Can vulgarity and violence in film be considered art? First, let us define art: "the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance." Of course it's hard to pin down an official definition; art for one can be very different than art for another. Some believe language and the use of it can be art (I do). Listening to Joe Pesci spout off obscenities in Casino and Goodfellas or hearing the word "cunny" slip off the tongue of Titus Pullo in HBO's Rome is art. Just as there is art to be found in the violence of films like Fargo and shows like Showtime's Dexter, where Dexter Morgan creates beautiful recreations of blood spatter using red strings. Why this discussion of art, you may ask? Well, the British film Bronson, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, is most definitely art at its most primal, disgusting form. The film, about the United Kingdom's most dangerous criminal/prisoner, shows us the life of a psycho who spends most of his years performing street fights and prison fights. The portrayal by Tom Hardy (who plays Bronson) is violence and vulgarity as performance art, just as Malcolm McDowell did years ago with A Clockwork Orange.
Bronson is the coolest, most entertaining film that I have witnessed on Netflix Instant Watch in a long, long time. As I have stated before, it is about a (real life) prominent criminal in the United Kingdom. He has spent 34 years of his life in prison, 30 of which have been spent in solitary confinement. He has moved through at least 120 different prisons. He compares prison to a hotel room; in other words, he loves it. Much of the movie is spent on the reasons he is sent to prison (robbing a post office and jewelry store), and much of it is spent inside the prison, where more than occasionally he lathers himself up so he'll be harder to grab when he tries to beat the shit out of inmates and the prison guards. (Note for the ladies: I haven't seen this much penis in a film since Shaved and Dangerous back in elementary school.) Much of the violence and vulgarity is performed in slow-mo with classical music playing over the speakers, adding a surrealist feel to the concerto of blood spurting from people's faces and the word "cunt" spewing from Bronson's mouth. The film is essentially a showcase for the unbelievable acting talent of it's lead star, Tom Hardy. The guy absolutely transformed himself into this deranged, sick, hilarious man. Compare the two pictures I have provided in this incredibly well-written blog entry. It's the same guy. He is Bronson, physically and mentally. But above all, the film surprised me, which unfortunately doesn't happen in cinema enough nowadays (a fact that better change when I watch Inception at the IMAX next weekend). It's a brutal look at a very intriguing character and a visceral film about the concept and consequences of violent behavior.