Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Night Cap 1/22/12 - A question of on screen violence

Sunday night late- time for a nightcap….

I'll get to the usual Sunday night nonsense, but first I have to get my two cents in concerning an important subject that came up earlier this week.

Drew McWeeny, the former Moriarty at Ain’t it Cool, posted an non-review the other night when a rape scene in the film The Divide made him pause and ponder was it really necessary… which lead him to a bigger question of how much of the terrible things we see on screen equally necessary?

(If you haven’t read the piece yet do so. It can be found by following this link)

Drew’s piece is a challenge. The question is where do we draw the line at on screen violence? The question posed in the piece is specifically aimed at violence toward women but to my mind we should actually ask the question about ALL violence, since ultimately all violence ultimately bad no matter who its against. It’s a question that I’ve been battling with for a long time, especially since my taste in film brings me in contact with a wide range of on and off screen violence.

To me the problem is always what is the director’s intent? Do we need to see what we are seeing?

The problem seems to be that there is a need in most mainstream films the violence is there for shock value or to get the director/film noticed. I will show this terrible thing because it will get noticed or have an (easy) effect.

Most of the time I don’t think it matters to the film makers if the effect produced is good or bad so long as they are noticed. I find troubling that more and more filmmakers are trying to get noticed through nastiness rather than through talent. I do think that many filmmakers feel that in order to get attention they’ll rape one of characters, which is akin to the literary clichĂ© of having an important novel turn black in the final third or quarter in order to have a point.

Drew’s piece deals primarily with rape and he is rightly troubled by the increase of graphic rape on screen, but for me the problem is that as filmmakers push the envelope all violence is being amped up and we are getting more and more bloody, violent or even disgusting sequences in all levels films (and if you want to push things further look at the growth of gross out comedy)

However at the same time as I am troubled by the violence I have to take a step back and realize that within myself the type of film I am seeing will shape any outrage. To be perfectly honest I am more forgiving of a low budget exploitation film with no pretext of being anything other than trash, than I am of a big budget or mainstream film (on any level). Frankly the difference is simply that the exploitation producers know their limits, know what the audience is there for and stays with in certain confines (or at least we know what we are getting going in). The mainstream producers only know shock and awe brings big bucks or big publicity so they bring out the rapes and the violence in ways and at times that are unexpected and un called for to get their desired knee jerk reactions.

I can’t in good conscious compare the violence of say Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with the violence in many Women in Prison films. What the makers are shooting for, what the target audience is, are very different. That doesn’t mean that I can justify or accept the rape in Dragon Tattoo as something better than say the nastiness in Bare Behind Bars (yes it’s a real film and yes I’m going to run a review) or vice versa. All I’m saying is that there are levels, you may not want to accept that, but there are. It doesn’t make it any better, but its something we have to acknowledge exists.

Personally I have to look at what sort of film I’m looking at. Is it a balls to the wall exploitation film? If so then I’ll view it as something different. I’m way more forgiving of an exploitation film that is simply aiming to push buttons of a certain group than I am of a big budget film which is trying to be thrill ride for a general audience.

In a few weeks Unseen is going to do a week of Women in Prison films. As a rule I don’t particularly like the films. I find them stupid and badly done. They can be pretty misogynistic. However at the same time I won’t deny that some of them are good in their own twisted sort of away. Do I like the violence in them? No, but with in context it’s a form of acceptable. Of course that’s my own opinion.

On the other hand if you take a big budget film with big pretensions and you add a rape the act becomes more shocking and more out of place. In thinking about Drew’s dismantling of the rape in Dragon Tattoo I find he’s on to something. The act is there more to get a rise out of the audience the film would never otherwise get. I would also argue that the trouble with the film is not the rape- its that the filmmaker requires that we see it….and see it as graphically as possible. I do think that seeing the rape intensifies the horror and later elation at the revenge, but at the same time its a lazy cheap shot since, ultimately we didn't need to see it.

Is there any time we really need to see a rape (or other tortuous act)? I'm sure there is but I think that it all depends on contexts and intents that are way above simple button pushing or base money grabs.

If you want to see a rape in context that is both exploitative and troubling in the right way,see the one in the exploitation film Thriller: A Cruel Picture aka They Call Her One Eye. In the uncut film the rape is graphically (as in hardcore) shown.In stead of being titillating its like a punch in the gut with each thrust. In its way it out does Lisbeth’s rape as an on screen act because it upends everything we’ve seen- and we can see there is no faking. Yes this is an exploitation film where the act sets the heroine on a trail of violence, but at the same time the graphic unpleasant nature of it makes us question everything we feel after that: Yes, we understand what she's doing but we don't really need to be there. In all honesty I think the film isn't "liked" more is that the graphic act changes the game.

I understand Drew's rage at the amping up, and I understand his pledge to walk out,and frankly in thinking about myself and my film going I kind of agree with. I've been turning off and walking out of films for a while that I thought were too much. I've been doing it on all ends of the spectrum, from stopping several Women in Prison films I was wading through for the up coming week to the heartfelt and arty Don't Be Afraid which ran as part of Lincoln Center's Spanish Film Now series. Both crossed lines that didn't need to be crossed, and both did so with out any real context (in my mind) other than to dwell in the depravity which they held out to be bad. While I am resigning the bad prison films to silence I did call the filmmakers out in my review of the Spanish film.

Should filmmakers knock it off?

Yes, if only because they will cause all sorts of hellish problems for themselves down the line, when they have a project that requires the shock and awe. The problems will arise because audiences will, ultimately get bored with the gratuitous crap and tune out. The world is not full misogynists and people will grow tired and they will complain.

Okay I'm off my soapbox. On to our regular Sunday night nonsense....

As you may have seen on the Twitter verse the Japan Society has posted the films in their Love Will Tear Us Apart series in March. The film series is a mix of films that cover the subject of love in all its weird forms. Trust me on this there are a whole bunch of really good films in this series. While some are better than others, I don’t think there is a real clunker in the bunch. If that isn’t enough a good number of the films are NOT on DVD, and a few more while on DVD are not available in English and only in super expensive Japanese editions. I’ll let you know when the tickets go on sale, but for right now you should check out the listing for the series which can be found here. (A few recommendations Snake of June, In the Realm of the Senses,Vegetarian, Villain,Dream, and Time)

Details are up for the Raquel Welch series at Lincoln Center. No joke this is a super series with some great films in the line up. The ability to see them on a big screen is a real treat. Best of all the lady herself will be doing several Q&As and introductions. The selection of films runs the gamut from her great films like Three Musketeers to her more culty ones like Myra Brenkenridge details can be found here.

The Museum of Modern Art has announced the first 7 titles screening at New Directors New Films. Co-presented with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, this is one of the highlights of the film year with many “hit films” later in the year showing up here first. Last year Margin Call started here last march and ended up a big sleeper hit this past fall. Details can be found here.

Lastly some links:
Raymond Chandler's scathing letter to Alfred Hitchcock about Strangers on a Train.

Cartoon Brew on a trailer for Nick Cross' Black Sunrise

What happens in a bookstore after hours? Find out here. (I don't want to know what it took to do this) and thanks A.L.L.

Oscar announces the Foreign Language short list. Don't get too excited the award will most certainly go to A Separation (I'll deal with the actual nominations, which come out Tuesday, next weekend)

No comments:

Post a Comment