Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gut Reaction

I will someday soon write about evil in cinema.  I will work to diligently make a case that no film is evil.  I will tell you that a movie is nothing more than images and sound.  Neither of these things can be evil in and of themselves.  I will go further and say that nothing is evil in this world that we can see except people themselves.  Even then I may make some caveats.  I will make my case well.  My arguments will be sound.  I will believe the words I write, and I will be right. 

But that's all bupkis.

Those images find their form from perverse acts.  They bore into us things that shouldn't be.  

As I watched this young, teenage boy be touched in the nude by one of the most acclaimed actresses in the world, I couldn't help but feel the implications of that act for the boy, the actor himself.  Surely I can divorce myself from the film and the actors, right?  No.  I imagine a young man wandering about, perhaps trying to find work in front of the camera, and suddenly, he gets offered a gig for a little flick called, in this case, The Reader.  The job is to play the part of the young boy with whom Kate Winslet's character has a lurid affair with over the course of several months.  The boy, not only eager to get such a top-bill in an Oscar contending film, is also excited to be with, and touch, the woman who iconicized the role of the young Rose from Titanic ten years prior.  Remember when she posed for Jack... when she wore nothing but that diamond?  So he takes the part.  And there is much touching.

There is much touching, and we watch it.

When I think of voyeurism, and the ramifications therein, my mind turns to the work of Brian De Palma.  I've come to view the breadth of his cinema manifesto as a callous assertion that voyeurism is a universal human trait.  Particularly, I think of the film, Hi, Mom! starring a bouncy young Robert De Niro as Jon Rubin.  Rubin's ambition, it seems, is to reach the high life as an amateur pornographer, but he quickly fails at that profession, and thus has a go around as a 'black' militant, and eventually masquerades as a lone anarchist.

Voyeurism in dramatic films is a strange little demon.  In one excruciating scene in Hi, Mom!, a interactive theater production is enacted entitled "Be Black Baby", in which black performers invite opened-minded liberal white folks to see life from their perspective.  The black actors put on white-face and throughout the evening treat the white attendees with more and more hostility.  By its climax, I can hardly face the screen at all.  The attendees are beaten, humiliated thorough, and one is sodomized.  But then the play is over.  Though stunned, the intellectual attendees admit that they learned something that night, and are even singing the artwork's praises.  The girl who was (presumably) raped speaks fondly of the evening's events.
What am I, the audience, supposed to do at this point?  I chuckle nervously.  When the film ends suddenly with Jon Rubin gleefully shouting Hi Mom! at the evening news, I realize the joke.  It's a cruel one.  We all watch these things.  We let unnerving, deprecating images soak into our skulls on a daily basis.  And then we say, "Thank ye sir, may I have another?" 

But De Palma isn't quite clean either, is he?  Though perhaps I learn my lesson that everyone is, by nature, a peeping tom, I only learned this lesson by him vividly giving me more stuff to peep at.  He's liable too, isn't he?  Michael Haneke shouldn't have a free reign to bludgeon the hell out of every piece of human tissue on screen just because his aim is to show the world how disgusting our appetite for silver screen bloodshed is (Funny Games).

The question arising is this; when does your visual content supplant your good intentions?

Let's shift to the more absurd analogies.  The Exorcist has been called a cursed film.  Nine people associated with the film died during the long production.  Though not much is spoken about it, it is also widely believed that the young Linda Blair experienced a traumatic emotional breakdown while on set.  Have you sniffed where I'm going with this one?  The story that The Exorcist is based off of, is a well documented event dating back to 1949.  In that case, after playing with a Ouija Board, a twelve year old boy obtained a snake-like neck, levitated, spoke in latin, and several folks around him ended up dead.  Supposedly, Linda Blair was asked to play with a Ouija Board on set to help her get into character.

I think The Exorcist is an excellent film; a superb case study.  You walk out of that film knowing that evil is evil -- you don't want anything to do with that type of stuff.  It isn't a flick where the devil is a cool looking dude.  This is no scantily clad Elizabeth Hurley sporting cute red horns (Bedazzled).  Nevertheless, what was the collateral damage of The Exorcist?  At what cost did we learn these lessons?

All this spilled out of a gut disgruntledness.  I'm tired of seeing Kate Winslet naked.  She's a fantastic actress, perhaps the best in the biz, but I don't need to see all of her in like, every single movie.  I don't need that for my life.  She should just keep her body parts to herself.  Keep them underwraps.

Only this man is allowed to show skin.
Oh yeah, as long as I'm being a prude and complaining about body parts -- I didn't need to see that li'l German kid's penis either!  Goodness gracious, people!  Just keep your lewd acts to yourself, man.

Note: besides my need to vent my frustration with sex scenes today, The Reader was quite an absorbing film.  It felt like the Debby Downer version of The Lives of Others.  That film had some sex in it too, but it ended in a freeze frame, so all is forgiven. 


  1. I don't know if "liked' is the right term, but I really found The Reader interesting....especially living here. It was an interesting insight into how the Germans lived through and with doing some horrendous things.

  2. I think I'd like to see a sequel/redux that takes place entirely within that classroom setting -- especially with Bruno Ganz as the professor (he played Hitler in "Downfall" and the lead angel in "Wings of Desire").