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Lingvistov Films in English: American History X (1998)

American History X is a deeply disturbing and brutally violent film about the white skin head movement in contemporary United States culture.

Directed by: Tony Kaye
Writer credits: David McKenna

Cast: Edward Norton (Derek Vinyard), Edward Furlong  (Danny Vinyard), Beverly D'Angelo (Doris Vinyard), Avery Brooks (Dr. Bob Sweeney), Jennifer Lien (Davina  Vinyard), Ethan Suplee (Seth Ryan) , Stacy Keach (Cameron Alexander), Fairuza Balk (Stacie), Elliott Gould (Murray), Guy Torry (Lamont), William Russ (Dennis Vinyard), Joseph Cortese, Jason Bose Smith, Antonio David Lyons, Alex Sol

Genre: Crime, Drama

Some films offer us a view of real life which makes us smile to ourselves as we view ourselves in this reflection. However, some films have the power to hold a mirror to the viewer’s soul and make them look far beyond their lives, and examine their own morals and belief systems. Tony Kaye’s "American History X" is such a film. "American History X" tells the story of Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton), a hate-filled skinhead from Venice Beach, California, who lives in a world of white supremacists. The film opens with Derek murdering two African-American men who were attempting to steal his truck. Quickly, the film then shifts its focus to Derek’s younger brother, Danny (Edward Furlong). Danny, who is essentially the narrator of the film, is following in his brother’s footsteps, by being drawn into this world of white supremacy. Through flashbacks (all of which are shot in glorious black-and-white), Danny tells us the story of what really happened the night of the murders and essays, how Derek grew from a well-adjusted teenager to a hate-monger. As we learn more about Derek, we begin to see what a monster he truly is. When Derek is finally released from prison, he must start a new life where he has to confront his own personal demons, and attempt to save Danny from becoming a victim of hate, just as he did."American History X" is one of the most powerful and thought-provoking films that I’ve seen in years. First-time director Tony Kaye  has crafted a beautiful motion picture, full of strong images and symbolism. Kaye’s use of black-and-white in the flashbacks gives the film a documentary feel and makes the images seem more lifelike. Kaye also makes good use of slow-motion footage, and scenes with no dialogue to convey a heightened sense of emotion.

Besides a powerful story and excellent direction, "American History X" also boasts a great cast. It’s easy to see why Edward Norton was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in this film. His transformation from normal teenager to charismatic racist, is impressive enough, but the sense of hate that he is able to give with just a facial expression is even more awe-inspiring. On the surface, Edward Furlong seems to be playing his usual punk kid role, but he too brings a certain depth and humanity to the part of younger brother Danny.

I. Recall the situations the conversations were uttered in:

Doris Vinyard: I'm ashamed that you came out of my body.


Bob Sweeney: There was a moment... when I used to blame everything and everyone... for all the pain and suffering and vile things that happened to me, that I saw happen to my people. Used to blame everybody. Blamed white people, blamed society, blamed God. I didn't get no answers 'cause I was asking the wrong questions. You have to ask the right questions.
Derek Vinyard: Like what?
Bob Sweeney: Has anything you've done made your life better?


Derek: Weed is for niggers. Put that away right now, have a little self-respect.


Reporter: Look I know this is tough. But how do you feel right now?
Derek Vinyard: How do you think I feel? I think it's typical.
Reporter: Typical how?
Derek Vinyard: Well, this country is becoming a heaven for criminals so what do you expect? You know, decent hard-working Americans like my dad are getting rubbed out by social parasites.
Reporter: Parasites?
Derek Vinyard: Blacks, Browns, Yellow whatever.
Reporter: I don't understand you're saying that you think maybe your father's murder was race related?
Derek Vinyard: Yeah it's race related! Every problem in this country is race related not just crime. It's like... immigration, AIDS, welfare those are problems in them. The Black community, the Hispanic community, the Asian community, they're not white problems.
Reporter: Derek, are those really issues that deal with poverty?
Derek Vinyard: No. You know, no. They're not products of the environment either that's crap. Minorities don't give two shits about this country, they've come here to exploit it not to embrace it.
Reporter: What does this...
Derek Vinyard: I mean millions of white European Americans came here and flourished you know within a generation so what the fuck is the matter with these jewlates going around shooting a... fireman?
Reporter: What does this have to do with the murder of your father?
Derek Vinyard: Because my father was murdered doing his job! Putting out a fire in f**king Nigger neighborhood. He shouldn't be giving a sh*t about. He got shot by a f**king drug dealer who probably still collects a welfare check!


Lamont: I'm the most dangerous man in this prison. You know why? 'Cause I control the underwear.


