Sunday, June 11, 2006

Angry Up the Blood

Because it's what I do when I'm in Hollister, I picked up a copy of Entertainment Weekly yesterday. Good news: new, streamlined layout and the elimination of Jim Mullen's Hot Sheet. Bad news: the introduction of Scott Brown's Hit List in its place. For those of you unfamiliar with Jim Mullen, he wrote a regular piece for EW. A column only in the sense that it was a vertical bar running down the far side of one page, the Hot Sheet made trite observations about Hollywood happenings that someone who sat through an episode of "Access Hollywood" might mentally make on the drive to work the following morning, then immediately self-censor, push to the back of their mind and never think of again. But like I said, it was in the magazine, every week for years and years. And he got paid for it, the rotten fuck. Anyway, it finally got the boot, but Scott Brown's Hit List could just as easily be mistaken for it. It looks the same, and it occupies roughly the same spot in the magazine that the Hot Sheet did. To Scott Brown's credit, the Hit List is about a half-step funnier than the Hot Sheet ever was on a good day.

That's not a lot, but it's something.

For example, one of the better bits in this week's Hot List goes like this. Headline: "Jane Fonda roasted." Text: "...for approximately the last thirty years." Not bad. I could hear it coming out of Tina Fey's mouth, so that's a step in the right direction at least.

The section that really got my attention, however, is this week's cover story: "The 25 Most Controversial Movies of All Time." Here are the films that EW's staff picked, followed by my frank assessment of said movies.

Number One: "The Passion of the Christ"
What I say: I'll buy it. Daring, divisive, all that stuff. Still what bothers me most about this movie, even after having read the title so many times since it was released, is the presence of the second "the." "The Christ." As in, "Jesus the Christ," like "Barney the Talking Dinosaur."
Number Two: "A Clockwork Orange"
What I say: I guess. It wasn't all that shocking to me when I saw it in high school, but we live in jaded times. According to EW, it was the first-ever movie to earn an X rating. Copycat crimes in Britain effectively got it banned until 2000. I didn't know this, but I suppose that's reason enough.
Number Three : "Fahrenheit 9/11"
Number Four: "Deep Throat"
Number Five: "JFK"
What I say: Saw it. Saw it. Need to see it. No real surprises here.
Number Six: "The Last Temptation of Christ"
What I say: Seriously?! Like, not that it's surprising it's on the list, but this film's status as a target for controversy has generally baffled me. I guess the logic here depends on how you would answer the answer the question represented by the acronym "WWJD?" Basic plot: Jesus imagines what life marrying Mary Magdalene might be like, then ultimately decides to die on the cross anyway. In short, God wins, Satan loses and the Bible still gets written the way it always was.
Number Seven: "Birth of a Nation"
What I say: More racist than "Song of the South"? Wow. Apparently making a movie that glorifies the Ku Klux Klan and depicts African Americans as "childlike, conniving or rabid sex fiends" doesn't fly, even in 1915. Haven't seen it. Probably won't.
Number Eight: "Natural Born Killers"
Number Nine: "Last Tango in Paris"
Number Ten: "Baby Doll"
What I say: (A) Over-rated tripe. (B) Butter scene! Butter scene! Butter scene! (C) Catholics said it was bad, which led it to pick up four Oscar nominations. Take that, funny hat brigade.
Number Eleven: "The Message"
What I say: This movie had somehow escaped my cultural awareness completely. Apparently to Muslims what "The Ten Commandments" is to Jews, though in total violation of that Muslim rule that prohibits images of Mohammed. And instead of one image, it made millions of them, then showed them in a flickery fashion so as to simulate movement, like cinemas are wont to do. Muslims rioted and even took hostages in Washington D.C. A two-day siege left a reporter dead and Marion Barry with a bullet inside him.

The funny thing about this list is that this film — the first one so far to be directly credited with inciting murder — pops up at only number eleven. As far as I know, "Passion of the Christ" didn't cause anybody to die. You'd think the death alone would have rocketed "The Message" to the top slot. But I don't work at EW, so what do I know?

