The Artists’ Freedom of Speech and the Audience’s Right for Respect

By Scott Nehring

Since the first jerky, black-and-white images were cast onto a screen, film content has been the catalyst for myriad contentious arguments. Early concerns over social corruption led to restrictions on displays of sex and violence in movies. The desire to curb cinema’s darker influences led to the Hays Code (also known as the Production Code), a set of restrictions placed on film content. Filmmakers who sought product distribution were compelled to abide by the Code.

Some might say enforcement of these restraints limited artists’ options, but you could also argue that the Code forced artists to develop skills as creative storytellers, or at least become clever problem solvers in the presentation of questionable content.

The Code was in place for nearly four decades, but by the 1960s filmmakers had compelled the pendulum of acceptable content away from wholesomeness. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), The Graduate (1967), and Bonnie and Clyde (1967) delivered controversial content to broad audiences and radically changed public discourse. Social upheavals allowed the entertainment industry to jettison what they considered to be the restrictions of the past.

Jack Valenti,  President of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), oversaw development of what we, today, call the Ratings System, launched in November  of 1968. Recorded industry discussion of movement away from the Hays Code and to the Ratings System states the move to be a positive development in modern culture. In truth, establishment of the Ratings System enabled an important power shift between those who make films and those who watch them.

The Hays Code protected audiences from harsh displays of violence, drug use, and sexuality and held the filmmakers responsible for the material they included in a film. The new Ratings System allowed filmmakers more freedom of speech (a good thing), but it also transferred responsibility for content awareness from the artists to the audience. The industry transformed into a “buyer beware” relationship and, after years of limitations on creative desires, filmmakers became unimpeded in their self-expression.

With all stops removed, filmmakers immediately flexed their new muscles and reflected society’s new sexual and social mores. Midnight Cowboy (1969), The Wild Bunch (1969), and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) offered mainstream audiences the sexuality and violence impossible to show ten years prior.

Filmmakers’ new set of tools were immediately employed. New freedoms forged in the ’60s led to an American renaissance in the ’70s fronted by a new generation of directors like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola. Conversely, lack of restrictions also led to rougher content from the likes of Wes Craven, George Romero, and Tobe Hooper, who pushed hard against the new envelope to see how far they would be allowed to go.

And things have been taken far—for many people, much too far.

The 1980s brought the VCR and an explosion of video nasties (I Spit on Your Grave, Faces of Death), rental store gore fests, and teenage sex comedies (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Last American Virgin).

Today there seems to be little, if any, filtering at creative levels. Yes, films are often edited to achieve a lower theatrical release rating, but these same productions are then released for individual viewing in unrated versions or directors’ cuts with much of the controversial content reinserted. Material once exclusive to adult entertainment venues on grimy side streets now finds new markets among wide-eyed teens—and too often their younger siblings as well.

During the last half-century, film directors were king (or queen), and we permitted them to push every envelope, to explore every nook and cranny of our imaginations. They’re like the cloistered kid who moved out of his parents’ house, found himself without rules, and began to binge.

Films wallow in our basest urges and greedily offer everything there is to see.  Many young filmmakers thrill to be the next to gross-out or enrage their patrons (or patrons’ “parental units”).  We have arrived at a place where our culture allows distribution of The Human Centipede (an evil doctor surgically attaches three victims, mouth-to-rectum, and forces them to swallow each other’s feces—available in Blu-Ray or widescreen DVD at WalMart)—an appropriate analogy for many of today’s artists who encourage their audiences to feast on others’ waste.

In a free society, the artist must have freedom of speech; but for a functional society, the artist must be held responsible for the speech they produce.

Too often a filmmaker’s criterion is what they can show not what they should show. Many directors, particularly independents, disregard accountability and discount responsibility to their audience (and cast and crew, for that matter).

When a viewer sits through a film, they lend their time to the filmmaker. It is not overstatement to say that audience members entrust the filmmaker with their conscious and subconscious minds. The images seen can remain with them for life.  This is a powerful position the filmmaker holds over people he may never meet.

When directors whimsically insert brutal violence, depraved sexuality, or other content distressing to an audience, it is common for them to respond to criticism with hackneyed retorts such as “because I want to show how violent our society is,” “because I want to challenge the audience’s perceptions,” or “I wanna shock people because I’m immature and am subconsciously striking back at Mommy and Daddy.” Such attitudes display disrespect and disregard for society as a whole, and we should shun these works and those who create them.

