Crowing about the Crow

Crowing about the Crow
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First Published: Sat, Nov 24 2007. 12 13 AM IST
Updated: Sat, Nov 24 2007. 12 13 AM IST
Sometimes, my heart goes out to little-known cult classics that started a trend.
Like the first Depression-era-US gangster noir book (or motion pic).
Or even the first Da Vinci Code (surely, there must have been one before Dan Brown popularized the genre that sees approximately a dozen releases a month now).
What usually happens to these books (or movies) is that they remain little- known for a long time. Then, almost by accident, someone rediscovers them, but by then the magic of the genre has been long gone, flogged to death by successive generations of film-makers and writers.
Some readers may think that having this happen (to a book or movie) is no big deal. But it is. Imagine an avid James Hadley Chase reader discovering James Cain’s Double Indemnity and dismissing it after a few pages as “nothing new”.
In some ways, J.O’Barr’s The Crow finds itself in the same position. Not that the character (The Crow) itself needs discovering.
Thanks to lead actor Brandon Lee’s death in 1993, on the sets of the motion pic version of the book—and thanks to the fact that Lee was Bruce Lee’s son—almost everyone has heard of The Crow. The movie itself went on to become a modest hit, earning around $50 million in box office revenues—significant for the 1990s.
The film’s success prompted a mid-1990s television series of the same name (and one of the television channels even aired this in India).
Still, even the 1990s was way too late for a movie with a theme like The Crow. The book was written in 1981 and is the story of a young man who comes back as The Crow, a part superhero, part paranormal character, to avenge his death and his girlfriend’s rape.
That may provoke yawns now, but Barr wrote the book in the early 1980s (as a way to overcome the death of his fiancée, some people say).
He portrayed The Crow as a partly gothic character with punk hair, seemingly kohl-rimmed eyes and a harlequin’s smile. And he wrote and illustrated the book in a style that harks back to old masters of noir including Cain and Dashiel Hammet as well as new masters of fantasy, horror and comics such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey.
Barr has written other books since then (and is still a relatively young man—he wrote The Crow when he was 21), but it is The Crow that remains his finest work.
And there are times (as opposed to ones when I am sorry that books such as The Crow are not very well-known) when I am happy that a book, or a piece of music, remains little-known.
In the age of information overload, sometimes, restricted access is the only thing that separates the experts from the hobby-jockeys.
Write to Sukumar at cultfiction@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Nov 24 2007. 12 13 AM IST