Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Killing of America

The Killing of America by Leonard Schrader and Sheldon Renan from 1982 is a controversial film that has - as far as I understand - never been seen in the US, save for some occasional screenings when it was just released. The American producers backed out on it, thinking it was too extreme and radical. In Finland the film was known mainly through the VHS cassettes that recycled from hand to hand with everyone whispering about the scenes in which real people kill real people.

The Finnish Film Archive has a beautiful 35 mm copy of the film and I just saw it last night. I was a bit surprised and disappointed at the same time. I went in thinking the film consists mainly of the serial killers being interviewed, but there's surprisingly little of this material, though there are some scenes. The Killing of America is a straightforward documentary about the gun culture in the USA, and possibly the anti-gun sentiment in it has made it a forbidden film in America.

But it's also a very grim film, full of shocking imagery and arbitrary violence, make no mistake. There are some scenes I wouldn't want to watch again, though this wasn't made for cheap thrills, like films of the Faces of Death ilk. The directors, Leonard Schrader and Sheldon Renan, approached the theme seriously, Schrader being a known screenwriter (and Paul Schrader's brother) and Renan being an expert on American underground cinema (he's written a book about it). The use of archive material - live TV, surveillance camera shots etc. - makes The Killing of America look at times like an experimental film.

There are, however, some serious problems with the film. The anti-gun sentiment is clear: why are there so few killing in countries like Japan and Germany? Because it's not easy to buy guns there, and families don't pack weapons at home. The Killing of America can't analyze this further, it just points it out. The killings depicted in the film should've been more tightly related to the gun culture of the US. So should've been the argument about the murders of JFK and Robert Kennedy causing a killing spree in the US. What Schrader and Renan are forgetting is the fact that the large media coverage of violence causes more violence, just like there are more suicides if there are more stories about suicides in the media. The Killing of America doesn't question its own role in this process, though one could ask: how should this thing be approached then?

These gripes considered, The Killing of America is still a fascinating film and remits a watch, if one can find a copy. The most fascinating part is the interview of Ed Kemper who talks about his killing spree in a jail. He's self-ironic and almost funny, yet deeply weird. With his new glasses he looks almost hipsterish... I was hoping the film would have more of this stuff.

As an interesting side note, some funny folks from the little town of Pori, Finland, where I grew up made this parody of The Killing of America - called Killing of Pori. Pori is a town of some 77,000 inhabitants, yet the statistics in the beginning of the film claim there are million people killed every year. (You can see the second part here.)

Edit: Oops, I totally ignored the fact that The Killing of America is available for viewing in YouTube. Check it out here. Some stupid commentary under the clip.

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