Filmmakers, take note: Self-management is the best way to undermine arguments for censorship or oversight. It can be a voluntary code of conduct, an awakening of common morality in the industry, or teaching of artistic ethics in film schools.

Hopefully, as society continues to be served the bile of an arts community more interested in degenerating than inspiring their patrons, we—the audience—will swing the pendulum back toward the creative storytelling which builds a solid society.

Originally presented in Movies and Culture Report, Mid-April 2011 issue, by You Are What You LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Twin Tower Cameos

Below is a video that shows the Twin Towers in film.  Worth watching.

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Movie Poster: Cross of Iron

Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews

Movie Trailer: The Pirates! Band of Misfits

While the trailer isn't impressive, I am forced to lean on Aardman Studios' reputation and assume this is going to be better than it looks.  They did create Wallace & Gromit and that has to be worth something.

Screenshot: Army of Darkness

Evil Dead Army of Darkness

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Movie Quote: Wag the Dog (1997)

Good News Film Reviews Movie Quote

Stanley Motss
What did television ever do to you?

Winifred Ames
It destroyed the electoral process.

Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews

Movie Trailer: Jack and Jill

It should go without saying that this looks like utter crap.

That out of the way, there are couple of things in this trailer that hit a little close to home.  I have a twin sister and throughout my life I have had people ask the same stupid questions when they find out I'm a twin.  Some are in the trailer.

Here are my responses to the most common idiotic questions:

Are you identical twins? 
Yes.  My twin sister looks just like me except she has boobs.  The poor thing is locked up in the city zoo.

When one of you gets hurt, can the other one feel it?
A) That came from the freaking Nazis who then tested on twins to see if it was true.  
B) The answer is yes and my sister's wedding night was the worst day of my life.

Do you have a special language?
Yes.  We call it "bitching at one another".

Do you know what the other one is thinking?
Sure.  Usually it is contempt.

You're a twin, you're going to have twins yourself right?
I am a man.  My sperm doesn't split.  It's an egg thing.  If you want, I can draw you a diagram.

You must be best friends.
You must not know my sister very well.

It must have been nice for your parents to only have to buy one birthday present and one Christmas present.
Yeah, because nothing makes twins feel more special than when they are treated as one entity.  Solid parenting there.  Please don't breed.  If you have kids, please give them away.

Movie Poster: Soylent Green

Movie Trailer: Flypaper

Two separate gangs of bumbling bank robbers converge on the same bank at closing time.  The security system locks both gangs and everyone else inside.  Hilarity ensues...hopefully.

It's not a bad pitch for a comedy.  The trailer suggests plenty of dark, violent humor - which isn't necessarily a good thing since it almost never works.  The presence of Tim Blake Nelson raises the stock up a little however.

Screenshot: Alien 3

Alien 3

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Weekend DVD Recommendation: Winchester '73 (1950)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

Winchester 73With Winchester '73, director Anthony Mann uses the mythological expanse of the Western genre to full effect.  Following the path of a cursed gun (a coveted Winchester 73) from owner to owner, this film spins a half a dozen short tales about greed and revenge.

At the heart of the film are archenemies Lin McAdam (Jimmy Stewart) and Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally).  The two gunmen compete head to head in a shooting contest in Dodge City for the prized Winchester. The two characters are snarling dogs waiting for the chance to strike. This impending clash between the equally talented marksmen instills a great tension throughout the movie. This focuses the story even when we are left for long periods without either of the main characters on screen.

This is a film that shows the importance of not only scene work but fully developed secondary and tertiary characters. As I mentioned above, there are stretches of time when we do not see either the hero or villain. We are left dealing with the secondary players. The script is so taut and fully realized the film doesn’t suffer from this usually fatal choice. Using the Winchester as a thread to weave the various scenes into a complete narrative Mann pulls off a very complicated work.

I recommend this film because it has a depth and complexity often missing from today’s films.  Besides, it is just plain fun to watch.  If you have a son, this is a great pick.  The shooting competition that opens the film will certainly draw him in.  The twisting tales and gunfights will also thrill him.

Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews

Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews

Movie Mistakes

This video displays some of the most famous movie mistakes from the past 10 years or so.  Skip the first few seconds to miss the voice-puking announcers. 

