Towards the end of my A-level film course my teacher asked us to bring in some films to watch in the last few days of term, I brought in Man Bites Dog, and my teacher hadn’t seen it but after i descried it to the class they voted to watch it. The film was turned off halfway through though when Ben and teh crew do a home invasion and Ben kills the small child. A few girls in class told me i was a freak and the teacher took about half an hour to explain to me that that is not what good cinema is.
2, Any acts of violence towards children.
3. Any acts of violence by children.
I’m against censoring violence in movies, and generally have a pretty strong stomach, but when Beatrice Dalle started cutting open Alysson Paradis’ pregnant stomach with a pair of scissors in Inside I was literally squirming with discomfort. I think I even closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths before I could resume watching the film.
To be fair, Franz & Meize, that movie is simply not appropriate in a public school setting. If it were a university course there’d probably be a much different reaction because university coursework is often dedicated to pulling students out of a general knowledge of a field to the much more specialized approach to its variety and uses. High school is about establishing a basic knowledge of the structure of critical thinking (five paragraph essays, familiarizing ones’ self with the literary devices, learning basic ways to interpret symbolism so that symbols become more recognizable) and typically do not move into the way art challenges, but sticks to building up the idea that art speaks.
Now I know that the teacher’s reaction is frustrating because as a teacher s/he should be able to work through these very challenges and lead the class in discussion, but the fact of the matter is that that very film terminology may be outside the careful line many public (and actually ESPECIALLY private) school teachers have to walk between expanding the world for their students (all of their intimate goal, especially since it’s not like they’re getting paid well for their work) and confronting and discussing topics that are better worked out through parents at this stage of life. Among many of the things I was trying to do to keep myself stable stateside before my current job was looking into becoming a substitute teacher, and as a result I had to read quite a bit of the literature around it. The most significant thing I came across is that as much as everyone dreams of opening the world up to every eager mind, the liability of a school system requires a professionalism that involves setting ethical standards of discourse, especially in high school—because just as the kids are becoming adults, they are also learning to push and push and push against these standards, so the teacher has to take a firm stance to avoid being toppled over.
Shitty? YES. Unfortunately we’re talking development here and not intellectualism. It’s not that high schooler’s aren’t “prepared” for this type of stuff, but that the teachers have to psychologically set these standards to keep their class and workload in order, professionally. Some teachers are better at doing this than others, some are incredibly brilliant at taking something like “Man Bites Dog” and shutting it off and explaining why while still allowing student inquiry into the topics—some get put off by something unexpected, which assuredly Man Bites Dog IS, and because they haven’t prepared the theoretical framework to contextualize the movie AND because they know their job is on the line for continuing the presentation of it, they may have to fall back on some more obviously rhetorical ethical and aesthetic standards. Empathize at least with this: the teacher was not expecting it, and has a job that is very criticized if the teacher strays out of line in any direction ANY parent or supervisor arbitrarily disagrees with.
All of this posting being bunk if you’re in college, in which case, what the fuck man, who the hell is your professor?
As for the girls, don’t worry about it. The day I graduated high school, one of those very girls walked up to me and said, “You know, you’re a very knowledgeable person and I wish we had hung out more.” I’m still a little angry about this (“YOU MEAN YOU LIKED ME THE WHOLE TIME?!”) but whatdyaknow, awkward stage, it wasn’t like I tried reaching out to her either. Fun times, fun times.
Where was I?
Oh yeah. So anyway, Man Bites Dog is great but you knew what you were going to get, c’mon. Like the kid that walks into the church with a heavy metal shirt and then complains about everyone’s whispers and stairs—yeah yeah they’re judging you but you know the forum, you know what reaction you’re trying to illicit. A movie that questions violence and even how we take pleasure in it—shown in a high school class. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that that half an hour lecture was the teacher trying to explain why the film is inappropriate for the forum presented in, albeit possibly anxiously and unclearly.
Unless you’re in college in which case this whole post is bunk and man, who the hell is your professor? (x2).
I don’t understand some of the prudish responses to violence here. Inclusion of violence in a film does not imply positive approval of violence by the film’s creators. Like, does such a thing even need to be stated at this point? For me, the distinction has nothing to do with violence itself being beyond the pale, but whether it’s gratuitous/pointless or constructive within the boundaries of the film. I’ll let other people be their own shepherds. I don’t need to be sitting there in the theater stewing about what somebody else might take from a bunch of flickering images on a large screen. It’s not my place to determine whether some play violence is or is not suitable for others to be watching.
There’s a rather ‘graphic’ scene in Marina de Van’s Dans ma peau where Esther scratchs her already scorched leg with a piece of glass that is unbearable to watch. Never has a scene of self-mutilation disturbed me that much.
Actually, it’s worth mentioning both for my response above and for people engaging in this thread:
When you become a provocateur, it’s going to work. You are going to successfully upset someone—and then you have an upset person on your hands. Provocation in cinema is made with the knowledge that not only will some people find it completely irredeemable, but will find good arguments and reasons for doing so as well. But they know the cinema still succeeds in provoking a reaction. It’s more frustrating being the audience and not wanting to “fall” for it, but that doesn’t change the fact that the guys that made Man Bites Dog are probably staving off the same conflicts of angry letters, threats of censorship, threats of harm, the same questions at festivals, the same criticisms, the same critics, the same stuff they brought to the surface every day.
Which is why I don’t watch much Lars von Trier, I’m into the cinema of provocateur but I know he successfully provokes me without giving me much else I like to work with (like in the case of Antichrist I was more upset that he dedicated it to Tarkovsky than by any of the actual imagery or themes, or in Boss of it All I was more upset that I had bothered with such two-dimensional characters when that was obviously the point, making them even more flat and uninteresting), so I’d rather not be left just with feeling upset (for legitimately arbitrary reasons). I’m still on the limb with Haneke, I can tell he’s thought everything through but sometimes I get tired of the white wall of emptiness he leaves us with, I’d rather there be a stain of blood just to add some texture. However, I can totally embrace Miike while disliking his American fanboy (that Roth character and his Hostel crap) because of how he treats bullies, mobs, and vomit. He gets my vote sheerly for pouring milk over wounds. I would never have thought of that myself.
Just something to keep in mind when you’re watching extremely violent non-“action” movies. You may not like it, but it’s value ultimately is going to come down to what you feel you got from it rather than getting too worked up over how it made you feel. Which not only is the hardest way to approach provocateur cinema, but is ultimately what the director deeply hopes you’ll do in the end anyway. Either way the director wins, so why not benefit from it too, and leave the bile for the director to deal with?
And if you’re becoming a provocateur yourself, comment criticize and confront, but don’t complain. You asked for it.
This thread title is somewhat misleading; the idea of cinephiles being bothered by onscreen violence is a little absurd. Perhaps shocked, but film buffs should never be bothered by depictions of violence. And why have children – and animals, for that matter – been singled out for exclusion and not, say, the elderly, or the disabled? I’ll chalk it up to a symptom of phony compassion.
An interesting question. I’ve become quite innured to violence in film and can generally stomach anything you care to throw at me. Like a few others have said though I find it very distressing to see cruelty to animals in film. I think there’s a big difference between watching adult actors involved in acted out violence for a film and an animal being harmed for a film. The animal has no say in the matter and is not acting. Right now I’m thinking of the protracted cat cruelty scene featuring the young girl in Tarr’s Satantango. I found that extremely hard going as that was very obviously a real cat and it was quite clearly being mistreated. Frankly, I can’t get on board with anyone filming that scene, never mind it being cleared to be shown to an audience in the final cut. Very disturbing.
On the other hand I’m not too fussed about seeing actors doing all sorts of harm to each other as I’m well aware that they’re just actors acting, so bring it on – I like seeing things I don’t see in real life. Recently I’ve been wondering though what effect being involved in the shooting of protracted and realistically violent scenes have on the actors concerned. I’m thinking here of the extended rape scene in Irreversible which I can’t help thinking must have been quite distressing for Jo Prestia and especially Monica Bellucci to film. The end product I found extremely disconcerting to watch, and Irreversible is certainly the most disturbingly vicious and violent film I’ve ever seen (that’s not to say I don’t rate the film highly – quite the contrary in fact, and I liked Satantango aswell).
I’ve seen more than my fair share of violent films but I find that it all comes down to execution and context. Violence for the sake of it I find boring in general, and sometimes I’m offended by the cynicism of it. If the violence is integral to the tone and/or narrative it can enhance a film very effectively.
While I’ve been writing this I thought of a few scenes that made my raise my eyebrows when I first saw them:
1. American History X – Where the neo nazi makes the black guy rest his top teeth on the sidewalk kerb then stomps on his head.
2. Irreversible – The rape scene.
3. Audition – Imagine someone jabbing your eyeball with a syringe while you’re immobilised but completely conscious.
The entire film Man Bites Dog is an act of violence that bothered me.
I refuse to watch any film where animals were killed for the entertainment of its audience (Cannibal Holicaust, Cannibal Ferox, a bunch of other old generically titled cannibal films).
As for gore, I don’t have too much of a problem with it (unless its at Philosophy of a Knife levels or deals with the eyes/groin) because I’m usually able to step back and appreciate the art behave the special effects themselves.
With rape and violence to women/children, I’m somewhat bothered, but not nearly as much as I would like to be. I would certainly prefer to have been disgusted by Death Wish and Rob Zombie’s Halloween, but I was unphased.
Polaris DIB – Thank you for your lengthy response, I found it rather interesting. I am at college, but English college, so I was 16 when I started and 18 when I finsihsed. I agree with you that I quite obviousy did pick the most controversial film i could think of, to see what reaction i would get from the other students, who too regularly proved their ignorance when it came to film studies, moaning about having to watch Foreign films, or black and white, or anyting before 1970, called “Old as fuck”. I am a bit of a provocateur, and pride myself on it, as sometimes i feel that, including teachers, i may not have been the most intelligent person at my college, but i was definitly the most well read and erudite, but as i said this doesnt mean anything since i failed most of my courses passing only Film and sculpture, barely.
Watching the tongue cutting scene in Oldboy.
When the deaf-mute got his Achilles’ tendons severed in Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance.
The beginning of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, when they’re pretty much butchering the guy off camera!
Virtually any modern mainstream horror film that insists on the now usual gratuitous graphic violence and gore, meant to inspire senseless disgust and momentary amusement.
" the idea of cinephiles being bothered by onscreen violence is a little absurd. Perhaps shocked, but film buffs should never be bothered by depictions of violence."
I don’t understand. What are the specific definitions you have behind “bothered” and “shocked”, and their role or affect in “cinephilia”? I feel making a movie actually bother someone, as opposed to shocking them, is a much stronger and more difficult goal to pull off. For instance, I entirely credit Demonlover as being the carefulest-laid, outright disturbing masterpiece it is, which is why I own it—but I find it so disturbing and bothersome, I have a really hard time watching it (and at one point pledged not to ever again until it came up in a — surprise! — French cinema course*).
*And after I approached my professor with, “What the fuck, you’re showing Demonlover, that’s the most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen!” she kept asking me questions about my responses, until I was finished laying it out for her, at which point she said, “Fantastic, you’re going to teach the class on it the day we play it, then. I really wanted to know if anybody got anything out of it because it confused me, that’s why I was showing it.” So I got to lecture the class about how they are all intimately and economically responsible for the torture and rape of women for entertainment for a good hour and a half. FUN TIMES!
So I got to lecture the class about how they are all intimately and economically responsible for the torture and rape of women for entertainment for a good hour and a half. FUN TIMES!
i have to rethink my “want to watch” list now…
i’m always bothered by act of violence in any type of films but that doesnt always mean that i’m never gonna like that film or give it bad ratings. i admit i will distant myself from that sort of movies but there are days when i just look beyond it and not care at all (but very rarely). i’m very easily disturbed by violence which sometimes gets in a way of my cinephilic experience. i just cant get past it.
All of Inside and probably any other New French Extremity film if I had the guts to watch them.
The rape in Straw Dogs was priceless…
“the idea of cinephiles being bothered by onscreen violence is a little absurd.”
I consider myself a cinephile and yet I try to avoid as best I can gratuitously violent films, I do find it shocking and bothersome – I don’t generally watch any horror/action films they just aren’t my cup of tea. I’m not going to watch Salo, Irreversible, Audition, Portrait of a Serial Killer etc any time soon. I do not understand why anyone would want to watch such films, this whole ‘transgressive cinema’ thing I find utterly repulsive, I don’t see the merit in violence for violence’s sake. I personally find it disturbing how many people seem to run to watch the latest Saw offering, I don’t think people wanting to watch other people getting tortured rather than you know a character driven drama with subtitles is a good thing.
I do get quite annoyed at Rape in cinema, it seems to have become merely a “look how serious I am” devise rather than a commentary on patriarchy, misogyny etc too many films seem to have a leering voyeuristic approach that I find absolutely vulgar and distasteful – we are not learning anything (the experience of the victim, the mind that would commit such an act, wider prevailing Sexism that exists in society etc), we are merely looking at a heinously violent act. I’m one of the few people who find Clockwork Orange reactionary and incredibly offensive, it’s exactly how the Daily Mail sees society.
I agree with everything Allan here says
I hate anything misogynist or misanthropic like Irreversible, Salo, Antichrist or here highly regarded Man Bites Dog. people say it’s art, I don’t think so.
is there something glorious watching Monica Belucci being raped for 9 minutes?
There was a good essay on the portrayal of brutal violence in cinema in the recent issue of Bright Lights Film Journal (http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/69/69rape_kuersten.php) that proposes that the problem with such brutalisation is that it tends to bring about a heck lot of dehumanisation on both ends, tends to desensitise while playing off subconscious desires (somewhat questionable perhaps), without resorting to thought-terminating, intuition-based `it just is` arguments
`I’m one of the few people who find Clockwork Orange reactionary and incredibly offensive, it’s exactly how the Daily Mail sees society.`
I strongly agree!
I was incredibly disturbed by that “firecracker” scene in Mysterious Skin on multiple levels.
witnessing harm being brought to a living creature that can’t defend itself is grounds for a gutteral reaction from me… Michael Beach as Pluto in ONE FALSE MOVE provides a perfect example…
I would just like to say regarding mr. polaris comment that I too rooted and laughed during both Inglorious Basterds and Taken. Basterds cause films of Tarantino and Coen brothers I can’t take seriously, it’s like watching Three Stooges. Taken, I must admit I wish the same fate to all people who force young women to sexual slavery.