29 April 2007

John Carpenter On Media Violence

Well, here we go again...another violent tragedy involving high school or college-age males and with it, the inevitable kangaroo court of finger-wagging and laughably overwrought hyberbole targeted at the usual media culprits--video games, action movies, blah, blah, blah--and a few new players: YouTube, and a relatively obscure Cannes award-winning, art-house hit from South Korean director Chan-Wook Park. If it's one thing that unites hard-hearted Conservatives and bleeding-heart Liberals alike, it's not the environment, it's not peace in the Middle East: it's the "moral imperative" (thanks for that, Kathy Lee Gifford) to eradicate the spawn of Rockstar Games from the face of the earth.

But towering over them all is the (alleged) granddaddy of ever social ill of the 20th century (and it would seem, this one as well): horror films. We could take the easy route and blame the French, as the the first horror flick (at least on record) was Le Manoir du Diable, directed by FX pioneer Georges Mèliès in 1896. While it lasted a mere two minutes, according to cement-heads like Michael Medved, its shockwaves can still be felt today...

But the first American entry--and let's face it, these arguments are first and foremost attacks on U.S. pop culture--was a 10 minute adaptation of "Frankenstein", produced in 1910 by Edison Studios with Charles Ogle as the Monster. And you armchair History Channel buffs know what happened next: World War 1, the Stock Market crash of 1929, the Nazi invasion of Poland--damn you, Thomas Edison, how do you sleep at night! First the lightbulb and now this?!

On April 26th The Tribeca Film Festival hosted The Kid Slays In The Picture, an evening's discussion on the brouhaha and representing the motion picture industry was none other than personal fave John Carpenter, who knows a thing or two about the genre, having created such modern classics as "Halloween", "The Fog", and "The Thing".

Carpenter was his usual gruff but eloquent self--obviously, he's had a lot of practice defending his talent and livelihood over the years:

"... the whole point of this is that censorship never works. You cannot destroy an idea. You can't destroy it. You can hide it, you can try to cover it up, but you can't destroy it. It will be there and it will bubble up again."

"...and the reason for a lot of these movies is the culture that we live in -- it's what you've been saying. The events that are going on in our world. I think it's pretty clear, when we start seeing torture movies, why do you think that is? Look at what's happened. I personally love the Saw movies...they [the audience] can identify with this person trying to save their own life -- identify with a person being tortured. That's what our government doesn't seem to understand -- identify with people being tortured, not the torturers..."

Is there a film he's felt went too far? The answer may surprise you:

"The two roughest movies I've ever seen, ever, there was a WWII film called Death Mills. It was a documentary about the concentration camps. It's beyond words. The second is Blood of the Beasts, a Georges Franju documentary about a Paris slaughterhouse...I'm a wimp that way."

Here's the link to a rather puny transcript of the event, which also featured Lionsgate exec Peter Block, and Common Sense Media founder Jim Steyer, but that seems to be all there is for now.

(For what it's worth, I spent most of this past weekend drawing concepts for an upcoming horror project, and I went to bed last night with a clear conscience...and the only film that's ever made me want to commit violence was David Seltzer's "Lucas", with Corey Haim and Charlie Sheen...)