Sunday, January 06, 2008

Beverly Hills Cop and Framing Blackness

Axel Foley of Beverly Hills Cop is the epitome of what audiences want to see in a funny, goofy cop movie: a low class, street smart, wise cracking cop thrown into a new territory to fend for himself and create mischief, saving the day along the way. The fact that he is a black man, who is overcoming his status as an outsider in the predominately white-populated aristocracy of Beverly Hills, is satisfying for both black and white audience members. The film shows us a black man who is never out of his comfort zone, speaks out and loudly to get what he wants, and laughs at himself and the idiocy of his two BHDP tailers, Taggart and Rosewood. When troublesome situations arise Axel has much to say about his blackness, using it to reinforce his status as an outsider in the town (getting a room and a low rate) but also as an reason for his brazen actions and his easygoing nature (comment about what brothers know to the new 2 cops who come to tail him). As the lead character, Axel demonstrates a domination over white oppression in everything he does, continuously disobeying the orders of the lieutenant and the wishes of his sidekick cops to get what he wants, revenge against his friend's killers. Along the way Axel teaches the two cops how to let loose, live a little and how to spot suspicious crooks. The film certainly has the tack record of being a 'buddy cop film' but in the end the cops form a rather flimsy bond over their adventures, not necessarily giving the film the potential for another to be rivaled as equal to the wiles of Axel Foley. The film's blatant waving of race in our faces is what makes the film both entertaining yet distressing, considering how far we have come since the history of film began. By the way, electronic synthesizers should be in every cop film, it certainly makes you take them more seriously :)

Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon is the perfect example of everything Neal King wrote about in his book Heroes in Hard Times. Although Danny Glover’s character, Sergeant Roger Murtaugh, and Mel Gibson’s character, Sergeant Martin Riggs, have live different lives the main point is basically the same. Murtaugh is a family man with three loving children, a beautiful wife, and a happy home. They don’t live an extravagant life but they all seem very content with their blue collar life still. Riggs on the other hand lives in a trailer on the beach with his dog. He drinks and smokes a lot and has been suicidal every since his wife died. In the eyes of the world, both men are under the radar and would seem like two random middle to lower class men. They almost seem to live two different lives because when they’re at work as detectives they become heroic, crime fighters who take on the world. For instance, the criminals steal Murtaugh’s daughter and the two detectives are also captured during their attempt to rescue her. Both men are then intensely tortured in an effort to uncover how much each man knows. Although they are both being brutally battered neither one of these two “normal” men talk. Even though Murtaugh is no longer a young man, he’s still able to defeat the bad guys miraculously along side Riggs, who is probably twenty years younger. This stereotype is the exact point that King is trying to make and the police officer role is continuously portrayed this way.

Beverly Hills Cop

In Ed Guerrero’s book Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film, he focuses on the ongoing black stereotype in the cinema today. All though progress has been made towards removing racism, the drug-pushing, unemployed, criminal black character is unfortunately still commonly seen. In the movie Beverly Hills Cop this idea is seen in Eddie Murphy’s role as Detective Axel Foley. From the start of the film Murphy goes undercover as a criminal trying to illegally sell cigarettes and to accurately play the part he uses improper grammar and tries to make himself seem dumb. Although Murphy’s character, Axel Foley’s, real demeanor is actually a very quick witted and knowledgeable police officer, he is repeatedly seen through out the movie, what seems almost sarcastically, playing the exact opposite person. Such scenes as when Foley first arrives at The Palms Hotel and he pulls up in his old ratty car and his only luggage is a dirty old bag while in the background you can see he is surrounded by beautiful rich people. Using only his own wit and intuition Foley solves the murder of his friend, but instead of ending the film with Foley leaving heroically he instead makes a comment about how he stole three bathrobes from the hotel and is then escorted out of of Beverly Hills by the cops. After seeing this movie is was very easy to see why Guerro chose to discuss it in his book. Murphy’s character is everything that Guerro’s describes and it is not an uncommon role to be seen today.

Lethal Beverly Hills Blackness

Lethal Weapon

King’s Book Heroes in Hard Times , analyzes Lethal Weapon in comparison to a few other viewpoints. He points out the oppositions views that Lethal Weapon does not portray the black man as taking a submissive role and that both characters have leading qualities. However the undertones of the film is what King focuses on and instead believes that Lethal Weapon indeed portrays the black man as being submissive and incapable of taking on an empowering role. The final fight scene in the film deals with the albino man who both Gibson and Glover have personal issues with. The scene then turns into a situation between just Gibson and the albino in a brawl for white domination. Glover becomes a bystander. All past action and effort to be seen as heroic is forgotten as he stands aside not fighting a battle that is very much his own. It allows black men to be seen as incapable and sub par in comparison to the white male sidekick. I do think that throughout the movie Glover’s character, as a black man, was a substantial role. He was at an important part of his life (just turning 50), he had a family, children, a career. His juxtaposition to Gibson’s character having to deal with being widowed and unstable is what made this cop movie so interesting.

