Aaron Simon Louie, Los Angeles Correspondent
At what could be my very last blog before turning 34 this Friday, I would like to share my recent epiphanies concerning a couple of my favorite auteurs, David Cronenberg and William Friedkin.
Some time ago, while I was using the director’s commentary extra of Friedkin’s To Live And Die In L.A., I am reminded of what he said about not holding back graphic content, for the sake of creativity. Concurring with Friedkin’s sensibilities is fellow 1970’s, “New Hollywood generation” film maker, David Cronenberg, when he said on some early 80’s promotional material (regarding Videodrome), that nothing should be off limits regarding sexual and/or visceral (read, graphic violent) content–though, Cronenberg did opined that showing live animal killings/mutilation is something of a cowardly cheap shot, as in a dumb gimmick to substitute whatever lack of visual ingenuity… which then leads me to this following thesis:
Is showing graphic film sex and violence (especially today) is a sign of having no real talent, whatsoever? Maybe back in the early days of the MPAA, and various other, international film ratings boards (i.e, the UK’s BBFC, Japan’s Eirin, Hong Kong’s Category I-III system), flaunting graphic sex and violence had some cultural and creative relevance, given that in the late 60’s/early70’s, everybody’s in the (show) business of letting out the sort of visual content previously/largely restrained from the Silent era, onward ’til, BUT…
At my current age, having seen just about every known film there is in existence, with such aforementioned content, hasn’t that Baby-boomer-era film school of thought, became irrelevant, NOW that way too many films out on distribution, had been using this to ad nauseum effect, hence diluting whatever then-creative importance that was graphic sex and violence, to the point it’s more commercialized and conformist–as opposed cutting edge and creative? Nowhere is this irony more evident than what I refer to as, The Texas Chainsaw Paradox (incidentally of which, should have been my original blog title). Here, (director) Tobe Hooper once said on the director’s commentary that despite of the popular perception many movie audiences had, claiming to have seen (visually) bloodcurdling evisceration, Hooper takes factual note that you don’t see a whole lot of blood–much less any viscera, since 90%, if not more (of the graphic violence) is psychologically-implied, rather than explicitly visual–meaning, whatever death-rattling sounds you may have heard off camera, is exponentially worse than if you actually showed the carnage. In fact, if you were to watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre reel to reel, you’ll noticed that there’s about (as Hooper states) 2-10 ounces of fake blood shown–throughout the film’s entirety! Even veteran horror film insider/FX whiz/make-up artist/actor, Tom Savini, notes that what Hooper did with using psychological terror is what makes Texas Chainsaw the most effectively scary, slasher film… possibly of all time, since as the adage goes (regarding the slasher genre then as now), it’s been highly imitated, BUT never successfully duplicated! Maybe it’s that timeless piece of filmmaking advice, where some of the best forms of movie creativity is born out of necessity. In this case, it’s Hooper’s then-agreement with the MPAA, that if he showed as little to no gore throughout Texas Chainsaw Massacre, theoretically, he can get a PG rating. But as film history shows us, it’s not quite the intended, film ratings results–but still… it was able to achieve the sort of cinematic standards many, many, many movies later, fails to grasp.
And with that big, fat analogy in mind, what does it really say about the more, high-brow, serious auteurs, constantly compelling themselves to showcase every known expensive forms of micro-FX, albeit for simulated gunshot wounds, albeit even for simulated sex scenes? Could the likes of Cronenberg, Friedkin, Scorcese, Coppola, et al, are actually now a bunch of perpetually-adolescent, shock jocks, who can’t find any other effectively alternative way of telling the story straight up, without the flexibly visual tactics of the power of perceptions? …and I haven’t gotten into chewing out today’s generation of (entitled/deluded?) gorehounds, a la Eli Roth (a.k.a, Inglourious Basterd’s, Bear Jew!)! I guess that’s why at my hopefully, ever-wiser, cool-headed age, I came to the conclusion that if you can’t tell the same story in a more different setting, i.e, no guns, no blood, no sex or orgies, etc… then what kind of story are you really telling, if any at all? Isn’t the film industry technically part of the greater, umbrella “creative community?” If so, shouldn’t there be more creativity involved with telling a visual story WITHOUT THE SHOCK ‘N AWE CRUTCH, KNOWN AS SEX AND VIOLENCE? And with the oft-debated, film snobbery/ideology, concerning how a movie with a bigger budget, vis-a-vis, FX, wouldn’t this violate every film snob’s–uhhhhh, I mean auteur’s… basic tenants that you can’t rely your entire creative weight on pricey special effects alone, that otherwise distracts not only the storytelling process, but likewise (if not possibly more) the film’s entire budget?*
*See Lars Von Trier’s over-hyped, Dogme 95 manifesto–AT LEAST LONG BEFORE he went adolescent/film snobbish crazy with his award-winning, Anti-Christ).
Otherwise, how do you explain the shoe-string budgeted, wunderkind likes of Aguirre: The Wrath of God, or even the action/horror genre likes of Night Of The Living Dead, El Mariachi, etc? I mean, if the latter two examples are the sort of aspiring, successful (low budget) genre debuts you want to use to jump start your “Titan of Cinema” career, then wouldn’t that compel people like us to use more good ‘ol fashioned, story telling, character development, plotting, etc… for crafting a more timeless, effective audience pleaser? Even I’m relatively assured many of today’s “simple folk” movie goers, have more than enough brains to say that showing splattered brain matter, don’t necessarily equate to smart scriptwriting? Like hey, memo to the studio heads (both mainstream to art house), greenlighting your respective projects: don’t underestimate your paying audience! And in going back with Friedkin (preferably with no ill-intent or disrespect), when I recalled (in To Live & Die In L.A.) how there are at least, 3 major scenes of gunshot wounds to the face, sometimes I have to ask ol’ Billy; what’s with these gunshot blasts to the frontal lobe/cranium areas? Is this some sort of repressed, psychological fetish I’m not aware of? And don’t forget, almost 3 decades ago, I would normally get squeamish with any violent scene involving gunshot wounds to the forehead–which kinda gives indication how much have changed with my sense of being jaded! …and don’t get me started with Friedkin’s other embarrassing effort (with Al Pacino) called, Cruising!*
*Something about a lost, uncut European version (of this undercover police procedural-in-a-gay-bar-sc
ene) showcasing more scenes of fisting and golden showers! BARF!!!
At year 2010, when we’re about to enter the teen phase of the 21st Century, I (literally) pray that none of today’s crop of auteurs–both established and up-and-coming, won’t rely too much on the teenage-primal inclinations, of displaying technologically-complicate
d, shock FX, just to Freudian-compensate whatever possibilities of absent talent, ’cause at this current age of dwindling box office receipts, and even more so with the dwindling, prime selections of film festival-quality work, a la Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Sundance, methinks many of our creative community types will have to move past the pre-9-11 mentality of doing show business-as-usual, assuming the award-winning/box office-lucrative rules of shock then, still applies now, since if you don’t have the business acumen of understanding what the real world, hard-working, ticket-paying movie audience really wants in timeless, quality entertainment (i.e, the recent CNN article debunking the sex-sells myth of movie-making), then what business do you really have being in show business?