The EW article also notes that the director — Moustapha Akkad, who later went on to help finance and produce the "Halloween" movies — died the al-Quaeda bombings of those hotels in Jordan last year.
Number Twelve: "The Deer Hunter"
What I say: I haven't seen it, though I've been meaning to. The point of controversy here is that the depictions of torture in Vietnamese POW camps was unrealistic. Like, there was torture. Just not this kind of torture. Seems like a petty distinction to me.
Number Thirteen: "The Da Vinci Code"
What I say: Meh.
Number Fourteen: "The Warriors"
What I say: The plot, in a nutshell, details some gang wars in New York City. Accused of glorifying violence, director Walter Hill was blamed for a few incidents of real-life violence, including the stabbing of a Massachusetts teenager. Even so, the only disciplinary action taken against the film was the pulling of print and TV advertisements. This seems like a fairly light punishment, especially considering the extent of free advertising "The Warriors" would have gotten from all the controversy.
Number Fifteen: "Triumph of the Will"
What I say: Yikes. Pretty, pretty movie. Ugly, ugly content. Looks like it was done on a set with extensively choreographed marching scenes. The fact that Leni Riefenstahl — the only female director to appear on this list, notably — filmed this live is all the more remarkable. On the other hand, the event being depicted is the Nazi march at Nuremberg. Considering the association with Hitler's politics, I think it's remarkable that Reifenstahl did as well with her post-WWII career as she did.
Number Sixteen: "United 93"
What I say: I will see this. The fact that I haven't yet has more to do with the fact that the Santa Barbara moviegoing experience is fairly limited, and less with the fact that I don't have the guts. (Though, I must mention that guts were a slight issue.) I guess the deal here is that people either think America isn't ready for a movie like this or that America should own up to what actually happened on 9/11. Every review I read went to great effort to mention how tasteful "United 93" was. I think the bigger issue will be not this movie, but Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center," which should be coming out this summer. Stone, by the way, has two movies on this list already — and he's the only director with that dubious honor.
Number Seventeen: "Freaks"
What I say: Saw it. With Jill. In DC. It made us both uncomfortable, even for a movie made in 1932. The big beef with "Freaks," as near as I understand it is the use of actual freaks to play the freaks. Seems like an economical decision on Tod Browning's part, but I suppose a pinhead might not have the wherewithal to realize he was being exploited. And when I say pinhead, I mean a literal pinhead.
Number Eighteen: "I Am Curious (Yellow)"
What I say: I am indifferent (Drew).
Number Nineteen: "Basic Instinct"
What I say: The NC-17 rating, I suppose, was a big deal. We don't see many of these. According to EW, however, the film drew protests from gay rights activists who objected to the relationship between Sharon Stone's character and that of her girlfriend, who is killed partway into the movie. If you take the view that Stone's character is a lesbian — and not just a pansexual opportunist, like I think of her — then the whole film can come off as a slam against man-hating lesbians.
Number Twenty: "Cannibal Holocaust"
What I say: Probably the only movie on this list that I've seen and most people haven't. The controversy, as EW puts it, is pretty damn lame. First off, this movie is the unsaid inspiration for the "Blair Witch Project" — people get lost in wilderness, bad things happen, cinéma vérité and all that. At some point, director Ruggero Deddato was faced with charges unless he could prove that the stars were, in fact, not dead. Then he did just that. And then it was okay.
Number Twenty-One: "Bonnie and Clyde"
What I say: The controversy, according to EW, is that the ending was violent and that upset people. Goes without saying that the ending was also historically accurate and, if you see the movie, well deserved. It's Bonnie and Clyde. Bad guys. Even anti-heroes get their comeuppance. Would people have been happier if Bonnie and Clyde survived and shot more people?
Number Twenty-Two: "Do the Right Thing"
What I say: Haven't seen it. Apparently people got upset because the movie could have incited riots. Then it didn't.
Number Twenty-Three: "Kids"
What I say: Finally, a movie whose spot on the list is deserved — and neither too high or too low. "Kids" doesn't seem nearly so bad now, but it's worth another look just to see young Rosario Dawson and Chloe Sevigny.