Beverly Hills Cop

Ed Guerrero’s Framing Blackness draws attention to how African Americans are portrayed and stereotyped in films. Cop films especially allow a black character to be highlighted when put next to a white sidekick or “buddy”. Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop stood out because he was a black male in a predominately white environment. This situation empowered him and allowed for his talents to shine through and be seen as different and effective because they stood out from the actions of all of the other white cops. While Eddie Murphy’s race isn’t the focus of the film it is a noticeable thing that effects how many of the scenes are interpreted. He is brash, doesn’t listen to the commands of others, follows his intuition, and is humourous yet intelligent throughout. His character differs greatly from that portrayed by Glover in Lethal Weapon. However Ed Guerrero’s thoughts about the framing of their blackness applies to each film.

Beverly Hills Cop

In the Beverly Hills Cop series, Axel Foley’s blackness is dealt with in multiple ways, which is described in Ed Guerrero’s book Framing Blackness. Eddie Murphy’s character, Axel, was part of the common “Sidney Poiter syndrome” where he was “a good boy in a totally white world, with no wife, no sweetheart, no woman to love or kiss, helping the white man solve the white man’s problem.” His character is also portrayed as a stereotypical African-American city man from Detroit with street skills (not all lawful) and a loud and overwhelming personality, such as pick-pocketing, breaking into door locks, tricking window alarms, constant cursing and loud jokes and laughter. The “black culture” is completely embodied within his one persona and actions. The only other time you see another black cop is when he is in Detroit and speaking with his boss or encounters service help such as a food server at the hotel or valet parker at the Playboy House. Placing Axel in an almost completely white community allowed the movies to reach and appeal to a wider audience. These films were the exception to the usual scene of a black star with a white “buddy” to ensure its box office. His “blackness” is also dealt with by following the audience’s desire to watch the black star in a comical role. Eddie Murphy definitely fills this role with his Axel persona, either by constantly fooling criminals in creative ways or playing tricks on the Beverly Hills cops that he works with.

Lethal Weapon

For the first half of the book, I tend to agree with Neal King’s analysis of biracial buddy cop films relating to the Lethal Weapon series. Mel Gibson, also known as Martin, plays the “hero” as is portrayed as King describes: “hard-bitten, alienated, and pissed off at just about everybody.” Whereas his “sidekick”, Roger, enjoys “happiness and a stable home life” and is a model employee who considers “the safety of others, follows the rules…” There is a constant tug-of-war between the actions of Roger and Martin, where Roger is constantly having to try to catch up to Martin and Martin constantly encourages Roger to break the rules and to do whatever needs to get done to get the “bad guys.” King also talks about lost ground – “real men do work that is both devalued and difficult but vital to a sick world’s survival.” Both Roger and Martin are part of the lost ground; they are cops in a city that does not look highly upon them and does not pay well, but they are needed in order to keep the peace. They feel that management is simply in the way of keeping the corruption in check.
When it comes to the other half of the book, though, when Neal discusses the homoeroticism of the obscenities and language of the cops with each other and criminals and with the male bonding between the two cops, I disagree. Claiming that the line between “straight” and “queer” I think is taking it to a completely different level. Yes that could be one way of viewing their male bonding, simply because “they spend nearly all of their physically intimate time, groping and spurting blood and spit, with men.” I don’t understand why it can’t simply be more of a brother feeling – looking out for each other’s backs and feeling like the other is family. I think that type of relationship is important in the Lethal Weapon movies since Martin lacks a family and struggles with the loss of his wife, while his partner has everything he wishes he had. The way they describe their guns “That’s some piece of hardware you got there”) and talk about hunting down criminals I view as the vulgar language a city male gains from growing up in the area.

Lethal Weapon

Sgt. Murtaugh (Glover) turns 50 on the beginning of the movie, only to be placed with a unbalanced widowed cop named Sgt. Riggs (Gibson). The movie is not merely “good cop/bad cop”, but it suggests that people are able to get past their differences and are able to work together as a team. Fighting crime is the basis of this movie, and, once again, a “by the book” Murtaugh is paired with a crazy, unstable, unconventional Riggs, who is risking his life in most occasions because of the grief from his lost wife. As Danny mentions, Riggs is consumed by guilt and trys to drink away his feelings and even goes to extraordinary lengths, and risks, to complete his part of being an officer. He is exactly what King describes as an example of white male guilt; someone who is selfish, and willing to risk others for themselves.

Where as Riggs is a single, lonely man, Murtaugh is the near opposite. He is a married man with a wife and children, a house, and even a boat. He is looking forward to retirement, and believes that Riggs is not as crazy as he makes out to be—though he is. Murtaugh is able to balance his life at home and his life at work, something that Riggs has immense difficulty doing.

