Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bonnie & Clyde Article

A O Scott has an article in the NYTimes discussing Bonnie and Clyde and movie violence. There's a summary of B&C's historical value, and then a conclusion with the following statement: "I can’t escape the feeling that, just as it has become easier since “Bonnie and Clyde” to accept violence in movies, and more acceptable to enjoy it, it has become harder to talk seriously about the ethics and politics of that violence."

The article was mostly just a recounting of a story cinema fans already know, but if you haven't seen the movie or don't know about the controversy surrounding it, it could still be interesting. Scott doesn't explain why he feels so bad about movie violence all of a sudden, or why exactly he feels uncomfortable about B&C after all these years. There is a difference, after all, between the shock horror films that he mentions, Saw and Hostel, and B&C. Enjoying one doesn't mean you have to approve of the other. I think one important distinction is that the classic violent movies of the 60's and 70's were mostly about actual events or believable scenarios. Shock horror films are just fantasies, and so don't offer the emotional catharsis that those other films do.

Another issue that film critics don't talk about is that violent movies probably do reflect the violent natures of people and could lead to real violence. That doesn't mean we should ban or disapprove of them, however. I think most people believe that the rights of society to enjoy art trump the rights of individuals to live in complete safety. Most people wouldn't admit it, but a certain level of violence is worth it to ensure the quality of life for everyone else.


Little Earl said...

Interesting topic. I feel like I've discussed this before.

I personally feel that the question isn't whether a movie is violent or not violent, but whether a movie is good or bad. A violent movie that is intelligent and complex can be quite morally valid - in fact, it can even be more morally valid than a similarly-themed film featuring no violence at all. By the same token, a bad violent movie isn't immoral because it's violent; it's immoral because it's bad.

I also believe that the supposedly negative "influence" violent films have is more than counterbalanced by the positive influence those same films can have in helping troubled people put their problems into context and become healthier. I quote Paul Schrader, from the documentary on the Taxi Driver DVD:

After the film came out, I had an office at Columbia and I came back after lunch and the pool secretary who was there said to me, “Don’t go in your office, there’s someone there.”…And I said, “Who is it?,” she said I don’t know he just came in he wouldn’t say who it was. So I went in my office it was a young man there, and he said to me, “I want to know how you found out about me.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well I’ve hitch-hiked down from Seattle, I saw this movie Taxi Driver. Who told you about me?” And I said, “Well, let me get this straight. You probably were a taxi driver, you wrote about being a taxi driver and you feel that I’ve somehow stolen your idea.” He said “No. No, I was never a taxi driver, I want to know who told you about me.” And…I realized, you know, that he was…he was…that thing. And, actually, I was sort of a little concerned that he might be armed. And I said to him, I said you know, “You might be thinking the pain you are going through is terribly unique, but it isn’t. You know, I went through it and the people who made the film know what it is, and hundreds of thousands of other young men out there know exactly what that pain is. And they see this movie, they recognize it. And what you are recognizing is not something that is uniquely you. It is part of the pathology that we share. And one of the beauties of recognizing it is to realize you are not alone, and that you can see yourself in context…It is a particular kind of breed of white boy, the taxi driver people. We will always have that character, and I honestly believe in censorship and I do believe that artists should be responsible and I’m not someone who says you can do anything. But. You are not going to get rid of the John Hinckleys of this world by censoring art. They are more triggered by a lot of things out there, they’re triggered by commercials, by advertisements, on fashion…What will happen if you censor genuine studies of this pathology, you will still have the pathology, you just won’t have the study. In other words, you will still have Raskolnikov, but you won’t have Crime and Punishment. That’s all that will happen. You will lose the work of art that comments on the character, but the character will still be going along his merry way. Because he really wasn’t created by art. And art, when it’s done right, really is a curb and helps these people put their lives into perspective to the extent that they can. Many of them are beyond that point anyway.

yoggoth said...

That is similar to my position. But I'd go a bit further and say that even if the violent movies didn't help anyone they could be valuable works of art purely for their beauty. They could even have no artistic value and still not be worth banning. In situations like that I think it's best to just deal with practical consequences. Punish crimes that have been committed, not those that might be in the future. Individual violence is never as dangerous as institutional violence. As an example, religion will always be more dangerous than movies, and I don't hear much about censoring that.

ninquelote said...

I completely agree with Yaggoth on this topic. I think people put too much emphasis on what could make someone violent (movies, video games etc.), and less emphasis on the violent people themselves.
I have always been a firm believer that if a film or video game tipped a person over the proverbial edge, and made them a mass murderer, they had the violent tendencies already and they just needed an excuse.
Religion is still the number one source of violence in the world (I doubt art, i.e. film, even ranks in the top ten). The difference is that art, especially film, still isn't taken as seriously as religion, and is probably most at odds with religion because it takes God out of the hands of the clergy and puts the same feelings in the hands of the individual. That is what art is really about. Finding one's self and creating something that inspires others to share in you feeling. If that feeling happens to be a violent one, isn't it better that you get that feeling out on celluloid rather than on the guy next door that keeps stealing your paper.