American History X

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American History X
American history x poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Tony Kaye
Produced by John Morrissey
Written by David McKenna
Starring
Music by Anne Dudley
Cinematography Tony Kaye
Edited by
Production
company
Turman-Morrissey Company
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release dates
  • October 30, 1998 (1998-10-30)
Running time 119 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million[1]
Box office $23.9 million[1]

American History X is a 1998 American crime drama film directed by Tony Kaye and written by David McKenna. It stars Edward Norton and Edward Furlong, and co-stars Fairuza Balk, Stacy Keach, Elliott Gould, Avery Brooks, Ethan Suplee and Beverly D'Angelo. The film was released in the United States on October 30, 1998 and was distributed by New Line Cinema.

The film tells the story of two Venice, Los Angeles brothers who become involved in the neo-Nazi movement. The older brother serves three years in prison for voluntary manslaughter, changes his beliefs and tries to prevent his brother from going down the same path. The film is told in the style of nonlinear narrative. It was given an "R" rating by the MPAA for "graphic brutal violence including rape, pervasive language, strong sexuality and nudity". Made on a budget of $20 million, it grossed over $23 million at the international box office.

Critics mostly praised the film and Norton's performance, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. In September 2008, Empire magazine named it the 311th Greatest Movie of All Time.[2]

Plot[edit]

Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong), a high school student and budding neo-Nazi in Venice Beach, California, receives an assignment from Murray (Elliott Gould), his history teacher, to write a paper on "any book which relates to the struggle for human rights." Knowing Murray is Jewish, Danny writes his paper on Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. Murray attempts to get Danny expelled for doing this, but Principal Dr. Bob Sweeney (Avery Brooks) — who is black — refuses, instead informing Danny that he will study history and current events under Sweeney, and that the class will be called "American History X." Danny's first assignment is to prepare a paper on his brother Derek (Edward Norton), a former neo-Nazi leader who has just been released from prison after serving three years for voluntary manslaughter. Danny is warned that failing to submit the paper the next morning will result in his expulsion. The rest of the movie alternates between a series of vignettes from Danny and Derek's shared past (distinguished by being shown in black and white), and present day events (shown in color).

Derek and Danny's father is Dennis Vinyard (William Russ), a firefighter who displays racist tendencies in reaction to the news that Derek's English teacher, Dr. Sweeney, had assigned Richard Wright's novel Native Son. He also reveals himself to be anti-affirmative action, as well as against political correctness. Sent on a call to fight a fire in a drug den, Dennis is murdered by black drug dealers. In a television interview conducted after Dennis's death, Derek erupts in a long racist tirade. Shortly thereafter, Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach) and Derek form a white supremacist gang called the D.O.C.

A skilled basketball player, Derek is reluctantly dragged into a 3-on-3 game against three members of the Crips in which the prize is control of the recreation center basketball courts. Derek and his friends win the game. That evening his mother Doris (Beverly D'Angelo) invites Murray, whom she is dating, home for dinner. A dinnertime discussion about Rodney King and police brutality turns into a full-blown argument between Derek and Murray. When Derek reveals his swastika tattoo and threatens Murray with violence for "invading his family", Murray leaves and Doris orders Derek out of her home. That night, as Derek and his girlfriend Stacey (Fairuza Balk) have sex, Danny hears people (the three gang members whom Derek beat at basketball) attempting to steal Derek's truck. Derek grabs a pistol and heads outside. He shoots one of the thieves to death and curb stomps another. Immediately arrested, Derek is sentenced to three years at the California Institution for Men in Chino.

Derek is given a job in the prison laundry and is assigned to be the partner of Lamont (Guy Torry), a black man who is serving six years for assault. Lamont stole a television set from a store and broke the arresting officer's foot when he accidentally dropped the television on it. The pair develop a rapport from their shared love of basketball.

In prison, Derek joins the Aryan Brotherhood but, after about a year, he becomes disillusioned with the racist gang, particularly over the group's hypocritical friendly relations with a Mexican gang member, and their trafficking of narcotics. In response to Derek's criticisms, Aryan Brotherhood members savagely beat and rape him in the shower. While recovering from the attack, Derek is visited by Sweeney, whom he asks for help to be paroled. Sweeney informs him of Danny's involvement with neo-Nazis, and warns that he is on the same path as his older brother. Sweeney confesses that he hated white people as a youth, but eventually realized that hatred is pointless.

Derek further distances himself from the Aryan Brotherhood and changes his outlook on life. He spends the remainder of his time in prison alone, reading books that Sweeney sends him. He fears that the prison's inmates will attack him, but they leave him alone, thanks to Lamont's persuasion. Finally realizing the error of his ways, Derek leaves prison a changed man.

