I was talking to my Dad about films we had seen together recently and he decided to mention that he thought violent films were often very distasteful. I am sure he did not think this through entirely but do you think so as well. Are all violent films distasteful, or just a few and only certain acts of violence.
Some are and some aren’t. There are as many kinds of violent films as there are films without violence, so any overriding statement about “all” of them would be pretty ill considered.
He means films like Peckinpah, Pasolini, Jodorowsky, and even Leone to some extent and Scorsese
Even in that group, there’s a lot of range. Peckinpah, Scorsese and Leone style violence doesn’t bother me. I’ve never seen Pasolini or Jodorowsky, but their reputaions indicate that there’s a far higher level of tolerance required, especially in the case of Salo, which sounds pretty distasteful to me.
I think its a film by film thing. And we all have to determine our own limits.
Well, i disagree there, because Taxi Driver’s final scene i found very violent and disturbing (and i think it still is, nowadays, which shows it remains a classic and has stood the test of time).
Pasolini’s Salo is not so much violent, but disgusting (young people forced to eat faeces by the Fascists, etc); and the special effects of the final scene are so obvious that you can’t really take it seriously. It was the scenes of sexual degradation which were distasteful, more a kind of emotional violence which was difficult to watch.
The only violence I find distasteful in films is when actual violence takes place in the name of fiction.
Andrei Rublev is one of my favorite films, but the animal cruelty in the film is pretty disgusting. Whether or not the animals were going to be “slaughtered” the next day, they were essentially ACTUALLY tortured for the sake of a piece of fiction.
Now, if it’s gruesome images of war or a sort of documentation of actual atrocities- that’s something I think needs to be watched. But if those atrocities are perpetuated by an artist to make the film more edgy, I think it’s pretty awful.
I tend to try and figure out the filmmaker’s message.
And, does the violence of the movie outweigh that message. Unless, of course, the violence IS the message. In which case, it might be more acceptable.
But there is scale and intent too.
Note the absolute destruction that happens to New York in THE AVENGERS. It is not mentioned by critics and pretty much forgotten because it is a super hero movie. But the rape or death of a character in IRREVERSIBLE [while being on a much smaller scale] is pretty awful.
One factor to consider too is what becomes acceptable over time.
Your dad mentions Peckinpah and Leone, which these days seem much more tame than their films were to audiences in the 1960’s and 70’s. In 1967 BONNIE AND CLYDE was considered offensive by some critics – [one of whom quit reviewing because of it]. But today the ending while still harsh is hardly shocking.
I will say OLD BOY disturbed me. It seems more like a cool, pro-violent movie. I found it distasteful. I got rid of it.
I would say that Peckinpah’s violence in The Wild Bunch and Kubrick’s in A Clockwork Orange, whilst aimed to do the very opposite of what they eventually did, are not distasteful to one who can respect them on principle of their intention and what they do achieve despite (or in spite of) that intent. Pasolini’s violence I find to be decent in terms of taste because it makes you aware of what is going on and you’re not merely consuming fictious violence. Leone’s I would also saw is not all so terrible or sensationalist.
Guys like Tarantino, Eli Roth, Takashi Miike and Park Chan Wook’s…that’s another conversation.
“He means films like Peckinpah, Pasolini, Jodorowsky, and even Leone to some extent and Scorsese”
He kind of just sounds like a square.
On a related note, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that anyone could find Oldboy “pro-violence.”
torture can be distasteful
I find humiliation found is most comedies far more distateful
the mpaa of course would tell you that only sex is distasteful
due to recent events
imagine violence will be distasteful on the screen for a little while
I would hate to be Jack Reacher or Django right now
Scorsese, at least when he was at the peak of his powers, never showed violence for its own sake, violence emerged organically from his characters. Leone and Peckinpah, on the other hand, used violence as a sort of foundation around which to build their characters, narratives and aesthetics.
Here is a small but growing list of movies that have grated me in a way that I found less meaningful (despite here and there ‘understanding what they’re trying to do’) and more disturbing — disturbing that the filmmaker thinks this way, not disturbing for the filmmaker to make a point.
Most of them involve at least one point of violence that added to this feeling. Observe and Report, for instance, would have managed to toe the line between ‘Actually the point is that the main character is fucked up’ and ‘But hey we can still laugh along!’ via a date rape scene and a very unjustified shooting that was passed off as if it weren’t a problem.
Christopher M. Jones
it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that anyone could find Oldboy “pro-violence.”
I was being a bit flippant. But I mean that its message gets lost in its use of violence. Yes, its theme is not pro-violence. It’s rather a sad film actually. But the take-away from the film for many people is the amazing violent scenes.
So does the violence outweigh the message? I think it does in that film.
