A violent orchestration is one in which action sequences function like performative “numbers” (as in a musical), interrupting the linear drive of the plot with their sensational audio and visual spectacle yet simultaneously serving as dramatic climaxes that advance the story toward closure. Because these violent numbers are so excessive, their rhythmic representation so kinetic, and their visceral pleasures so compelling, their cumulative effect provides a rival mode of orchestration that threatens to usurp the narrative’s traditional function of contextualization. The seriality and exuberance of this violent orchestration renders the film comic, no matter how painful, tragic, or satiric its narrative resolution may be. This kind of orchestration may be associated with certain genres (action films, the western, Road Runner cartoons, action games), cultural regimes (Spanish cinema), or auteurist stylistics (Carlos Saura, Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino).
Playing with Power in Movies, Television and Video Games (1991)
p. 110, “Most video games also offer one of the traditional appeals of comedy: protean transformation and resilience as a means of overcoming death. These games position players in on-going serial combat where they must constantly fight off death and try to acquire new powers that will periodically grant them more lives. In part, then, these games are modeled on life extension—increasing the length of a turn or, in consumerist terms, getting more for your quarter. As in Saturday morning television cartoons, the repetitive, segmented, serial nature of the narrative leads to a disavowal of obsolescence, castration, and death.”
p. 111, “The narrative model proposed by Peter Brooks (based on the “master plot” from Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle) is thus relevant to video games as well. Before and after the game, when the screen is blank and the power turned off, the game world is literally in a state of quiescence, non-narratability, and death. Between these two steady states, the players are constantly threatened by short circuiting and premature deaths (which indeed are called “deaths”), while their compulsive repetitions are rewarded (for this is the only way of advancing in the game). Spatialized as detours and warp zones, the narrative elaborations serve to postpone and intensify the final gratification: mastering the game. After experiencing the closure of the endgame, the player frequently abandons the cassette and turns to another narrative for new postponements. Yet the hyper-serialization both within and across these road games enables the play to be extended over weeks, months, and even years, as players improve their skill and advance from one “level” or “world” or “game” to another. Such a structure is bound to lead to cognitive development, for, like drinking milk or doing daily aerobics, the compulsive consumption of video games appears to accelerate growth.”
Blood Cinema (1993)
p. 137-138, “I doubt whether Spanish cinema is really more violent than the cinema of other nations (say, the United States or Japan). Rather, I would argue it is the modes of violent representation and their cultural implications, determinants, and reception that are different. This subject, which has thus far received little attention, is the focus of this chapter.
We can already note certain patterns emerging in the violent images just described: the eroticization of violence, by targeting the genitals and by using fetishizing close-ups, ellipses, and long takes; the specularization of violence for spectators both within the film and in the movie theater; the displacement of violence onto surrogate victims, especially animals, children, and women; and the displacement of violence from one sphere of power to another, between sex and politics, between private and public space, and between the body, the family and the state.
Not all Spanish cinema is violent. The most violent excesses occur in the opposition cinema of the dictablanda and in the post-Franco cinema when all censorship was suspended. In fact, all the examples cited above derive from this period. Within the Spanish context, the graphic depiction of violence is primarily associated with an anti-Francoist perspective, which may surprise foreign spectators, particularly Americans who are used to linking it with right-wing sentiment (as in the personal vengeance genre, starring reactionary superheroes played by Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris, Clint Eastwood, and Sylvester Stallone or in the backlash horror films of the 1970s and 1980s). During the Francoist era, the depiction of violence was repressed, as was the depiction of sex, sacrilege, and politics; this repression helps explain why eroticized violence could be used so effectively by the anti-Francoist opposition to speak a political discourse, that is, to expose the legacy of brutality and torture that lay hidden behind the surface beauty of the Fascist and neo-Catholic aesthetics. Moreover, this graphic violence had commercial appeal, especially in the post-Franco era when foreign pornography began to flood Spanish screens and Spanish spectators were drawn to the violent excesses of foreign cinemas. Thus, this oppositional system of violent representation developed against a double hegemony: domestically, it had to be distinguished from the conventions of the Counter-Reformation (particularly as remolded by the Fascist aesthetic), where violence was eroticized as ritual sacrifice; globally and commercially, it had to be distinguished from Hollywood’s valorization of violence as a dramatic agent of moral change.
