There are moments when you see a film that leave you feeling incapable of moving from your seat.
The first time I saw Woody Allens "Manhattan" was on the big screen and I couldn't believe what I had just seen.
"Combat Shock" is no "Manhattan"...although it is a match for it in every way.
It is claustrophobic, intense, dark, disturbing, brutal and violent. It is also insightful and possessed of the sort of social comment that "big" movies cannot make because they cannot afford to offend the sensibilities or affiliations of their financial backers. Luckily Buddy Giovinazzo didn't have to worry about that when he made "Combat Shocks" because all of what little money there was was his own.
His first feature film Giovinazzo was driven by a desire to make a film that was honest about the subject and to the characters. That honesty means that this is not an easy film to watch. It is relentless in its attempts to put the focus on the sort of people in society that most of us would rather believe don't exist. The camera never allows us to forget that life, for some people, is short, cheap and ugly...often through no fault of the individual.
Focusing on the life of Vietnam vet. Frankie we are thrust into a world of poverty, crime, prostitution, family breakdown and abuse. On the mean streets of any big city there are people who would happily take what you have, including your life, if it would benefit them and at the other end of the scale governments and corporations behave in exactly the same way. Frankie is the victim of a government who sent its young men to fight in a war that they didn't understand and of an economic system that doesn't care about the individual. He is penniless, he is hungry and his wife and child are suffering alongside him. A series of events over the course of the day from a toilet not flushing to the revelation that his father will not, cannot, help him and a savage beating from some local hoods leads Frankie to take the only course of action that he believes can save his family from suffering anymore. He kills them and he kills himself.
This is not a film that can be described as "horror" nor does it really belong alongside other "cult" films...but it's audience is a cult movie audience and for that we should be grateful because thanks to them the film is still available to us. Watching it in 2010 it is shocking to see how little has changed...young men and women are still fighting in wars they don't believe in, poverty reigns in the inner-cities while huge sums of money are used to support the wealthiest, violence and crime continue to blight communities and break up families. Giovinazzo could easily have made this film this week with the same script, using the same shots and it would seem fresh, shocking and unsettling.
A filmmaker who is as committed to the pursuit of honesty in his art is one to be cherished.
Buddy Giovinazzo...an honest man.