Danny Vinyard: I believe in death, destruction, chaos, filth, and greed.


Danny Vinyard: I'm sorry, Derek. I'm sorry that happened to you.
Derek Vinyard: I'm not. I'm lucky. I feel lucky because it's wrong, Danny. It's wrong and it was eating me up, it was going to kill me. And I kept asking myself all the time, how did I buy into this sh*t? It was because I was pissed off, and nothing I ever did ever took that feeling away. I killed two guys, Danny, I killed them. And it didn't make me feel any different. It just got me more lost and I'm tired of being pissed off, Danny. I'm just tired of it.


Lamont: Just remember, in here, you the nigga. Not me.


Bob Sweeney: I think the street would kill you. Your rhetoric and your propaganda aren't gonna save you out there.


Derek Vinyard: Alright listen up, we need to open our eyes. There's over two million illegal immigrants bending down in this state tonight. This state spend three billion dollars last year on services, on people who had no right to be here in the first place. Three billion dollars. 400 million just to lock up a bunch of illegal immigrant criminals who only got in this country because the f**king INS decided it's not worth the effort to screen for convicted felons.


Murray: He's gone.
Doris Vinyard: He's just a boy... without a father.


~ People look at me and see my brother.~ Daniel Vinyard


Danny Vinyard: Hate is baggage. Life's too short to be pissed off all the time.

II. Speak on the following:

1) Where is the scene laid? Who are the main characters of the film?
2) What are relationships between the main heroes?
3) Which main themes are raised in the film? Dwell on some of them.
4) How and under which circumstances does Derek change his mind about his neo-Nazi beliefs? What`s his brother`s reaction to it?
5) How are people of color portrayed in this movie? Were there any positive roles for people of color?
6) Who do you relate to in this movie? Why? How does that make you feel?
7) What do you think of the ending of the movie?

III. Look through the comments on the film. Refuse or support the idea expressed:

“…what a powerful film. It was very real portrayal of neo Nazis and was sad but so true. I knew it was too late for there to be an actual happy ending so although it was disappointing it just added to the reality of it all. Edward Norton delivers perfectly once again. Fairuza Balk had a small role but was excellent as well. A Must See Film! This Tony Kaye film is an EYE-OPENER. One of the best social-realist films...EVER! By the way, Ed Norton was a brilliant actor!”

 “July 30, 1999. American History X left me speechless for quite some time, but it also kept me restless. I believe there is no one message that can be picked out from the movie as there are no two people who think alike. The movie does not try to feed us a "right answer" which is a fresh and mature dealing with such an issue such as racism. During the watching of the film I found myself Identifying with both sides, I wanted to see Derek get punished but I also sensed that he is not the only one guilty in the situation, also the film doesn’t look for the guilty. This is not about which kind of 'skinhead' you are, this is about what kind of a human being you are. I also believe this movie should be learned and discussed in every school in America and in the world. The letter R rating this movie has failed to make the difference between Education and Entertainment - the violence in this movie is not bad influence on children, it is a necessary tool to show that every one bleeds. I hope everyone doesn't sleep well after watching this movie. I hope everyone who watches the movie can also feel it. I hope one day hate will be a word in the dictionary. I hope.”

“…I watched the film expecting something powerful and thought provoking but with the exception of some very hard scenes indeed, the story was predictable. It's true that Edward Norton gives a superb performance as a skinhead Nazi admirer and there are some arguments pro and against racism in the US, but the film didn't impress me. I found it too much 2-dimensional, with no adequate depth. I'm afraid that very soon we will see a "European History X" version, if the confrontation of civilizations continues on its current path.”

 “The story is poor. The dialogue is poor. I actually pity the actors. Its not really their fault. I mean, they were given such terrible lines, they really had nothing to work with. One of the biggest failures of the movie was the transition of Norton's character from a violent racist to an open minded, loving, saint. The change was brought about so poorly in the movie that it was embarrassing to watch because it looked so artificial.”

 “American History X is one example of motion picture that can be called cinematographic art! It is absolutely not a film for those who go to the movies just for fun; it is, in fact, for those who face art as an object of reflection about our world, ourselves and our lives. Proving that some legacies must end, it is a motion picture in which the image is worth a thousand words, concerning a serious and real drama that affects not only the America but the whole world: the prejudice, one of the most irrational attitudes of the human kind. It is even better due to the remarkable performance of Edward Norton. American History X is definitely one of the best motion pictures ever produced concerning the racism legacy and one of the most powerful movies of all times! Simply unforgettable.”

IV. Choose a character to dwell on.