Last night while flipping through channels I stumbled upon “Crow: City of Angels.” After I realized it wasn’t the original, but before I flipped over to the Food Network, I was reminded of the disappointment I originally felt upon seeing it in the theater in 1996. What a complete waste of celluloid.
In spite of all its flaws I still love the original film. We’ve seen demonic spirits returning from the grave to exact vengeance countless times in film, but the first Crow showed us that sometimes that spirit is justified in its revenge. The gothic beauty of the film still moves me, and Brandon Lee’s performance, especially in the scene where he says, “They’re all dead”¦they just don’t know it yet,” gives me goose bumps every time I watch it. I still listen to the soundtrack–such an awesome blend of melancholy rock and industrial/techno heavy metal. It captures the mood of the film perfectly.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the story of Brandon Lee’s accidental death while filming the movie. During one particular scene an actor fired a gun at Brandon Lee, which unbeknownst to anyone on the set contained a live round. Brandon immediately dropped to the floor, and the director along with the stunt team rushed to his side, and to their abject horror discovered a bloody bullet wound. Brandon slipped unconscious on the set and was pronounced dead four hours later at a nearby hospital. In a horrible stroke of irony this accident occurred mere weeks before his wedding, seemingly mirroring the events of the film.
I don’t think I told you anything new with that little summary of events. Almost anyone who’s seen the film knows that particular story, but few people know the story behind the graphic novel on which the film is based.
At seventeen a young James O’Barr had fallen in love and proposed marriage to a girl named Bethany. Having grown up in an orphanage and experienced a very rough childhood, Bethany represented goodness and hope in young James’s tumultuous life. While walking down a sidewalk in Detroit a drunk driver struck Bethany with his vehicle. He dragged her body through several yards before stopping. The police called her father, who in turn called James. He arrived at the hospital with her family only to learn the doctors had already pronounced her dead.
James enlisted in the Marines hoping that a disciplined life would ease his pain. It didn’t. After receiving a discharge from the military James turned to drugs and alcohol, and he eventually became convinced that he would only find solace by killing the man who had struck his fiancÃ©. James discovered the man had died from natural causes, and again he went in search of a way to ease his heartache.
In time James would use his experiences to write “The Crow;” an independent comic book filled with vengeful poetry, haunting imagery, and dark rock lyrics. After the modest success of the graphic novel James received offers from Hollywood producers wanting to turn his comic into a movie. Filming began and through the course of the shoot James became very close friends with actor Brandon Lee. Then, as we all know, Brandon was killed on the set. After the accident James has said in interviews that he wished he’d never written the dammed thing in the first place.
I was a fan of the graphic novel before the movie, and during the spring of 1994 I met James at the Dallas Fantasy Faire comic book convention. He was doing book signings all over the country to promote the movie, but as the graphic novel had only been a modest success, and the film had yet to be released, his line of fans was practically non-existent.
I’ll never forget meeting that man. I don’t believe I’ve ever met a more withdrawn human being in my life. He seemed utterly unapproachable in spite of the lack of fans surrounding him. He sat at an eight-foot long table all alone, chain-smoking, and staring at the table or his hands the entire time. He dutifully signed my book and posters without ever looking up, and he simply refused to be drawn into any type of conversation. It wasn’t that he was just a rude person. He even drew me an original sketch of the Crow, something many artists will not do. No, it was more like he was present in body but not in spirit. I sensed a disconnect of some kind, and I can only imagine the pain he felt knowing that he had an obligation to promote a film that had killed his friend. A film, by the way, which was based on a graphic novel he wrote as a way to excise the pain he felt after the death of his fiancÃ©.
So much death…
Many other artists, and even James himself, have attempted to delve back into the Crow mythos and expand the stories through books, comics, and films. Don’t waste your time with any of them. They all fall flat. In my mind the original film and the original graphic novel occupy a space all their own. They’re sublime; simultaneously beautiful and horrifying. I know you’ve seen the movie, but you should also read the comic.