Sunday, July 16, 2006

Rape Sells

Film director Alex Cox knows how to make tough, hard, gritty, and passionate films about life and death; his Sid and Nancy, about the doomed love of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon, was one of the best films of the 1980s.

Unfortunately, what once seemed uncompromisingly truthful no longer cuts it -- now it has to be over the top. It has to be hard, ugly, and extensive. Now the violence of The Wild Bunch and Taxi Driver -- much criticized in their day for gratuitous gore in the name of realism -- would seem tame.

You see this especially in horror and suspense dramas; young audiences aren't satisfied unless there's a fountain of arterial blood. They wouldn't be able to take Hitchcock or a film like Robert Wise's The Haunting. Too slow. Just like a lot of people can no longer read a classic ghost story by Lafcadio Hearn when they can have, say, Stephen King.

In a Friday article in The Guardian, Cox recalls the interference on his film Revengers Tragedy -- not to tone it down, but to heat it up. Is the violence tail is now wagging the movie dog?

From my own experience, I think filmmakers are often encouraged, by their financiers, to include these things. Once, the studios or foreign sales agents were happy with a glimpse of a woman's breasts. Now that nudity is old hat and porn ubiquitous, directors are being jostled to provide something "a bit harder". In 2001, while we were editing Revengers Tragedy, the producers and I received a request from the Film Council to "make the rape scene more violent and explicit". Of course, we usually strove to accommodate our financers' ideas and wishes. But on this occasion, we could not.

Perhaps the New Cinema Fund genuinely believed a more brutal, visible rape would add to the artistic quality of Revengers: the film was based on a pretty extreme and demented play, and it needed a certain shocking aspect. Equally possibly, the Film Council may have reckoned a more explicit rape might get us into Cannes, or pick up a few more foreign sales. In other words, this was a pragmatic rape, a money thing.

Would a first-time director, with his (or her) future career at stake, be so rebellious? Or would he/she knuckle down, recut the scene, call the actors back, and shoot a crueller, more explicit version? When we do these things, film directors essentially become pimps - persuading usually reluctant women to do what the clients expect them to. Why is the heroine of V For Vendetta so cruelly tortured, something surely not essential in a film devoid of narrative? What do Tarantino's fans think about violence against women? Why does Hollywood action cinema demean women and minorities? Is this a political agenda, and if so who sets it? Why is "extreme cinema" so focused on sexual violence and rape?

No comments: