Compartmentalization and Morality as Viewers

So about a month ago, I got an email update from Richard Brody and The New Yorker about a group on Facebook for film dorks. Brody has been a longtime reviewer fave of mine (behind my man Roger Ebert, bless him) so I thought, "Oh yeah, this is going to be fun." The same day, I requested, was accepted, and joined about a thousand other members posting discussions and comments about the vast world of film.

Did I mention: That was a month ago. The group has now grown to almost 10,000 members, which is crazy and frustrating but also exciting, because everyone gets exposed to opinions all over the board.

Yesterday I came across a post asking about boycotting films for reasons related to (but not specifically due to) it. The original poster cited people refusing to support Woody Allen films because of his sexual abuse allegations and Ghost in the Shell because of the race controversy in casting.

I didn't have to think about my answers at all, because this is something I have asked myself multiple times, especially over the previous year. I know many people boycotted Manchester By the Sea and Casey Affleck's Oscar win because of sexual abuse allegations surrounding him, but I still think that a bit over the top in terms of staying afoot some higher moral ground. However, there are some films I do feel convicted to boycott, if only for the sake of my own conscience. (Undoubtedly this is true for those refusing to watch Casey Affleck movies, so don't think I don't respect that decision.)

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Last Tango in Paris (1972) are two films I feel pretty strongly about. The only reason I have even come across these is because my roommate and I have this weird fascination with incredibly disturbing films. We've compiled a list of the most horrifying according to various internet lists and have created our own "to watch" list to be completed by the end of 2017 (as if 2017 isn't already disturbing enough). So far, we're down 11/23, and we've already knocked out 2/3 of the most infamous.* The shameful, revolting things we watch unfold from other movies on that list are awful but still fiction. Cannibal Holocaust and Last Tango in Paris are a little less than fiction.

Cannibal Holocaust (which literally had the goal of becoming the most disturbing film ever made—and even has a website promoting its horror) and Last Tango in Paris came up pretty frequently when scrolling through lists. When we were picking out which movies to add to our own, we came across some pretty gross controversies surrounding these two films.

For the past 30-odd years, numerous issues have been presented about Cannibal Holocaust in particular, which acts as a found footage film about a group of people in the Amazon. It's hailed in the "most disturbing movies" ranks, and understandably, considering director Ruggero Deodato was literally taken to court on obscenity charges because of how realistically he depicted various death scenes. People legitimately thought he had created a snuff film.

Deodato was cleared of those charges when he had four actors in question appear in court, but there were some accusations he couldn't deny: namely, the slaughtering of seven animals, six onscreen. (One scene in which a monkey is killed had to be shot twice, resulting in the deaths of two monkeys.)

Last Tango in Paris has different controversy surrounding it. Like Deodato's animal abuse, this was an accusation that proved true for director Bernardo Bertolucci: a rape scene between Marlon Brando (then 48) and Maria Schneider (19) that was performed, filmed, and included without consent. They didn't actually have sex when shooting the scene, but that doesn't mean Schneider wasn't horribly shaken by the unscripted experience when Brando decided that his character was going to use butter as lubricant to rape Schneider's character—and didn't tell her before shooting.

Bertolucci later said that he and Brando kept it a secret because he "wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress." He said, "I wanted her to react humiliated." When Maria's character is trying to fight off Brando's character in the scene, she was really just trying to fight off Brando.

Slaughter is not a new concept in film. Neither is rape. In fact, and I hate to admit this, I've become a little numb to watching those depictions. (I would have to be, if I'm still for some reason pushing my way through that list.)

In general, I'm not a believer in boycotting movies because of actors/directors who happen to be shitty human beings. Art is art is art. But the controversies with Cannibal Holocaust and Last Tango in Paris took place during the actual film making. Someone then thought these issues didn't matter enough to not use them in the final product. This is the real issue, because then the people involved in the making of the movie are just recording and distributing real-life crime for viewers' entertainment.

If I don't support one of the actors/directors/whomever of a film, I'll still watch the film; the film is so much more than that one person. I can separate the problematic person from the production. But if I don't support the making of a film, there is nothing left to support. I am viewing not the off-set criminal but the crime itself. The problem then becomes something impossible to separate from the production—because the problem is the production itself.


*Just FYI: "Most infamous" are A Serbian Film, Sálo, and Irreversible (all foreign). Sophie and I just have Irreversible to go.