Fantasia Film Festival 2013: ‘The Killing of America’, Can Exploitation be Profound?

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The Killing of America
Directed by Sheldon Renan
Written by Leonard Schrader and Chieko Schrader
USA, 1982

The Killing of America is an impassioned and emotional showcase of violence in America from the period of the early 1960s into the early 1980s. Resting on the thesis that the society quickly devolved into increasingly acts of senseless violence, the film utilizes rare and disturbing footage of both familiar and unfamiliar events. Rift with a somewhat confused ideology, the film nonetheless packs a punch and suggests where many others haven’t that access to guns are part of the problem, an issue that continues to be debated within American society to this day. Is this little more than a parade of greatest hits for snuff fans or does it reaches deeper, revealing darker truths and realities that we are unwilling or unable to face.

Originally produced for the Japanese market, this “mondo” documentary which has never been released, distributed or put for sale in the United States which packs an uncomfortable punch. Though often sensational, the staggering presentation of increasingly senseless violence follows a strange form, and an unusually instinctive sense of progress. Is it true there is more violence in society now than ever before? It certainly seems that way, but perhaps as Cormac McCarthy’s impassioned take on violence in America No Country for Old Men suggests, we see the past through rose coloured glasses, forgetting the crimes of our forbearers. The film’s greatest failure, perhaps, existing in this respect… omitting the violence, the massacres and the carnage perpetuated before the 1960s against African Americans, Natives and many others who did not quite fit within the status quo. Were there murders any less senseless than the acts of Bundy? Through omission, the film suggests that maybe they are.

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The value of this film is complex and the question as to whether graphic and violent footage can be illuminating lies at its heart. Mixing gore, carnage and shock, the movie showcases violent scenes that are quite familiar but seen (at least for me) for the first time in gruesome detail.  Does any of it have value? Perhaps yes. Though now the brutal murder by police of the students at Kent University is almost universally understood as a terrible crime against protesters, to demonstrate the senselessness of police action and response suggests a deeper systematic problem and even a need to hide from the people the true extent of the crimes committed towards America by the people charged to protect them. This is far from the point of the film though, and the increasing vitriol of the crimes is presented as coming from different sources, many of which are senseless. Kids are “desensitized”, their lives have no real meaning, so they turn on those who surround them. Though the film thankfully does not take the stance that guns are greater protectors than aggressors, it does not bother to explain why gun sales grew or why this cult of the gun emerges.

Confrontational, the film sheds light on the unseen. Consciously or not, it suggests an alternative narrative to what we have become accustom to. There is a dark undercurrent at work, the idea of celebrity, the violent murderer who becomes the God of his own celebrity. The contradiction at work being that the film itself might be seen as perpetuating their psychosis and their desire for recognition. How to deal clearly with the facts when they might encourage to act our similarly? How do we reason with senseless acts of violence, when, by their very nature they have no sense? Tackling an almost impossible topic, the film does evade some of the pitfalls of its exploitation form. At its worst, I truly believe it is satisfying morbid curiosity more than anything else. Someone excited or thrilled by the demonstrated violence has a full scale of issues that the film has no fault in forming.

Regardless of its success as a documentary or political work, there is no denying that The Killing of America packs a punch. Presenting a dark side of the world we live in, would it be too idealistic to believe that a film of this nature could similarly encourage compassion and love in its viewers. To go another route and search for positive answers and to change the way they think and behave in order to make a difference in their own lives, and work against violence one step at a time.

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- Justine Smith

The Killing of America screened on July 28th 2013 as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival. It was a special presentation of the film accompanying the book Launch of “Snuff Movies: Naissance d’une Legende Urbaine” by Antonio Dominguez Leiva and Simon Laperriere

 

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By Justine Smith

Born in Montreal, Justine Smith is a recent Film Studies Specialization Graduate from Concordia University. She is a passionate lover of all aspects of cinema, and has much love for making film as she does writing about it. Always on the search for the next big thing, she loves to check out the best of new cinema, while digging deep into the past for old gems. Justine has an unusual passion for social media and is currently suffering from a Twitter addiction. She has contributed to Soundonsight as a writer since early 2010, and still makes semi-regular appearances on their podcast. Some of her favorite films are 'The Red Shoes', 'Catch-22', 'Jules et Jim', Lola Montes', 'McCabe and Mrs. Miller'.

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