In the evening that Derek returns home from prison, he finds that Danny has a D.O.C. tattoo. Derek tries to persuade Danny to leave the gang. Later that night, they both go to a neo-Nazi party, where Derek tells the leader, Cameron, that he and Danny will no longer associate with the neo-Nazi movement. Cameron provokes Derek, who beats him up. In response, Danny's neo-Nazi friend Seth Ryan (Ethan Suplee) runs after Derek and aims a pistol at him, which Derek wrestles from him and points at the angry crowd before running away. Danny angrily confronts Derek, who tells him about his experience in prison, which seems to prompt a change in Danny. Back at their home, they remove all the white power posters from their bedroom walls.

The following morning, Danny finishes his paper and Derek gets ready for a meeting with his parole officer. Derek walks Danny to school before his meeting, and on their way they stop at a diner where they are met by Sweeney and a police officer. They tell Derek that Cameron and Seth were attacked the previous night and have been hospitalized.

At school, Danny is confronted by a young black student named Little Henry, with whom he had a confrontation the previous day. Little Henry pulls out a gun and shoots Danny in the chest, killing him. When Derek arrives at the school, he runs into the bathroom and tearfully cradles his dead brother in his arms.

The film ends with a voice over of Danny reading the final lines of his paper for Dr. Sweeney. Stating "Hate is baggage. Life's too short to be pissed off all the time. It's just not worth it." and then quoting the final stanza of Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address.

Cast[edit]

Soundtrack[edit]

All music composed by Anne Dudley.

No. Title Length
1. "American History X"   4:46
2. "The Assignment"   2:36
3. "Venice Beach"   1:28
4. "Playing to Win"   3:49
5. "People Look at Me and See My Brother"   1:41
6. "If I Had Testified"   4:05
7. "A Stranger at My Table"   3:31
8. "Putting Up a Flag"   2:06
9. "Raiders"   3:02
10. "Complications"   1:38
11. "Starting to Remind Me of You"   1:43
12. "The Right Questions"   3:24
13. "The Parth to Redemption"   2:56
14. "We Are Not Enemies"   2:05
15. "Two Brothers"   2:31
16. "Storm Clouds Gathering"   2:04
17. "Benedictus"   3:35

Production[edit]

Shooting took place in Los Angeles, California.[4] With some suggestions from New Line, director Tony Kaye made a second heavily shortened cut, which New Line rejected as it bore little resemblance to the first. Film editor Jerry Greenberg was brought in to cut a third version with Edward Norton.

Kaye disowned the third version as the final cut of the film, as he did not approve of its quality.[5] He tried and failed to have his name removed from the credits,[6][7] openly telling some interviewers he tried to invoke the Alan Smithee pseudonym which the Directors Guild of America used to reserve for such cases. When his request was denied, Kaye tried "Humpty Dumpty" as an alternative name.

Joaquin Phoenix was offered the role of Derek Vinyard but turned it down.[8]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

American History X was released on October 30, 1998 and grossed $156,076 in seventeen theaters during its opening weekend. The film went on to gross $6,719,864 from 513 theaters in the United States, and a total of $23,875,127 worldwide.[1]

Critical reception[edit]

Edward Norton's performance was critically lauded and he went on to receive multiple accolades including an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

The film received positive reviews upon release with many critics directing particular praise towards Edward Norton's performance. Based on the reviews of 82 critics collected on Rotten Tomatoes, 83% of critics gave the film a positive review, making the film "Certified Fresh", with an average score of 7.3/10; the website's consensus reads: "A compelling and provocative story led by an excellent performance by Edward Norton."[9] By comparison, on Metacritic, the film holds an 62/100 average rating based on 32 reviews of top mainstream critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[10]

Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, awarding American History X four stars out of four, described it as "a shockingly powerful screed against racism that also manages to be so well performed and directed that it is entertaining as well" and stated that it was "also effective at demonstrating how hate is taught from one generation to another." Siskel singled out Norton's performance and called him "the immediate front-runner" for an Oscar.[11] Todd McCarthy, writing for Variety, gave the film a positive review stating, "This jolting, superbly acted film will draw serious-minded upscale viewers interested in cutting-edge fare." He gave special praise to Norton's performance, saying "His Derek mesmerizes even as he repels, and the actor fully exposes the human being behind the tough poses and attitudinizing."[12] The New York Times '​s Janet Maslin wrote, "Though its story elements are all too easily reduced to a simple outline, American History X has enough fiery acting and provocative bombast to make its impact felt. For one thing, its willingness to take on ugly political realities gives it a substantial raison d'être. For another, it has been directed with a mixture of handsome photo-realism and visceral punch."[13] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three stars out of four, stating that it was "always interesting and sometimes compelling, and it contains more actual provocative thought than any American film on race since Do the Right Thing." He was critical though of the film's underdeveloped areas, stating that "the movie never convincingly charts Derek's path to race hatred" and noting that "in trying to resolve the events of four years in one day, it leaves its shortcuts showing." Nevertheless, Ebert concluded, "This is a good and powerful film. If I am dissatisfied, it is because it contains the promise of being more than it is."[14]