Eventually, though the length of the movie, the characters begin to understand each other better, and is consummated when both Riggs and Murtaugh kill Mr. Joshua. Both care enough about the other to kill Joshua when either is threatened with the possibility of death.

So Different, yet so Similar.

Lethal Weapon deals with a lot what King talks about in Heroes in Hard Times. Everything from the conflict between the characters, the destruction of an oppressive upper class villain and even the troubled and hard past of a one of the characters is in this movie. Riggs, who was played by Mel Gibson, has had a troubled past that was the cornerstone of his character. Riggs, because of his wife’s death, is crazy and has to find a reason to live every morning. He is different from Murtaugh, who has his family to live for and there for it is both a reason for him to live and a weakness at the same time. At first, what fun is two cops that instantly get along? The fact that it takes Murtaugh and Riggs some time to get along is essential to the Buddy Cop genre. Riggs is the single, good looking, rugged American gritty cop who lives alone in his trailer, while Murtaugh is the family man who has everything to live for. Murtaugh often gets fed up with Riggs’ recklessness, because Murtaugh knows he has a family to care for. Riggs has no family and now no wife, so he is often on the edge, not caring whether he lives or dies. So these two contrasting in personality, but similar in class role, must team up and destroy and evil mercenary and a rouge rich white General.

Beverly Hills Cop

When watching "Beverly Hills Cop", Foley's blackness is dealt with by stereotyping him as an average policeman from Detroit, whose methods are vied as unorthodox by the BHPD. He is, however, not the stereotypical cop. Examples of this are shown when he takes down “Philip” in the strip club, to when he goes to the warehouse and finds the cocaine in the customs office, or when he uses the lawyers computer and falsely blackmails him with unpaid parking tickets. Foley is viewed down by the BHPD, not because he is a policeman from Detroit, but because he stands out in the peaceful Beverly Hills area, where as in Detroit, he is just another black cop.

Foley’s “partners” at the BHPD are supposed to be following Axel, even tailing him to his hotel, to insure that he does nothing and stays out of trouble. He is even threatened several times of being thrown out of the city. Billy eventually begins to see that going “by the book” is not always the best method, and towards the end, uses his intuition when he and Axel break into the mansion to save Jenny Summers. Taggart resists, threatening to arrest both of them, but eventually goes with them to take down Maitland.

It is not so much the color of his skin that makes Foley stand out, but what he does. He laughs at himself, and the scenario that he is put in, while at the same time doing what he should as an officer and following leads. There is not a real clash between black and white, but a joint effort on both Foley and Rosewood/Taggart’s part to work together, meanwhile setting race aside and being professionals.

Lethal Weapon and Heros in Hard Time

Lethal Weapon is a story of two very different cops who are forced to work together to solve a murder mystery, which leads to a huge drug bust with a shoot them up ending. Mel Gibson’s character, Griggs, is the example of a hero in hard times. He is the type of cop that King describes throughout his book. Griggs’s dangerous profession has cost him his beautiful wife, making him borderline suicidal, and a crazier cop then he has ever been before. Yet this job that has driven his life in this direction is also the reason why he cannot actually go through the act of killing himself. He knows that the job is the only thing that he is good at.

The other hero in the movie played by Danny Glover is Mel Gibson’s partner. He is a cop who has everything, a beautiful family, big suburban house and a job that he loves. Yet he is a much different type of cop then his partner. He wants to catch every criminal, but not kill them. This is true until the enemy brings his family into the picture. This is when he becomes as bad as his partner.
The idea of race in this film is much less obvious then in Beverly Hills Cop, there can be many interpretations on whether it is a buddy film or not. For the most part Danny Glover is Mel Gibson’s black sidekick. It is made clear that Gibson is the star cop between the two. Yet both the black cop and the white cop do have a purpose. Gibson does help Glover out in the racist world that they live in by helping to save his family at ever chance that he is given. Glover uses his resources of being a family man to help Gibson recover from the loss of his wife. Although racism still exists in the film, when these two different people came together and ended up saving them both.

