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Same Old "Dawn"

J.Cartwright

The Recycling Binge -- Same Old 'Dawn' -- Keymoore revisits a certain Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino film to see if time has been any kinder to it, or Hollywood's, obsession with fear.

About once every two months I have what I refer to as a Crying of Lot 49 episode. It's almost always sparked by a visit to the Criterion website. I am usually clutching a cup of coffee and anxiously looking through the site, concluding that even after 24 years of mass media addition, there are still movies and TV shows I have never even heard of. All are works that, according to the somber academics at Criterion, are crucial to an appreciation of the cinematic and/or broadcast. And as usual, I've missed out.

The minutes between my Criterionco.com based breakdown and the eventual queue of over 50+ titles on Netflix are always a blur. Sometimes the Internet Movie Database becomes involved. Often I awake from my aesthetically uninformed coma to find myself writing down long lists of movies that end up being out of print or otherwise unavailable. In the end, I find the whole exercise futile...only to have it repeated all over again when the movies I requested during the stress blackout arrive at my doorstep. My time is then spent in uttering phrases like, "Why did I think asking for an obscure Danish sitcom from the '70s was a good idea?"

That was pretty much my reaction when Netflix sent From Dusk till Dawn my way. The film, which was directed by Robert Rodriguez, (Desperado, Sin City) and written by Quentin Tarantino, is a combination action/horror/thriller. It centers on the Gecko brothers, Seth (George Clooney) and Ritchie (Tarantino). Seth takes pride in his job as a professional killer while Ritchie seems to enjoy his gig as a sex offender equally well. The two are on their way south, casually leaving behind a trail of crime, and carnage (and bodies) as they head towards Mexico. Along the way the run into a minister (played by Harvey Keitel) who is traveling with his two children, a pragmatic daughter (Juliette Lewis) and his adopted son (Ernest Liu) who is lost in a self-proscribed dreamland.

The first half of the movie is carried through in a typical suspense style. We witness games of cat and mouse and several mindless slaughters. The atmosphere centers on violence, its logic and consequence. Keitel, for example, has given up "the calling" because the recent death of his wife has led him to conclude that life offers no true order. Later when he questions why he and his family should drive the Geckos to Mexico, Clooney calmly points out that he has a gun and can murder Keitel's kids. Again, the rationale of brutality breeds the only possible reasoned response (everyone ends up in a strip club South of the Border).

However, once the characters are "safe" in Mexico, the entire film turns upside down. The mood changes from cold and clinical to animated and nonsensical. Suddenly our aggressive leading man with the hair trigger no longer has any authority. Clooney essentially loses his "cool" the minute they pass through the Titty Twister's doors. Eventually, our 'heroes' realize that the entire bar is packed with vampires and we suddenly go from a tense thriller to a campy, bloody horror film. Essentially, From Dusk Till Dawn plays like two different genres have been awkwardly stuck together. The end result is something crazy, and kind of disconcerting.

In my mind, the film was fairly easy to miss when it came out in 1996. And since then, George Clooney's involvement in the picture has served as a natural repellent of sorts when I neared the movie at video stores. But now that we've experienced a tidal wave of post-9/11 inspired suspense and fright films these past few years, From Dusk till Dawn merits a revisit. On a basic level, pairing a crime thriller along side a cheesy F/X fest pokes fun at the sense of fear that comes from the film's first half. Once the cast is battling bloodsuckers, the entire setup seems artificial.

In reality, why should we sit around and worry about two guys on a killing spree when there are much scarier things like...uh...vampires, to cause concern? Since 9/11, Hollywood has made the majority of its money with box office hits that have literally cashed in on our communal fears. And the two most popular genres � suspense and horror � are just thinly veiled allusions about our current state of security. But seeing these two ideas slammed up against each other in From Dusk till Dawn makes a mockery of today's fright flicks by showing that neither genre has an easy or pleasant "solution".

The film, very much a product of the glorious mid-nineties liberal heyday, suggests that our actions during battle or war can be as nonsensical as the concept of blood sucking vampire bartenders. Due to economic as well as social factors, the filmmakers had the luxury of meditating on the concept of choice versus a desperate struggle for survival. At one point another fellow vampire-slayer likens the situation to the trenches of Vietnam War. His speech drips of irony however as the character makes his speech about the days of "yellow flesh on his bayonet" in front of Keitel and his adopted Asian son. Whoops!

Ultimately,From Dusk till Dawn is a joke. It's a jest on the concept of genre and a jibe at the sense of closure and solution each respective style offers. And since it's release, it's interesting to view the film in light of similar suspense attempts like What Lies Beneath, Panic Room and the recently released Red Eye. Not only are they all clichéd and easily dismissible as crappy big budget bombast, but more importantly, they represent an actual reversal in the cinematic dialogue. At this point, only by stepping back in time can we really exactly see how stale Hollywood has grown in recent years. Apparently, the only thing we have to fear is Tinsel Town's use of the said apprehension.

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