Most people won’t remember the final scenes. They instead remember the well choreographed fight scene where he takes on a whole bunch of guys. That’s what I mean. Of course they may also remember the octopus eating scene in which case maybe that is the take-away?
“Andrei Rublev is one of my favorite films, but the animal cruelty in the film is pretty disgusting. Whether or not the animals were going to be “slaughtered” the next day, they were essentially ACTUALLY tortured for the sake of a piece of fiction.”
Yeah, this. I was going to bring this up with Jodorowsky, his dubious use of toads and lizards in HOLY MOUNTAIN that appears to involve actually harming them. And something I was reading about one of his earlier performance art street theater pieces led me to believe that he seemed pretty okay with killing animals for art, which is a bummer considering that otherwise, HOLY MOUNTAIN rubs me very much the right way. Herzog also gets on my nerves with some of the clear animal mistreatment across his movies. And these are directors I admire and love. Sheesh.
On the other hand, one could make the argument that violent films should be distasteful. We should be made to feel a little bit unpleasant in the face of violence. But we rarely are. Most of the time ‘movie violence’ is exciting and entertaining.
I don’t buy the argument that people have become desensitized to violence and therefore we are more violent because when you see it in real life it still remains unpleasant. But the argument can be made that perhaps we don’t take violence in movies seriously enough. After seeing a really violent movie should we still feel like going to dinner?
Depends on the purpose of the violence. If it does something good for the story or style of the film.
Violence used for its own sake or for shock value is distasteful. But saying all violence in films is distasteful? That’s just narrow minded. Why can’t he just say ‘It is not to my preference’?
“Most people won’t remember the final scenes.”
I feel like this is totally wrong, everyone I’ve spoken to who’s seen that movie focuses on the sorrow and horror of the film. The emotional core of the film is absolutely what speaks to people about Oldboy, I’ve found. I think if that weren’t the case it wouldn’t still be talked about, in film circles and out.
Hard to deny that there isn’t a little violence in all of us. Is it better to shut it away in the basement and pretend it doesn’t exist, or to give it an outlet in film, video games, ect… To face it, to look it square in the eyes? Better to get your kicks of this sort from a film than the ah, alternatives.
Also, life can be violent, nature is violent, people are violent. If art is to be any kind of honest or accurate reflection, surely violence will have its place?
For me it is less about what the “message” is and more about the honesty of whatever it is being expressed. If it’s just violence for the sake of it or just trying to be “cool”, that’s not really what I’m looking for. But if its a real artist expressing something genuine, and it happens to be violent… I don’t hold its innate violence (or lack thereof) against it, anything can be done in good or bad taste, I am not sure if anything is inherently “distasteful”.
MATT L: We should be made to feel a little bit unpleasant in the face of violence. But we rarely are.
That’s the raison d’etre of Haneke’s FUNNY GAMES.
Personally, non-gratuitous violence in films is okay by me. If it fits the story, I don’t see any harm. We know it’s not really happening. Gratuitous violence, on the other hand, is stupid and boring (hello, Quentin ;-) ) (One proviso: Violence for its own sake IS acceptable to me in a single case: if it’s in a MONTY PYTHON film.)
However, it’s hard for me to keep looking at the screen during a long scene of continuous violence and pain (even when the story warrants it). Excellent special effects and makeup combined in a protracted episode of violence can end up distressing me and make me feel uncomfortable.
I don’t think violence in film is a cause of violence in society, either. If that were the case, I’d have hacked scores of people to bits by now.
“I don’t think violence in film is a cause of violence in society, either. If that were the case, I’d have hacked scores of people to bits by now.”
One of my pet issues, actually. Trying to end the meme of causal correlation of violence in media to real life violence. In most studies that do correlate the two at all, it’s unclear whether media violence expands with real life violence, or vice versa, but I think that correlation does become clear when you look at it from a broader historical perspective; in other words, violence in American media increased in both quantity and explicitness in such instances as
*The later years of World War II
*The Vietnam Era
Also, violence in Japanese cinema is clearly more common, and more explicit, than the relatively modest violence in American cinema, and look how well the Japanese are doing not killing each other (killing themselves is a different issue, but that’s a cultural/traditional one). There are several studies altogether that compare violence in media to violence in countries and in most cases no correlation is found, except to find that America is an exceeding violent country in terms of domestic violence, and that in many cases the correlation is broken because of a logical situation where dictatorships that are heavily invested in censorship and thus remove violent media tend to get revolted against, increasing violence in those counts and creating a false inverse correlation that has to be hedged out of the studies.
Furthermore, overall amongst developed, rich countries, there tends to be an inverse correlation between violence in media and domestic violence simply because they expend so much time and energy both making and consuming the violent media, that they don’t have time to actually commit violence; or, to put it in another way, they have enough money to expend it in media production and consumption, that they don’t need to use violent means to get basic needs.
