Look past the violence: automotive destruction in American movies


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Abstract

This article offers a study of the phenomenon of automotive destruction in American movies. It offers a critical reading of the spectacular pile-up sequence in The Blues Brothers 2000 (John Landis, 1998) which takes account of the development of screen car crashes from their earliest days in the silent Keystone, Laurel and Hardy shorts and Harold Lloyd features, through to their ubiquitous presence in contemporary Hollywood movies. Screen car crashes testify to both the iconic status of the automobile and the centrality of violence to American culture. This article suggests that the staged accident and the onscreen destruction of the car (the American technological consumer object ne plus ultra) can be read as a ‘working through’ of concerns and fears regarding the dialectical experience of modernity – technological and scientific progress, sexuality, death and the ephemeral nature of the human body, and the endurance of a US-style capitalist system built on waste.

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