Movie Trailer: The Hunger Games

Here is the first trailer for The Hunger Games film adaptation.  As far as teasers go, it really isn't that great.  Unless you're steeped in The Hunger Games books, you have no idea what the heck is going on beyond some chick in the woods with a bow.  If you are a reader, I still don't see how this really whets the appetite.  Hopefully, the final production will be more fulfilling.   

Movie Quote: Blood Diamond (2006)

Good News Film Reviews Movie Quote

Maddy Bowen
You lost both your parents.

Danny Archer
That's a polite way of putting it, ja. Mum was raped and shot and uh... Dad was decapitated and hung from a hook in the barn. I was nine... boo-hoo right?

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Movie Trailer: Margin Call

The trailer really works until the give up the big secret.  Once you find out its about the financial meltdown it loses its bite.  Is there some drama in the evil performed by big business?  Yes, of course.  But, how does this particular story work beyond what you see in the trailer.  These folks commit fraud on a massive scale and talk about it.  And?  One wonders how much will be pushed purely on the shoulders of big business and how much will be ignored about the government's direct involvement in the disaster?

The fact that Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore and Paul Bettany are in the cast is a very bad sign when it comes to objectivity.  All three, in particular Spacey, are known for heavy handed, social agenda and political productions.  They simply can't be trusted to deliver a reasoned exploration of what really happened.

Movie Poster: The Sheik

The Sheik movie poster

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Movie Trailer: The Rum Diary

Fans of Hunter S. Thompson and those who enjoyed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will have fits when they see this.

I am no fan of Thompson.
I thought Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was one of Terry Gilliam's most obnoxious films - and he's the king of obnoxious.

This is adapted by Bruce Robinson, while he did write The Killing Fields, he is also responsible for Return to Paradise, Jennifer Eight and In Dreams.  Don't remember those last three movies?  There's a reason.  Given Depp's track record for making lousy flicks when he's not dressed up and acting like a complete goof ball, I see no reason to get too excited about this film.

Culture Quote: The Culture of Narcissism

The invasion of the family by industry, the mass media, and the agencies of socialized parenthood has subtly altered the quality of the parent-child connection. It has created an ideal of perfect parenthood while destroying parents' confidence in their ability to perform the most elementary functions of child rearing.

Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism

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A Movie You Might Have Missed: Brick (2005)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

BrickWhen I first heard the buzz about this film coming out of the fests, my first reaction was that it was simply talk. This was probably going to be yet another dim bulb production hyped up beyond it’s worth. This film is worth the hype.

Rian Johnson offers one of the most stunning directorial debuts into the mainstream since Bryan Singer released The Usual Suspects. His gritty, intelligent film is a huge risk. Johnson takes the marks of film noir and shoehorns them into a high school setting with a self-aware wink to the audience. The plot is about about a teenage boy who is tries to unravel the mystery of his ex-girlfriend’s murder. The teenage boy Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a classic film noir anti-anti-hero and is adorned with all of the cliché trappings of the form. His dialog is surreal and snappy. His demeanor is aloof and he does well when cornered. Gordon-Levitt provides a well-tempered performance in a film that could have made him look like a fool.

The risk Johnson takes could have fallen on it's face but he pulls it off and the result is a very enjoyable, quick witted feast for film lovers.

Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews

Movie Trailer: The Ides of March

This could be good.  Yes, it is directed by George Clooney.  The fact is that Clooney did a respectable job with Good Night and Good Luck and was able to pull some quality performances out of his actors.  The fact that this is a political film and it comes from Clooney is certainly a reason to give pause.  Normally, I would be hesitant since I don't know if I agree with Clooney on anything but Darfur.  This is an adaptation of  Farragut North a play about the Howard Dean Presidential run in 2004.  A liberal digging into a powerful liberal figure is worth seeing.  Clooney avoids the usual partisan nonsense with this material.  This could be very insightful.

A couple of notes.

1.  Will Clooney give us the Dean Scream?

2. Look at this poster for the film


It is a very good poster with one minor problem.  Time Magazine?  What is this-1980?  Who reads Time at other than old widows and bored people in waiting rooms?  Time Magazine is People Magazine with more words.

Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews

Movie Quote: The Way Back (2010)

Good News Film Reviews Movie Quote

Don't you know what "Stalin" means, funny man? Means man-of-steel. He takes from rich, and gives to poor.

Yes, of course he does. Then he takes both of them, and puts them in Gulag for 25 years.

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