Number Twenty-four: "Caligula"
What I say: Should be higher. Netflix sent me this movie on mistake and Glenn and Cory and Tristan and I had trouble looking away. Honestly, some of the foulest things I've ever seen. I can't believe the response to this lavish porn couldn't be higher. Helen Mirren, you should know better.
Number Twenty-five: "Aladdin"
What I say: Huh? You've got to be kidding. I actually remember the uproar that arose when "Aladdin" hit theaters. The opening song, which described the Arabian kingdom of Agrobah, contained the lyric "where they cut off your hand / if they don't like your face." Arab-Americans got upset, understandably, but Disney promptly redubbed the lyric with "where the land is immense / and the heat is intense," which sucks but isn't going to offend anybody.
So that's it, as far EW puts it. I kind of feel like the list is a little lacking, however. Where's any mention of movies like "Brown Bunny" — which contained an unsimulated scene of Chloe Sevigny performing fellatio on Vincent Gallo and nearly ruined both their careers — or "Showgirls" — which showcased Elizabeth Berkley's fall from grace amidst all the tit and beaver shots. And that's not the half of it. I found this guy — an Australian blogger going by the name "Kamikaze Camel" — who has a post responding to a list of the most controversial movies published in The Guardian. Among the films picked for this list are the following:
  • "Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom," which I detailed in an earlier post, "The Antechamber of Hell." This movie repulsed Italian audiences — which had previously adored director Pier Paolo Pasolini — with scenes of rape, sodomy, shit-eating and death by mutilation. In fact, Pasolini made the movie to be deliberately offensive.
  • "Crash," but not the one that took the Best Picture Oscar last year. That's a whole different controversy. This "Crash," directed by David Cronenberg, features James Spader and Holly Hunter as sickos who get their jollies from car accidents. Sex and car accident gore, together — or as this other blogger calls it, "autoerotica."
  • "The Devils," which features enough Satanic imagery to piss anybody off.
  • "Pretty Baby," in which a New Orelans whore auctions off the virginity of her teenaged daughter, played by a too-young Brook Shields.
  • "Straw Dogs," about which I know nothing but which allegedly features gratuitous violence that irked some people. Or something.
And more:
  • "The Tin Drum," which was illegal to possess in Oklahoma, as legislators decided it was child pornography.
  • "Citizen Kane," which was almost not released because it portrayed William Randolph Hearst so poorly.
  • "Taxi Driver." Really, have you seen it? Child prostitution and vigilantism.
  • "Pink Flamingos," which features a transvestite eating dog feces and people kidnapping babies to sell them to lesbian couples.
  • "Powder," and just about every other film released by director Victor Salva following his arrest for child molestation. Seriously, if you've seen this movie, think about it in terms of pedophilia. It's horrifying.
  • "Cruising," an Al Pacino vehicle which featured him as an undercover cop trying to catch a serial killer stalking gay men.
  • "I Spit on Your Grave," for brutal violence done by and against women.
  • "Last House on the Left," for the same reasons.
  • "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs," a Merrie Melodies short featuring mammies, pickaninnies and all manner of offensive African-American stereotypes.
  • And finally "Battle Royale," the content of which has made it hard to legally release in certain territories, according to rumors. True or not, the movie is fairly disturbing.
So what have I learned? Not that Entertainment Weekly is fallible. I already knew that. My earlier rant against Jim Mullen is proof enough. I suppose the lesson here is that there's no accounting for taste. Even a room full of film majors or the people I make slog through my Netflix queue with me wouldn't agree on what offended us most, much less what offended other people most.

I like that movies can get such a huge reaction in people, though not particularly the kinds that result in death. It's validating, in a way, to see that the these things I like really do matter — and that people who make movies know this and use it to say something. Oh, and it's really funny watching people get offended.

1 comment:

  1. Please, PLEASE watch Deer Hunter. Megan and I were almost in tears during some of those torture scenes... and it's not even that it's graphic necessarily... it's psychologically terrifying.

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