Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Fight For Your Life

Director: Robert A Endelson
Writer: Straw Weisman
USA 1977

This is a very controversial film, and the only film from the Video Nasty list I’ve seen so far that’s still banned in the UK. "Fight For Your Life"’s notoriety doesn’t derive from its violence – though there’s plenty of that – but from its racially inflammatory content. Following the ordeal of a middle-class black family held hostage in their home by a racist gang, "Fight for Your Life" promised to actually shock, and I approached it with some trepidation. I seriously wasn’t expecting the powerful, courageous political work I was about to see.

The first thing to strike me about the film was its surprisingly high production values. Directed, edited and shot professionally with real artistic flare on high-quality film, this is about as far from "Night of the Bloody Apes" as you can get. The actors can actually act, and the dialogue is nothing short of superb – central to its success in dealing with its controversial subject matter.

"Fight For Your Life" is not a racist film. That it was released under the name "Getting Even" in cinemas in black areas of American cities more than hints at its resolution. Throughout the film clever and thoughtful scenes turn the tables on the kidnappers as they torment the family; with the father, a liberal Christian clergyman, showing civilised restraint at odds with the racial stereotypes held by the gang.

The language is strong, but we live in an age desensitised to the use of the word “nigger” in the arts - though thankfully we rarely hear it from a white mouth nowadays. Worse are scenes where the family are forced to act out racial stereotypes, for example being forced to tap-dance and sing at gunpoint. The way this is turned around on the captors is a clever, subtle and moving piece of cinema, and places this film miles above most of the others on the Video Nasty list.

Much of the violence is relatively mild - punches are quite obviously pulled – but there are a couple of very strong scenes, and one in particular is very shocking and would never make it past the British censors. But like "The Witch Who Came From the Sea", this is an unusual film that bluntly tackles the social issues of its day; though unlike "The Witch Who Came From the Sea", it is well structured, directed and acted, and tackles its subject matter with measured, well thought-out intelligence rather than the unsubtle cosh of cod surrealism.

I watched this film weeks ago and have struggled to write a review that does it justice. While I can see why it is still banned in this country for its inflammatory content, I despair that something this socially intelligent – and perhaps more importantly, so direct – isn’t available to a wider audience.

There are some Video Nasties that go beyond the joy of trash and are truly great: "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre", "Evil Dead", "Last House On The Left". This criminally ignored film joins them as one of the best films from the list, though in this case for its social comment rather than its horror.

No comments: