Monday, 29 March 2010

Can Movies Be Irredeemable?

After watching The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo's 2003 controversy baiter, pictured left) last week, I began to wonder about films of the past that have caused a stir with the media.

The obvious place to start is with 'The Video Nasties' but instead, lets travel back to 13th January 1972...the UK release of A Clockwork Orange.

On the back of the heat caused by Ken Russell's The Devils (1971) and Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs (1971), Stanley Kubrick's now acclaimed masterpiece was not recieved well. Upon release many reviewers complained about its depictions of violence and sexual violence. The film was seen as morally corrupting - Mary Whitehouse wanted it to be banned, on the grounds of "criminal influence." Whether or not A Clockwork Orange was to blame for an outbreak of crime is debatable - but there is enough evidence if you want to see it. Teenagers dressing up in white overalls and bowler hats, murders and rapes (including a gang of Droog-styled teenagers attacking a nun) all hit the headlines. Despite outcry it was allowed to continue for a few more years - and the film was popular in America - but Kubrick had to withdraw it from the UK in 1974, due to death threats he and his family recieved.

Of course, A Clockwork Orange was not the first major outcry caused by a film. Tracing way back to the 1930s Tod Browning's Freaks (1932, which will be essayed next week) caused mass hysteria - and was eventually banned for 30 years. Similarly Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931) was banned in Kansas and had to receive cuts in a major sequence, where the monster accidentally drowns a little girl.

Now fast-forward to the 1980s and we have the 'Video Nasties' - a group of films deemed so morally corrupting, without any value or substance, they should be banned from the public. This came about through the invention of VHS and home-viewers ability to watch films in their living room. One of the genres on offer was horror - uncut, low grade horror, packed with violence and gore. Many groups shouted out about films such as Last House On The Left, I Spit On Your Grave, Antropophagus: The Beast, The Evil Dead (which kicked the whole thing off) and Cannibal Holocaust (pictured left). Once again, a leading figure was Mary Whitehouse, and she eventually got her way when the 'Video Recordings Act 1984' was passed in...1984. This meant that all the aforementioned films and plenty of others featuring gore, mutilation, torture, rape, graphic nudity or animal cruelty were banned. Of course, people still tried to get hold of them and some underground theaters would show the films (as happened with A Clockwork Orange). Eventually, these films have been released one by one on DVD, in cut or uncut forms, depending on the film. It's guaranteed that they have the potential to shock, and some people will surely be outraged, but often it's context we should be looking at.

For example, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974) - is it shocking and horrifying because of the violence, or because there is no reason for it? There are plenty of films more violent, more bloody, more gory than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which actually features very little of these things) - some war or action films for example. But there is no moralising, and no reason presented for the terror that ensues - it's just unrelenting and presented with a pitch black sense of humor. And on the other side of the coin, there are plenty of critics today who view the bloody, gory, often hard to watch Cannibal Holocaust as a social commentary, instantly giving it meaning.

If we move forward through time, past the moral outrage of David Cronenberg's Crash (1996), a thriller which depicted a group of fetishists who become sexually aroused by car crashes, and David Fincher's Fight Club (1999), which was condemned for its brutal acts of violence, we arrive to 2003 and The Brown Bunny.

The Brown Bunny centers on an emotionally detached man named Bud Clay (Vincent Gallo), driving to California, meeting girls along the way, who he connects with and then abandons. It's an incredibly slow moving, arse informed film, with no real character or substance - until the final third where he meets up with Daisy, a girlfriend from the past. As soon as the film seems to pick up it presents an unsimulated scene of oral sex, which drags it all right back down to the gutter. Of course it caused outrage and controversy when it was released, but after Gallo apologized and the film generated poor box office, the outcry soon faded away. To this day, it still causes anger among some film fans, but there are others who can proclaim it art, and to an extent, looking at the mise en scene of the film, they are right.

So, taking all of that into account, can a movie be irredeemable? I've found it hard to come up with an answer myself, but eventually I have. And the film is Slave Of The Cannibal God (Sergio Martino, 1978) - which might be under a different title depending on your country.

It stars ex-Bond girl Ursula Andress in a pointless plot that takes her through a series of unimaginative and badly shot scenarios involving rape, torture and animal cruelty. It offers no real reason for the exploitation and is a terrible film on top of it - offering no reward on a cinematic level. The image is grainy, sound awful - there's no sign of any real direction behind the camera and the acting makes most B-movies look OSCAR worthy. So, as well as being the worst film I have ever seen, is Slave Of The Cannibal God irredeemable? I suppose it would have to depend on your definition. I don't see it as art, and the film doesn't provide context. It's just a shallow presentation of everything the 'Video Recordings Act 1984' was invented for.

So my question to you is this. Is there a movie you know of, possibly one mentioned in this article, that is irredeemable?

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