Beverly Hills Cop and Framing Blackness

I had never seen the movie Beverly Hills Cop until this assignment. After finishing the book Framing Blackness it made me pick up on things in the movie that I would have never caught on to before. African Americans have been dealing with race and film for decades. It has been a constant struggle because the film industry has portrayed white superiority on the big screen for years. For black actors this is how their “blackness” becomes framed, because they are forced to fit into white ideology.
Eddie Murphy is one of the greatest African American comedians, especially during the 1980’s. Yet during this time films were reluctant to cast black actors unless they had a white “buddy”. This gives them a loyal sidekick, a person that a white audience could relate to and kept the idea of racial hierarchies. Beverly Hills Cop is considered part of the biracial buddy films because Eddie Murphy is isolated as the only black man in an all white environment. The movie did very well, making millions of dollars in the box office and although it is a buddy film, Eddie Murphy was able to shine through as the true star. The white cops of Beverly Hills who surround him just become props for the jokes and gags that Murphy pulls on them.
Murphy is the street smart cop from Detroit, who doesn’t follow the rules, but is a great cop. While doing undercover work in Beverly Hills, to solve a murder, Murphy doesn’t even think to change his look to fit in to the fancy hotels, offices and privet clubs. Instead he uses the racial and class tension to crash these places, while always managing to have the upper hand in the situation. The racial tensions in the film are obvious and this is a prime example of a buddy film.

Beverly Hills Cop and Framing Blackness

“Beverly Hills Cop” and “Framing Blackness”

Axel Foley is anything other than what would be considered the “prototypical” cop. Rather than going by the book, he goes in the complete opposite direction. Foley uses his instincts, like the scene in the strip club for example, rather than following the instructions or commands of the people above him. When Foley leaves his hometown of Detroit, to visit the largely white area of Beverley Hills, his differences become very apparent. He not only stands out because of the color of his skin, but also because of the way he talks, dresses, the car he drives and the way he acts. The movie does not focus on his blackness, or create black jokes, except for one scene that stands out to me: while trying to get a room at a nice hotel, he tries to use his race as an issue by shouting that “no n*ggers are allowed” in this place.
Guerrero talks about how when one black actor is cast with a predominantly white cast, the film portrays this one black person as the stereotype for all black people. This is largely the case in “Beverly Hills Cop”, in that Foley is the only black character who receives any significant screen time throughout the movie. The script of the movie does not spend a significant amount of time pointing out the he is the lone black man, but because of the events which take place, this movie could be viewed as framing black men as people who, whether with good or bad intentions, go against the rules and customs of the area which they are in, in order to maintain their identity and uniqueness.

Heroes in Hard Times and Lethal Weapon

“Heroes in Hard Times” and “Lethal Weapon”

Danny Glover (Murtaugh) and Mel Gibson (Riggs) paint the very picture which King talks about as the typical buddy cops. When the two first meet, they don’t get along too well, and the established cop, Murtaugh, wants no part of the new kid, Riggs. As the movie progresses, so does the cop’s relationship with one another. They disagree with each other’s tactics, yet are willing to fight for each other’s life and put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect the other. They also fall into the cliché that one cop has a good, mostly happy life and the other is a complete mess away from the job, with no family, little money and being borderline suicidal. This seems to be the case in 99% of cop movies.
Mel Gibson’s character seems to characterize the “bitterness, and sense of oppressions” the King talks about in the chapter about the white males guilt. Riggs is very guilty about the death of his wife and considers suicide at several points in the movie. He is unafraid to die, and therefore takes risks in order to help people that most other cops would not consider. He also tries to drown out his problems by drinking and smoking and paying hookers to watch tv with him to alleviate his loneliness. These qualities seem to make Riggs more effective on the force, yet eat him up inside because of the guilt which haunts him constantly.

From Drama to comedy, complements of Mr. Foley.

Eddie Murphy, in the eighties was easily the most popular comedic actor of the decade. With amazing films such as Coming to America, Trading Places, and of course, Beverly Hills Cop, it was no wonder that he was able to achieve such stardom. Originally cast for Stallone, Beverly Hills Cop was supposed to be more of an action flick. Instead Murphy in his role of Axel Foley depicts a very confident black man who doesn't have to push his race or fall into any specific stereotype to become a popular movie character. The film grossed quite a bit, more so than Murphy's other movie with mostly black casts (Guerrero 129). Still Murphy was able to create in Axel Foley a character who was, highly intelligent, amazingly clever, and very passionate about his job as a police officer. He is often able to be confidently black in such locations where blacks were not commonly accepted. Axel Foley is cleverly able to procure a suite room at a single room price in an upscale Beverly Hills Hotel, by pulling the race card. It is far from a Blaxploitation flick as Eddie Murphy’s blackness, and the black community itself, is not the focus of the movie. The Movie’s focus is more on the background and location difference. For example, it is not because Foley is black that he doesn’t play by the book, it is because of what he has to deal with being a Detroit cop that forces him to not play by the rules. Even though Foley was often reprimanded by his superior officer for his recklessness, he was sometimes rewarded in Detroit for his recklessness, because he was given complements for being a fine young detective. The movie does not focus on Axel Foley trying to stop the white man, and his oppression. It is more about working class cops working together to bring down the rich oppressor, by means that are not always by the book, as the white cops in Beverly Hills have trouble understanding at first. The black jokes are kept to a minimum in the movie, taking the focus away from Foley’s blackness and keeping the focus on uniting of similar interests instead of the uniting of races.