New Brutality Film: Race and Affect in Contemporary Hollywood Cinema
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The 1990s saw the emergence of a new kind of American cinema, which this book calls the “new-brutality film.” Violence and race have been at the heart of Hollywood cinema since its birth, but the new-brutality film was the first kind of popular American cinema to begin making this relationship explicit. The rise of this cinema coincided with the rebirth of a long-neglected strand of film theory, which seeks to unravel the complex relations of affect between the screen and the viewer.
This book analyses and connects both of these developments, arguing that films like Falling Down, Reservoir Dogs, Se7en, and Strange Days sought to reanimate the affective impact of white Hollywood cinema by miming the power of African-American and particularly hip-hop culture. The book uses several films as case-studies to chart these developments:
• Falling Down both appropriates of the political black rage of the ‘hood film and is a transition point between the white postmodern blockbuster and the new-brutality film.
• Gangsta films like Boyz N the Hood and Menace II Society provided the inspiration for much of the new-brutality film’s mimesis of African-American culture
• The films of Quentin Tarantino (including Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction) are new-brutality films that attempt to reanimate the affective power of Hollywood cinema.
• Se7en, Strange Days, Fight Club,and The Matrix trilogy signify both the development and the demise of the new-brutality film.
This book charts and analyses an important period of Hollywood cinema as well as engaging with key contemporary thinkers (Deleuze, Jameson, Zizek and Benjamin) in a strikingly innovative fashion. The work will appeal to dedicated film scholars, critical theorists and readers with a general interest in film.
strand of Hollywood cinema in the 1990s, which I call in this book, the ‘new-brutality’ film. These films all signified a change in aesthetic - a new aesthetic direction in Hollywood film. Reservoir Dogs, Falling Down (Schumacher 1992), Pulp Fiction (Tarantino 1994), Strange Days (Bigelow 1995), Se7en (Fincher 1995) are all new-brutality films, and the one feature that they all share in common is their attempt to renegotiate and reanimate the immediacy and affective qualities of the cinematic
different responses are relatively autonomous and inform each other in the viewer’s response to a film. For instance a violent image may cause the body to cringe or recoil before consciousness has a chance to position such images within the overall contextual meaning of the film, or extracinematic discourses such as the politics of racial identity. The ‘hood films deliberately emphasise the tensions between these two responses by making the language and music of their films a site of
connected to the Real of the cinematic experience. What I have been suggesting in these last two chapters is that Boyz n the Hood and, in particular, Menace II Society construct, and think through, a history of American cinema which is conceived in terms of affect, racial rage, fabrications of blackness, and a mimesis of black culture and cinema. This history also evokes and emphasises a state of aesthetic crisis in 1990s action cinema, by foregrounding the power of contemporary black cinema. New
style and structure. But the old relations between protagonist and milieu were no longer able to function as believable, and if US cinema was to engage with contemporary social reality, it had to develop new reflexive ways to do it. Characters like Travis Bickle or Johnny-Boy could no longer be contained within classical structures and unified cinematic milieux - as demonstrated by the excessive strains apparent in The Searchers. Boyz N the Hood and Menace II Society reconstitute the racial
once this relationship appears to be broken. New-brutality films take their cue from African American genres such as the gangsta film (and so-called New Black Realism, typified by Boyz N the Hood and Menace II Society), which have taken the clichés of this ‘action-image’ cinema and recharged them with affective and political meaning. There are differences in the way these films attempt to negotiate the mimetic dynamic between contemporary white action cinema, white constructions of