Within developed, rich countries, the more violent areas always tend to be the ones that are actually underrepresented in media, disenfranchised, and neglected. So there’s no ‘hero worship’ of violent acts going on mostly because those areas lack fictional role models to be inspired by.
Lastly, in some cases they find violent media desensitizes people to violence, though those studies are imperfect (basically every time a new one is done, it comes up with a different result). That there would be how this thread seems to be going as well, as well as points toward our general conclusion: how media chooses to represent the violence, tends to affect how we perceive the destructiveness of violence. Hence when the filmmaker is careful to make the violence a disturbing, abject act, it tends to sensitize us toward violence, whereas when it’s mere entertainment or passed off in a frivolous manner, it tends to desensitize us. This is the purpose, for instance, behind my ‘Sadistic Cinema’ list shared above. What bothers me about movies like Observe and Report and Nude Nuns with Big Guns are moments of rape and actual violence that are literally passed off by filmmaker and target audience as, “Oh, you! How silly!”
So the question is, for causal correlation purposes, what is the link between desensitization and taking action toward violence? That is where there is open area for debate toward causal relationships between representative violence and acts of violence in real life. I’m actually a camera operator on a documentary that is looking into that issue from the perspective of the connection between animal and domestic abuse and one of the issues one of the speakers talks about is how, basically, we presume that people are naturally empathetic to each other, when in fact empathy has to be taught to kids at a young age. The case study comparison he put across was Walt Disney versus Jeffrey Dahmer. Both had documented histories of animal violence at a young age:Disney’s was a confessional story where he was in the woods and curiously trying to poke at an owl, when the owl defended himself Walt killed it. When he went home to tell his parents, his parents sat him down and asked him what he thought the owl felt like being poked at and attacked, and what if the owl was some other owls’ mother? Disney burst into tears and that anecdote is also applied to a biographical reading of why perhaps so many animal mothers die in his works….
Whereas Dahmer would bring home dead animals all the time and would perform dissections and decapitations, and his family passed it off as an early interest in the medical industry and never bothered to question where the animals came from.
So if we hold true that this (incompletely proven due to limited space and time on my part to post this) reverse correlation exists between empathy and violence and empathy needs be taught at a young age, then first of all that refers us back to the common argument that parental guidance is a strong necessity to reduce violence in the world, but outside of that factor it also makes us consider whether desensitization is more effective or not with already empathetic people versus people lacking empathy (in other words, the ‘violent people are drawn to violent media’ argument). So are those studies that show that some violent media desensitizes people to violence actually a result of how the media chooses to represent it, or a sampling error of people who come from backgrounds in which empathy is a smaller family or community value? And can those discrepancies really be determined at all, since even within those errors are questions of whether or not some people are just naturally born sociopaths….These complications are such that we’ve simply not been able to determine for certain what the role of violence is between media representation and society, so the debate goes on. All I know is that no study has found causal correlation between representative and actual violence, only various questionable correlations, and that to me that this case of lack of evidence points to evidence of a lack of correlation.
For the record:
I believe I watch substantially more violent movies, both in terms of quantity and explicitness of the violence, than most people.
I’m a pacifist.
I know my own personal case study won’t stand up to scrutiny, but seriously, if I can watch Ichi the Killer and giggle my ass off and then be capable of returning to real life and cringing at a real story of someone I don’t even know getting hurt by someone else I don’t even know, then I feel it’s pretty reasonable to state that irrationality in whatever form is a greater cause of violence than media representation of it. If I can do it, so can everyone else ;-P.
Sigh I wish that was all the argument that needed arguing…. would make conversations with my Denver brethren easier (many of them are strongly convinced that violent media causes violence and argue it with me all the time. It’s likely to come up this Christmas because of Sandy Bend. I’m getting impatient with it and, since there was another recent shooting in Colorado, am afraid I’m going to point out that there seems to be a stronger correlation between Colorado and violent shootings than most other states……. ….. yeah that’s a dumb argument but sometimes you get sarcastic when you get nagged about that type of shit).
Even though I chose to go with the America v. Japan presentation above, it’s actually a really, really bad idea to discuss American statistics in comparison to other countries. An England v. Japan or Germany v. Japan comparison is substantially better.
I’ve noticed that in a lot of these cross-country metrics, the US either flies off the chart or the chart itself is adjusted merely to fit the United States in, and the United States rarely, ever, fits into the regular distribution curve.
This means social studies measures of the United States are aberrant. Some people use this to restate US exceptionalism, but it’s not a matter of justification. I would be curious to see if, once the US is no longer the leading country in the world, it starts to trend back into regular distribution curves while the world leader starts to trend out of it, or if the United States is just a really weird place.
Also I’m not saying that the United States always spikes out negative trends. Sometimes they spike out of the distribution curve of positive trends as well.