seems to be that death cannot be properly captured in film as the art form is always moving forward, or that the death we see is (usually) not real, or that the exact pinpointed second that death occurs is an ongoing mystery, or something, and we proceed through an introduction titled An Elusive Passage (indeed) before reaching chapters that tend to concentrate upon cinema’s styles and languages: editing, lighting, sound and the like. However, once again Combs mostly leaves us confounded, as we drift off into The Birth Of A Nation, The Big Clock, Gimme Shelter, Blade Runner, Strange Days, Donnie Darko and the Kill Bills without sufficient rhyme or reason (although people do die, in one case for real, in all of those pics, just in case you didn’t realise).
And it’s worth noting that for such a university-type tome there are some surprising errors here: James Whale was the director of the 1931 Frankenstein, not Dracula and Freaks helmer Tod Browning, and snuff movies (if they exist) feature real murders and killings carried out for the sake of the camera – not “enacted deaths purported to be real”. David Kerekes and David Slater, co-authors of the infamously fascinating and regularly updated Killing For Culture, would have died of embarrassment if they’d dared make such a bizarre claim.
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