Contextualizing Video Game Violence: From Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1 to Mortal Kombat 2 (1996)
p. 34, “Violence in our culture is frequently represented formally through extravagant visual spectacle and loud explosive sounds—usually generated by complex special effects that require potent hardware and that arouse excitement and pleasure. Paradoxically, this sensory extravagance helps violence become synonymous with action (our sixth related concept). As action games become the dominant genre, there is a continuing rapid acceleration in violence to make them more exciting. If a game is not violent, it is considered boring.”
Violence and American Cinema
MK’s essay, “Violence American Style: The Narrative Orchestration of Violent Attractions”
p. 64-65, “The opening image behind the titles immediately creates an atmosphere of repressed violence. We see a pair of caged ferrets restlessly pacing back and forth in a cramped space and hear a loud pounding, percussive music, which makes their entrapment feel all the more oppressive. The camera relentlessly moves in to a tighter shot that intensifies their desperation, links the close-up with entrapment, and marks the ferrets as surrogate victims for the violence to come. Everything in the film—its claustrophobic narrative, its sporadic and carefully modulated release of violent movements, its spare landscapes, its emotional rhythms in dialogue and mise-en-scene, its percussive music and montage, its oppressive silences and ellipses, its interplay between extreme close-ups and long shots, and its blatant specularization of the violent gaze—move inexorably toward the final explosive shoot-out, heightening its intensity when it comes.
It was precisely this narrative orchestration of violence—with its varied rhythms, dramatic pauses, and cathartic climax—that had such a profound impact on Peckinpah rather than the number of thematic similarities that The Wild Bunch shares with La caza: the group of middle-aged male buddies as the focus, the gendering of violence as a sign of masculinity, the blatant specularization of the violence through visual apparatuses like binoculars and gun sights, the recriminating memories of past betrayals as a catalyst, the young outsider as the one whose impulsive shot unleashes the final suicidal battle, and the evocation of a war that is represented only indirectly (in Peckinpah’s case, the First World War through the Germans and their war machines in the final massacre, and also Vietnam through the peasant resistance with which Angel is allied). While such thematic links ensured that Peckinpah could adapt this kind of orchestration to the Western genre, the life-changing lesson he learned from La caza (and applied not only to The Wild Bunch but to his other films that followed) was how to use violence to structure not merely an individual sequence but the stylistic and narrative design of the entire film—that is, to use representations of violence as a series of rhythmic eruptions that orchestrated the spectator’s emotional response.”
p. 68, “By now it should be clear that I am using this cross-cultural comparison between The Wild Bunch and La caza not to suggest that the former’s narrative orchestration of violence was solely derived from Spain but as an entry into distinguishing how it functions with cultural specificity in American cinema of the late 1960s and beyond. For, despite differences in genre, the changes Peckinpah made in Saura’s model are consistent with conventions found in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and A Clockwork Orange (1971), and these are precisely the characteristics that Del Amo and Saura found so alien to Spanish cinema and that made these films seem so vitally new to American audiences at the time of their release.
American NOVA: The Narrative Orchestration of Violent Attractions.
What these two films share with The Wild Bunch is a narrative orchestration of violence in which action sequences function like performative “numbers,” interrupting the linear drive of the plot with their sensational audio and visual spectacle yet simultaneously serving as dramatic climaxes that advance the story toward closure. Because these violent numbers are so excessive, their rhythmic representation so kinetic, and their visceral pleasures so compelling, their cumulative effect provides a rival mode of orchestration that threatens to usurp the narrative’s traditional function of contextualization through a seriality and an exuberance that render the film comic, no matter how painful, tragic, or satiric its narrative resolution may be.