Christopher Sorrentino’s Death Wish is a monograph on the controversial and eponymous 1974 action movie. It stars Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, an architect turned vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter is brutally assaulted in their New York City apartment. The book is the second installment in Soft Skull’s Deep Focus series, which invites contemporary writers to examine important popular films. I recently interviewed Sorrentino about his new book via e-mail.
In the 1970s, Hollywood produced a number of superficially political, urban action films. I’m thinking of Dirty Harry, which you discuss at some length in the book, and, of course, blaxploitation cinema. What made you decide to revisit Death Wish in particular?
Sean Howe approached me with the idea of writing about a movie that hadn’t been done to death, and we batted around a list of titles and genres ranging from eighties romantic comedies to zombie movies. The most prominent one we talked about was The French Connection. I really don’t like that movie, but it did get us talking about New York on film in the seventies. Among other reasons, Death Wish appealed to me because I’ve always been fascinated by Charles Bronson—since I was a kid. I didn’t have especially high expectations for the film itself, although Death Wish ended up surprising me a lot.
When did you first see the film?
Oh, probably when I was a teenager.