The Crow: The Sound of Violence

18 10 2010

[written by author, Kim Lakin-Smith]

Few movie soundtracks are as enmeshed with the visuals and emotions of its source material as 1994’s cinematic goth-fest, The Crow. A nocturne in the truest sense of the word, the soundtrack is less ear-filler than a social commentary on love, loss and revenge. Black as a congealed river slit from the wrist of Poe, Wilde, or Curtis, the fourteen track album features early grunge and industrial rock, with the odd wistful ballad smeared in-between. Of any album spawned by a graphic novel, The Crow is by far the most visceral, and not because of the violence of its lyrics, but because it is a terrifyingly frank tribute to the inherent pain of the human condition.

Why this should be so is rooted in the real story that lies behind the movie. A sense of tragedy permeates both movie and album, and this can be traced back to the original graphic novel, and writer and artist, James O’Barr.

In 1981, O’Barr started work on The Crow while he was stationed in Berlin. He explains,

I joined the marines after someone very close to me was killed by a drunk driver. I just wanted to stop thinking about it and have some structure in my life. But I was still filled with such rage and frustration that I had to get it out before it destroyed me. One day I just began drawing The Crow; it came pouring out.

That ‘someone’ was the one. Racked with grief, O’Barr achieved an early discharge and returned to the states with the full intention of killing the drunk behind the wheel. His personal quest for revenge was thwarted, the driver having already passed away. Instead, O’Barr channelled his homicidal rage into his art. It is no accident that the comic’s inferred setting is O’Barr’s hometown of Detroit, or that the murders of antihero, Eric Draven, and his true love occur when they are out for a romantic drive. The Crow was a product of anguish then, even before the now infamous events that took place on its movie set.

The series of misfortunes which occurred during the filming of The Crow have led many to believe that O’Barr’s story was a victim of its own macabrism. A car accident, a screwdriver embedded in a hand, a stuntman falling through a window and breaking several ribs, a hurricane, and a fire were among the darker acts of god to affect those on set. But the ultimate tragedy was the death of the movie’s star, Brandon Lee, who was shot by a fellow actor on set under still-debated circumstances. With Lee due to be married three weeks later, the story of Eric and his lost love was all too acute for O’Barr; he spiralled into depression and drug addiction, only to emerge years later, relieved for the most part of the guilt – and the majority of the financial assets – that came from his creation.

Given these bleak circumstances, the choice of soundtrack was always going to be intrinsic to the movie’s authenticity. O’Barr even admitted, “I was much more inspired by the music of the time than the comics of the time.” The first graphic novel in the series was dedicated to the lead singer of Joy Division, Ian Curtis, who hanged himself at age 23 and on the night before the band’s first US tour, seemingly because of his worsening epilepsy. This fusion of art and music was evident in the use of Joy Division songs as chapter titles, and quotes from rock poet Jim Carroll and lyrics by Robert Smith of The Cure. Even Eric’s appearance was based on Peter Murphy from the group Bauhaus, his body movements on punkster Iggy Pop.

The resultant album was seminal; it revelled in O’Barr’s musical inspirations, layering these with artists not only relevant at the time but whose work reflected the film’s core themes of alienation, heartache and decay. From the haunting cries of The Cure’s opening track, ‘Burn’, through to the metal bombast of Pantera, Trent Reznor’s rusted, tyrannical meshwork of ‘Dead Souls’, hit track, ‘Big Empty’ from Stone Temple Pilots, and the closing fragility of Jane Silberry’s ‘It Can’t Rain All The Time’, The Crow – The Soundtrack encapsulated a moment in cinematic history, when Goth became gut-wrenchingly glorious and the whole world wept.

SOUND BITES

  • ‘…The sonic personification of anxiety. Blues cubists. Spokesmen for misfits’ – how the Violent Femmes describe themselves on their website. Perfect then for a movie about a heart-torn vigilante expelled from the grave.
  • Pantera’s ‘The Badge’ is a Metaller’s anthem which questions the morality of police, asking ‘What’s behind the badge?’ This theme is highlighted in the third film in The Crow franchise. The Crow: Salvation sees a new dark angel, a character called Alex Corvis, framed for the murder of his girlfriend by corrupt police.
  • James O’Barr began work on his graphic novel in 1981. This was also the year The Cure recorded the maudlin album Faith, solidifying an obsession with all things decayed and dissipating with their 1982 release, Pornography. O’Barr’s adoption of The Cure as muse was well-timed; a year later, Robert Smith and crew reinvented themselves as more of a pop outfit.
  • The soundtrack concludes with Jane Silberry’s ethereal ‘It Can’t Rain All The Time.’ In 2006, Silberry changed her name to Issa (pronounced eeee-sah), a feminine variant of Isaiah. Another case of reincarnation?
  • Fear And Bullets was an album created through a collaboration between James O’Barr and longtime friend John Bergin as a soundtrack to O’Barr’s graphic novel. It was originally released in 1994 along with a limited edition hardcover copy of the graphic novel, the release coinciding with the publicity received from the film.
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3 responses

18 10 2010
onyxdrake

Many thanks for this. This album saw me through many dark nights as a young adult. Angsty, yes, but much like Peter Steele’s dark kiss, it added dimension to the narrow world I was treading back then.

19 10 2010
Nat

I think I missed out on The Crow’s appeal, as I was in my Riot Grrrl phase at that time, playing my bass guitar and being angst in a less dark way! But I think it’s about time I revisited this film — a film that my gothic friend wanted me to love just as much as she did.
You know your stuff, Kim! Bloody rock on! 😀

21 10 2010
Sam Strong

I’ve still got all my Crow movie posters up in the attic. It’s an awesome film that still stands up today and the soundtrack is pretty timeless.

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