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle expressed disappointment at the film, though he did praise Norton's performance as Derek, commenting that he "is perfect for the role." LaSalle felt that while the film succeeded in portraying Derek's descent into neo-Nazism, it failed to portray his renouncement of his past beliefs: "We had to watch him think his way in. We should see him think his way out." LaSalle also noted other problems: "In some places the dialogue is surprisingly stilted. Far worse, the ending is a misfire."[15] Stephen Hunter, writing for The Washington Post was highly critical of the film and gave it a negative review. He called it "a mousy little nothing of a picture, an old melodramatic formula hidden under pretentious TV-commercial-slick photography, postmodernist narrative stylings and violations of various laws of probability."[16]

Accolades[edit]

Norton was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Derek Vinyard, but lost to Roberto Benigni for Life is Beautiful. In 2006, the film was nominated for AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers.[17]

Norton's performance was ranked by Total Film as the 72nd greatest film performance of all time.[18] Norton's Academy Award loss was also included on Empire list of "22 Incredibly Shocking Oscars Injustices".[19]

Award Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Actor Edward Norton Nominated [20]
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Actor Edward Norton Nominated [21]
Chlotrudis Awards Best Actor Edward Norton Nominated [22]
Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing: Music Score in a Feature Film Richard Ford Nominated [23]
Golden Satellite Awards Best Original Screenplay David McKenna Nominated [24]
Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Edward Norton Won
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Drama Beverly D'Angelo Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Actor Edward Norton Nominated [25]
Political Film Society Awards Peace Nominated [26]
Saturn Awards Best Actor Edward Norton Nominated [27]
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards Best Actor Edward Norton Won [28]
Taormina International Film Festival Best Actor Edward Norton Won [29]
Youth in Film Awards Best Supporting Young Actor in a Feature Film Edward Furlong Nominated [30]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "American History X (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire Magazine. March 24, 2012. Retrieved March 24, 2012. 
  3. ^ Willis, John (2000). "Screen World 1999 Film Annual". Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. p. 148. ISBN 9781557834102. Retrieved October 5, 2014. 
  4. ^ "American History X Filming Locations". Movie Locations Guide. Retrieved August 28, 2013. 
  5. ^ Maurer, Monika (September 1998). "A Quick Chat with Tony Kaye by Monika Maurer". 
  6. ^ McCarthy, Todd (October 22, 1998). "American History X". Variety. Archived from the original on July 23, 2009. Retrieved July 23, 2009. "It is possible that some otherwise well-disposed critics may restrain their praise, even unwittingly, in knee-jerk sympathy with director Kaye, who disowns this cut and lost his bid to take his name off the picture." 
  7. ^ Kaye, Tony (October 25, 2002). "Losing it". The Guardian. Retrieved March 20, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Great roles actors have turned down". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  9. ^ "American History X". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 23, 2009. 
  10. ^ "American History X Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  11. ^ Siskel, Gene (October 30, 1998). "A Shocking Film About Racial Hate". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  12. ^ McCarthy, Todd (October 22, 1998). "American History X". Variety. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (October 28, 1998). "'American History X': The Darkest Chambers of a Nation's Soul". The New York Times. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 30, 1998). "American History X". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on September 12, 2004. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  15. ^ LaSalle, Mick (October 30, 1998). "Neo-Nazi With a Conscience / Norton shines, but `History' disappoints". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  16. ^ Hunter, Stephen (October 30, 1998). "'American History X'". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  17. ^ AFI's 100 Years ...100 Cheers Nominees
  18. ^ Total Film (December 11, 2008). "150 Greatest Movie Performances of All Time". Total Film. Retrieved August 11, 2014. 
  19. ^ De Semlyen, Phil (February 27, 2014). "22 Incredibly Shocking Oscars Injustices". Empire. Retrieved August 11, 2014. 
  20. ^ "71st Academy Awards Winners". Academy Awards. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  21. ^ Tribune staff (January 19, 1999). "Chicago Film Critics Name Their Favorites". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  22. ^ "1999, 5th Annual Awards". Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  23. ^ J. Olson, Eric (February 22, 1999). "Sound editors shout Golden Reel noms". Variety. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  24. ^ "1999 Awards". International Press Academy. Archived from the original on February 11, 2001. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  25. ^ "1998 Awards (2nd Annual)". Online Film Critics Society. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Previous Award Winners". Political Film Society. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  27. ^ J. Olson, Eric (March 8, 1999). "Out of this world". Variety. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  28. ^ "1998 SEFCA Best Films of the Year". Southeastern Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on June 13, 2004. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  29. ^ Rooney, David (August 3, 1999). "U.S. pix help revive Italy’s Taormina fest". Variety. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  30. ^ "20th Annual Awards". Young Artist Award. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Frauley, Jon (2010). "Subculture and American History X". Criminology, Deviance, and the Silver Screen: The Fictional Reality and the Criminological Imagination. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-61516-8. 

External links[edit]