Sunday, September 11, 2005

Observations Part 24: The Conflicted World of Dirty Harry


The Baddest Action Star Ever

Last night I sorta had a mini movie marathon. I watched Dirty Harry, Magnum Force and Sudden Impact. The first two inspired this post. If Detective Harry Callahan were a real person, could he do what he did and be human? The concept of Dirty Harry was developed at a time in this country where we had just come through major civil rights changes, the deaths of a President John F Kennedy, his Presidential hopeful brother Robert Kennedy and probably the greatest American Martin Luther King. We had been through the summer of love in 1967 San Francisco, the Manson Family, Watts Riots, the formation of the Black Panthers and Woodstock. We were in the middle of a terrible war, Vietnam and this country was very much a "either you're with us or against us" attitude. Harry Callahan comes in at a time with Nixon in power after all of this. Harry is the antithesis of all I just mentioned. A cut throat law man, that made sense. But would his character work in real life?

Watching the two older movies you basically get three powerful factions. "The man", representing the ruling body of society. All the power and all the good rules to help society function for the vast majority smoothly, except for the ever present corruption and bureaucracy that conflicts the power. This power represents the upper level of police, the mayor and the government. The second power is "society". These movies play these to the extremes through some intense imagery. I often wonder when I watch these films if the directors knew that now over 30 years later, the exaggerations would be so noticeable. I was born in 1973 so I missed all that reality and memories but what I notice watching the films is each member of society is represented at extremes. Black power, hippy love, even the San Francisco gay community and average joe citizen of the middle class, just making a living at work, the old sorta "Leave It To Beaver" way. San Francisco, having lived near there, is the perfect place to see the extremes of society even today. The major and third power of conflict to all this is Harry himself. Harry, as a real person does not exist, but probably is really here in some representation back then and now. The rule of law in these movies is where "the man" and "society" are blurred to gray through corruption, race and social economic powers. Harry forces them to black and white as judge, jury and executioner in one instance but shows tremendous courage, compassion and forgiveness in other instances, still consistent with that black and white pardigm. What many see as a quasi-evil, ruthless, power happy almost fascist character in Harry the opposite is actually the reality. There is not one instance of racism in Harry for example. What does exist is good and evil and he is the good guy no matter what. His brand of justice and observations of "society" and "the man" make his character so likeable you often wonder why this can't happen today. His resistance to authority or the authoritative ruling faction, "the man" is both deceivingly so wrong yet very right in the final outcomes of the movie. Could you actually resist the people with power and actually be right, even though the role of government controlling you is just as right for stopping you? Without corruption, definately but these movies fill that void for you. And corruption of law and/or a corrupted "society" are the actual reasons Harry could exist for real in our world. But we couldn't handle it. We can't handle seeing our government as being actually right in their decisions that impact our daily lives and our society can't agree with itself on what the right thing is. How could someone like Harry exist today and ignore all the conflicts and just right the whole thing? Throughout the movies, Harry is called a "Dinosaur" in the new wave of thinking in San Francisco, in 1970's circa. Today I think the opposite is the reality, this dinosaur has not evolved yet.

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