Ian Crow’s Film Masterclass #3 – American History X (1998)

Welcome! My Film Masterclass took a little break due to my busy schedule, but its back with another new addition to my Film Masterclass collection! My third entry is 1998’s ‘American History X’ starring Edward Norton and Edward Furlong. Gaining an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, Edward Norton played Derek Vinyard, a troubled adult who experienced the murder of his father by Black-Americans and then followed the wrong path towards the movement of the Neo-Nazi’s. Gaining 30 pounds and shaving his head for the role, this is my favourite Edward Norton performance in his career and personally since then, hasn’t hit the heights of his previous performances back in the 1990’s. The most interesting talking point of ‘American History X’ is the final product of the film; director Tony Kaye turned in his cut of the film to then be told that it had to be cut by New Line Cinema and then subsequently told to cut again and then once again, the third and final cut of the film was released and is the ‘American History X’ that we know and love.

Director Tony Kaye detests the final cut of the film and has asked for years for his name to be removed from the credits of the film as Edward Norton and film editor Jerry Greenberg were the people behind the final cut of the film. That’s the interesting talking point of the film; would the original cut be loved even more than the eventual cut that the director hated? I actually think this is a rare case of a film being completely disowned and cut to pieces and actually turning out to be a success; okay, it wasn’t necessarily a box-office success, but it gained an Academy Award nomination and critical acclaim for the film and Edward Norton’s performance.

‘American History X’ is one of the great films of the 90’s and is regularly missed out on people’s best films of the 90’s. It’s a masterpiece in my opinion, and there isn’t a tripping point throughout the film. The direction is sublime with the clever use of black and white during the flashback periods, not only that, but the actual camerawork of the crew is superb too. Watching the film, you fall deep within the core of the plot and the characters. You are the third person in the room, you have the camera in your face, and that is hugely effective especially in films of these genres.

The film provides us with unforgettable moments, including the horrific but memorable scene when the African American is forced to bite the curb by Edward Norton’s character; you feel the grit of the teeth on the curb and the stomp on the head. Even thinking about it right now is making me cringe but it’s something that you remember and that’s the power of the film. ‘American History X’ captivates and forces you to watch the events unfold in dramatic fashion.

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