Five Titles That Changed My Life: Todd Robinson

Public Enemy It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back — I got this album when I about 15 years old, at a time where most hip-hop available to me was radio-friendly dance fare along the lines of Fresh Prince or Rob Base.

The first thing that struck me about the album was the ferocity behind the sounds produced by both Chuck D’s voice and Terminator X’s turntables. Keep in mind; I was a white boy in a Massachusetts town that had a mostly Portuguese population. I had little-to-no education about black culture outside of public school Social Studies classes. And that education consisted of:

 

A) There was slavery, which was bad.

B) Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.

C) Things still weren’t great, but then Martin Luther King came along.

D) And now everything was fine!

 

I remember listening to the anger in Public Enemy’s lyrics and thinking: “Holy shit! Black people are still really, really pissed off! And it sounds like they have every reason to BE pissed off!”

What I learned from that album was to not only question the simplicities of what I’d been taught in school, but that there was a greater world outside of my hometown and experiences.

The Godfather — I think I was around 12 years old when I saw The Godfather for the first time. I was home from school with a horrible case of poison ivy, and my Dad would rent me a couple of movies every day to keep me from going stir crazy. I’m pretty sure that The Godfather was the first adult drama I’d ever seen. What more do I have to say? It’s The Godfather. If you haven’t seen it and don’t know why it’s here, no more needs to be said, and YOU sure as hell don’t belong reading Crimespree.

Stephen King Night Shift — I was 13 years old when I was given this book from a family friend (thanks, Donna Durand!). In my memory, it was the first full-on grownup book I’d ever read. I’d always been a voracious reader, but this collection of King’s short stories really brought to my attention just how the power of words can manipulate our emotions.

I’ll never forget the stormy afternoon I spent on my father’s porch reading ”Strawberry Spring,” a story about a killer who preyed on a college campus whenever it rained fell during an unusually warm Fall. As I read the story, through the sounds of the rain falling around me, I heard tentative footsteps coming up the steps behind me.

Coming closer.

Through my terror, I turned to find Brandy, our neighbor’s rain-soaked German Shepherd, bashfully taking shelter from the storm on our porch.

I may or may not have peed myself a little.

I ain’t tellin’.

Elmore Leonard Glitz — This was the first crime fiction novel I ever read. I don’t remember where I got it, but I was around 23 years old. Changed the course of my life…literally. Much like The Godfather put human faces and understandable motivations to criminal characters in ways I hadn’t seen before, there was still an elevation of nobility and glamorization to the Corleones. Leonard made criminals into the desperate, ugly, and…lets face it… sometimes-not-too-bright characters you knew—that I knew—at street level, in my everyday life. The dialogue read as though transcripted from people sitting next to you at the bar. To this day, nobody does it better than Elmore Leonard. One of my proudest moments was getting to meet the man when he was signing Mr. Paradise at Coliseum Books. I handed him a copy of the magazine that published my first short story and told him that it only existed because of his books. I hope he read it. I hope he didn’t think it was shit.

Chan-Wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy — Okay, I’m cheating here a little bit. This is actually three films: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance. The directorial and character arcs of these films are so brilliant, so subtle… I’ve been raving like a lunatic about these films for almost a decade now. Each one made me re-think what I thought I knew about storytelling as a whole. The films themselves are linked only through their explorations of vengeance as a theme, and actors playing different roles in different films.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is just a straight-up noir tale. What makes this story unique, is that there’s no true villain amongst the main characters that find themselves pitted against one another. There are villains, but they’re part of the deux ex machina that sets the main characters on a collision course.

Oldboy tales a slightly more surreal tone, with much of the POV stemming from a man who is fairly bugshit insane. There’s a villain, but his motivations, when revealed, are brilliant, creepily relatable, and fuuuuuucked-up.

Lady Vengeance takes the directorial evolution one step further, with a nearly unreal fairy-tale tone, complete with gentle narration and an air of the magical amongst the almost unimaginable horrors committed. This is the one film in the trilogy that features a true evil. And I mean…

True.

Effing.

Evil.

There are still scenes in this film that haunt me, that hurt my soul to watch.

And it’s the funniest of the three. Figure that one out.

One at a time, each movie is as genius as cinema gets. Together? Absolute masterpiece works of filmmaking.

Todd Robinson (aka Big Daddy Thug) is the creator and chief editor of the multiaward-winning crime fiction magazine THUGLIT and author of THE HARD BOUNCE, available at all fine online book sources and outstanding stores everywhere. His short fiction has appeared in Blood & Tacos; Plots with Guns; Needle Magazine; Shotgun Honey; Strange, Weird, and Wonderful Magazine; Out of the Gutter; Pulp Pusher; Grift; Demolition Magazine; and CrimeFactory. His writing has been nominated for a Derringer Award, short-listed for Best American Mystery Stories, selected for Writer’s Digest’s Year’s Best Writing 2003, and won the inaugural Bullet Award in June 2011. Check out Thuglit, stalk him on Twitter and do the Facebook thing.