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Violence! Violence!

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The Christian Science Monitor appears to be slightly worried by the latest raft of violent films. I’m not sure about this statement in the article:

Horror films have been spooking audiences since Bela Lugosi made his big-screen debut in 1917…

Technically speaking, no they bloody haven’t. The term “horror film” wasn’t actually coined until Lugosi pulled on his cape for the 1931 film of Dracula. Apart from that, the statement is also incorrect in that films on “horror” or “fantastic” themes were around well before 1917. What about Paul Wegener’s first Golem film from 1914? Or Wegener’s 1913 Student of Prague, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson”? That other great horror icon, Frankenstein’s monster, made his first screen appearance in 1910, plus Jekyll & Hyde first appeared in 1908 and made four more screen appearances between then and 1913. Horror films existed before Lugosi made his screen debut (and just to be really pedantic, I don’t see many “horror” titles in Bela’s pre-Dracula filmography either); they just weren’t called horror films except in hindsight.

Then there’s this:

One movie that’s raised the bar to extreme heights is next week’s “Irréversible.” Directed by Gaspar Noé, the French film – which opens with a brutal murder and has a nine-minute rape scene – caused 250 people to flee for the exit when it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Several filmgoers reportedly required oxygen to recover from the experience.

I’ve been reading this story since last year and I still don’t entirely buy it. After all, controversy is the cheapest form of publicity there is, and this sort of “running out screaming” business was a standard stunt in the days of Lugosi’s Dracula and Karloff’s Frankenstein. I think it was Ray Bradbury who described seeing the latter film on its first release, and being impressed when, at the first sight of Karloff’s face, this woman suddenly leapt from her seat and ran out of the cinema screaming. Being impressed by the rest of the film, he waited inside the cinema for the next session rather than go out again. He was somewhat surprised to find the aforementioned woman come back into the cinema as well, sit down in the same seat for the next session, then run out screaming again at the same point. I’m not saying Gaspar Noé or his publicity people did that at Cannes—paying 250 people to walk out would be an expensive proposition—but I don’t entirely buy the story even so. Indeed, I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if they did hire a few folks to storm off in a huff, and the rest followed of their own accord.

And then there’s this:

While critics are quick to indict horror films like “House of 1000 Corpses” for gratuitous violence, Leone asks, what about “Saving Private Ryan,” a film many of his students point to as one of the goriest they’ve ever seen? “Is responsible gore different than irresponsible gore?” he asks.
There is a thin line, say observers like Carol Ferril, president of the Florida Motion Pictures and Television Association. She believes showing the true horrors of war might prevent a repeat of history. “People might think twice before we do this again. We’ve been watching those types of movies since World War II. There’s definitely a place for them,” says Ms. Ferril.

Uh-huh. Sorry, m’dear, but at the moment I don’t see much evidence of anyone having learned a lesson from Ryan, except possibly the one that goes “Shee-it, we could do that damage to people’s bodies back in WW2? Just imagine what damage we could do now with modern technology!”…

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