Film Review

Overlooked, ahead of its time and incredibly important: Ash Baron Cohen’s Bang

What if an ordinary everyday citizen, in this case a woman of colour, found themselves in the role of a police officer for one day, through an extraordinary set of circumstances? Bang is a staggeringly good guerrilla indie film from the mid 90’s that is not only criminally under seen, it feels a hundred times more relevant and important than it already was back then. Filmed off the cuff on about the lowest budget one can have for a feature and without permits or proper sanctions with locations all over LA, it’s a scrappy passion project that contains the sort of class/race and gender commentary, character work, quirky humour and subversive social introspection of a cult classic that has yet to find the audience it deserves, even almost twenty years after its release. Japanese American actress Darling Narita plays an aspiring actress who has fallen on some very hard times. The morning we meet her she’s evicted from her apartment, sexually assaulted by a nasty film producer who tries to take advantage of her at an audition and arrested by a motorcycle cop for something she didn’t do. After the cop tries to assault her as well she grabs his gun, turns it on him, steals his uniform and his bike and wanders around LA in the guise of the law, not as some kind of vindictive crusade but more because she really didn’t know what else to do in that situation, and one thing leads to another after she is simply pushed too far. Her perspective behind the badge reflects how many different factions of society view the police ranging from reverence to fear to abject hatred, and as the day gets longer, stranger, funnier and sadder we somehow cultivate steadfast belief that this station could really be playing out somewhere, helped by the candid, immersive and often heavily improvised nature of the script and a beautifully compiled soundtrack of reggae and ska music. Narita is wonderful in the role and I’m sad she didn’t go on to do much more. She makes this girl angry, scared, vulnerable, empowered, complex and somehow so self assured yet so utterly lost in the space of one day’s time. The great character actor Peter Greene stars alongside her as a hopelessly loopy homeless man who is her friend, companion and sidekick. Greene usually plays villains as a rule and is way against type here as a manic oddball who also has a tragic history with the police and an affecting backstory, the two make a mismatched but perfect pair to share these wild misadventures and together they encounter all sorts of people including other cops, drug dealers, vatos and a prostitute played by a very young Lucy Liu. This is an important film in many regards, it’s not only an exciting, brilliantly acted piece of gonzo filmmaking with a beating heart and something to say, it’s an arresting and incendiary indictment of power dynamics including and up to the relationship between cops and civilians but extends further into the exploitative and abusive nature of Hollywood and inherent sexism within that industry and society itself, the marginalization and neglect of lower class communities overall, the way mentally ill people (Greene’s brain damaged character ducks stereotype and becomes something *real*) are tossed to the wayside and dehumanized and how one woman uses what she’s confronted to fight back for herself and others who need help and attention, even if it’s just for one day. These are heavy, difficult and multitudinous themes for one zero budget guerrilla indie film to tackle but it has been proved time and time again that you don’t need millions of dollars and shiny effects to tell and important and lasting story, all you need is the story itself, and those willing to tell it well. Director Ash, stars Narita, Greene and the whole cast and anyone who crewed this no doubt challenging, at times illegal production should be very proud because the result is something emotionally and philosophically galvanizing, strikingly ahead of its time and altogether remarkable. Available here and there on DVD, and hopefully streaming at some point soon, I’d love to spread as much awareness and exposure to this wonderful film as I can with the resources and network I have.

-Nate Hill

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