Friday, April 29, 2005

Hollywood and spine

I had the misfortune of seeing one Quentin Tarantino film, some years back, on the big screen. “Reservoir Dogs” was, as they promised, chock full of thrills -- for those who enjoy watching torture and murder. He put ol’ savage Sam Peckinpah’s bullet-ridden flicks to shame. I was impressed. I was impressed so much so, that to this day I will not pay, nor will I allow any friend to pay for me to see another of his films. When a prime time television program advertises that he has become involved in the making of an episode of theirs, I make it a point to watch something guaranteed to be less grotesque -- like “Fear Factor”. Even if somebody told me that Tarantino had gone and made a sweet animated family film, you would have to drag me, kicking and screaming, to see the trailer for it. Fool me once...

So when I see somebody offering “Kill Bill” (both parts) or “Pulp Fiction” made palatable for family viewing, I know something has gone horribly wrong with the program.

ABC News and AMC movie channel, this week, have been presenting arguments against groups, agencies, or devices which “bleep” out segments of a film viewed as objectionable -- language, violence, or sexual content, in particular. The primary argument one might have is one of law, of copyright infringement. If somebody were to take the majority of a work, copy all but a small portion, and sell it, the work is technically plagiarized (you can check with Melody Townsell, the woman who accuses John Bolton of unseemly behavior, or Ward Churchill, of “little Eichmanns” fame, if you need somebody to explain the term “plagiarism” to you). Or, in the case of music or film (even if money from sales goes back to the studio), it is outright pirated.

And, although piracy is an issue I find offensive in the extreme (Johnny Depp’s performance in the recent Disney blockbuster notwithstanding), here, I am not so much bothered by that, as by the damage they do to themselves, in buying these pseudo-sterilized piles of fertilizer.

The people who are cutting “offensive content” from films, either by buying an edited DVD or by providing software for home players to do the same, are undercutting their own position. They object to the strong sexual content, the foul language, the gratuitous violence of much of what comes from Hollywood. So do I. But when they buy or rent a disk, regardless of whether it has been bowdlerized or not, they still put money into the hands of the very people whose work offends them. In effect, buying a cleaned-up video is saying, “I hate what you’re doing. Give me more of it.”

The entertainment industry has done a pitiful job of policing itself, over the past few generations. But the industry will never come to terms with its errors until it is forced to, and the only force it truly recognizes is failure to recoup its production and promotional costs. If parents truly want to see to it that their kids aren’t seeing pornography -- of whatever sort -- then they need to stop sending their hard-earned dollars to the film studios. Doing your homework before they go to the theater, before they rent from the video store, is the first step. Check film critics or news agencies geared toward your family interests, and, if they don’t volunteer sufficient information at that level, ask for it. Demand a clear accounting of details, in advance. If need be, press for a change in ratings systems to show not the vague “G”, “PG 13”, “R” or “NC 17” , but a new rating system, where each incident is counted: “This film has 23 depictions of sexual acts, 47 uses of strong language, and 19 violent acts” could read on the advertisements as “S-23”, “L-47”, and “V-19”, and parents would have a fair notion of what their kids were asking to see, and what Hollywood was trying to spoon-feed them (of course, Tarantino’s films would require Deep Blue to keep count of all the incidents).

And instead of buckling under the pressure of pop culture marketing, when faced with no good film choices, keep that resolve. The responsible parent will say to his or her child, “Let’s go to the library or book store, and find some good reading.” In the most engaging, entertaining, adventure-filled, complex American novel ever to delve into deep human truths -- “Huckleberry Finn” -- Mark Twain never needed to drop the “F-Bomb”. Believe it or not, there are plenty of other family-appropriate novels still being published, too.

If people (as Sam Goldwyn was once credited as saying) “stay[ed] away in droves” from offensive films, then the directors, producers, and stars might get a clue that moviegoers are not stupid sheep who will buy whatever they’re offered. If the public developed a collective spine, Hollywood might learn to make better products for us all, and none of us would feel the need to build ever-more expensive systems to sanitize their manure.


Anonymous said...

aw, now you are attacking my choices!

I *love* bad movies... though, I guess I must admit that my definition of bad is somewhat different from yours. The movies you describe (Quention T, and so on) to me are generally *boring* (though I do admit that Kill Bill I and II were actually funny - you just have turn a little sideways). Myself, I actually *LIKE*
"bad" movies. Where would I be without such gems as "Wrath of the Master" or "Squirm"? 8-{)}

I don't think I'd advocate the elimination of such movies as Pulp Fiction - but your basic idea of what I'll call here the 'Violence scale' seems sound. Of course, you have to set precise guidelines and graduate the violence scale. After all, a fistfight is not so *graphic* as 6 heads on a sideboard singing 'I ain't got no body'... or blood all over the back seat of a car.

And will these rules apply to television? Shows like CSI, Crossing Jordan (fiction) and Forensic Files (non-fiction) all show some (to most people) pretty disgusting things.

just some random thoughts

leucanthemum b said...

The classic "B" movies still give me a thrill, too, but over the past couple of decades, can you list more than a handful of them that were worth staying up past midnight to watch? Lessee.... "Tremors", "The Mummy"... any others (besides chop-socky)? Even the so-called high-concept films have been pretty dreadfully dull, lately (except "The Incredibles". ;-) That concept was TRULY exalted ).

The graduated scale would be a serious boon -- and not just on the violence. There's a difference between somebody saying"oh, God!" or "Jesus H. Christ!" and somebody repeatedly dropping the "F" bomb. But what score would you use for, say, castrations (as some have described are depicted in "Sin City")? The other option, if not a graduated scale, would be to provide a toll-free number and/or website for details on the flat scale counts. I can think of several "non-partisan" (wink wink say no more) advocacy groups whose members probably would be happy to financially or personally support such a system.

RE: television. Definitely scale them the same way.

In all cases, it's a matter of providing data, so that the consumer can make an informed choice, rather than trying to censor. I'm never really in favor of forcing somebody into silence. I just think honesty in the marketplace could be a very useful tool for making available better films and clearer programming. Crappy content -- even without Adam Sandler or songs from Smashmouth and/or Dr. Dre-- will always sell to the adolescent and pre-pubescent crowd. After all, how many "Herbie the Love Bug" movies did Disney make, and aren't they doing a new one?

Anonymous said...

well, NONE of the B-class is really worth staying up for- but that's part of the fun of them. I think the final difference is 'budget'. 'good' movies are those that garner loits of money and (usually) a fair number of stars. They're made with the expectation of at least
breaking even in the first year. The True "B" is made with a lot less money, fewer or no stars, etc - but it still manages to come together into something golden in the sewer (Army of Darkness, for example. If that's on, you skip work. Or Bubba Ho-Tep).

THen there are the rest of them. Movies made to teach kids how to MAKE movies. They have some plot, some music... and if they work out, cool. I think that's why I like them (Chop-suky falls into this field for most of it's life. Not until after Bruce Lee did they improve to 'B' status). They're frequently full of huge glaring mistakes and it's fun to pick them apart. It's also fun to see what currently famous people did in the dark ages (take a look at Oliver Hardy's work in the silent version of 'The Wizard of Oz').

There's also a sub-group here - where current stars step down into awful movies (for whatever reason). Things like Battle Beyond the Stars and Space Mutiny come to mind here.. usually they're just awful, but occasionally you find a jem like "The Vampire Effect"

Anyway, I think I find these truely bad movies more entertaining, because you never quite know what to expect.