Thursday, April 26, 2007

Gratuity

I was walking down the street in front of two random guys who were embroiled in a big screaming two-person rant about, as I recall, Grindhouse. The specific movie doesn't matter. The key is they were outraged about someone saying the movie had "gratuitous violence". One of them started going off about "gratuity" and a "gratuity" being a tip and such, clearly believing that his connection wasn't real - and obvious, when actually considered for a moment - and that he was merely using an odd bit of coincidental homophony to make an "ironic" statement.

Not terribly long afterward, I watched The Flesh and Blood Show by Pete Walker, which begins with a nearly perfect gratuitous nude scene. A loud knock at the door, woman gets up starkers, as they say, answers the door, not even stopping to ponder the idea of putting some clothes on, then, after a brief punchline, they go about an expositional conversation about the set-up of the movie. It would have achieved full perfection, had she not gotten dressed before the expositional conversation. I mean, why bother to put something for someone you know and stood naked in front of for five minutes, if you're the sort who answers the door naked?

In fairly short-order it then comes to an incredibly wonky gratuitous boob scene in which a woman, waiting for other actors to arrive at the theater she's in, pulls down her top to sleep on a bench. Now, taking it off, that might have been arguably more comfortable, but it was just kind of a loose halter, I can't imagine that pulling it down for a nap would have done anything except... I don't know. I'm sure that if even I am rolling my eyes at your gratuitous boob shot, you needed to rethink it. Not take it out, mind you, just rewrite it to any of a thousand other reasons that would be even the tiniest bit more sensible. Seriously, I accepted the naked door answering. Just bring it to that level of plausibility.

I'm not reviewing the movie or its rather delightful, if occasionally ridiculous, obssession with breasts.

I'm here to say that "gratuitous violence" and "gratuitous nudity" are stupid terms.

Not that writing this rant will stop anyone, including me, from using them, but it must be said.

First of all, movies are basically gratuitous entertainment. New movies are even moreso.

Frankly, there are enough movies out there.

Aren't there?

I mean, I'm not arguing in favor of cessation of new movie production. Not at all. I am, in fact, attempting to make a few myself.

But seriously. There are not only many, many more movies in existance already than you could get around to seeing in your lifetime, but there are more movies in existance that you would enjoy if you did see them than you could get around to seeing in your lifetime. In fact, there are more movies that you would like, that tell a similar story with a similar moral to the ones that are being made and will be made in the future that you will see instead, than you could get around to seeing in your lifetime.

Period.

Not only that. If all existing movies ceased to be and movies ceased to be made, you would find ways to fill your needs for storytelling, visual stimulus and entertainment. So would I, although for some of us there would be more weeping involved in the transition than for others.

The entire existence of the medium is beyond that which is necessary for human beings to fill their primal need for storytelling and entertainment.

Ok, you ask, but aren't there stories that can't be told without certain levels of violence, sex or simply nudity?

Nope.

But, isn't that what all the directors say to the starlets to get them naked? Or at least what the starlets say to their mothers and the press to explain their nudity?

That certainly is the rumor with the former, and absolutely the case with the latter. But the director is certainly either lacking creativity or lying - I'd bet on lying, myself, even in the case of not very creative directors - and the starlets are either gullible or lying.

I have no intention of ever trying that crap myself, as a director.

One could tell the story of Cannibal Holocaust without the gore. Would it be any good? I dunno. Who is the director doing this?

Mind you, this has to be at the scripting and/or shooting stage. I don't believe you could cut the gore and violence out of the existing footage and make anything that even makes sense, even less is good. But starting from scratch? Telling that story?

Here's the most concise of the plot summaries on IMDb, "An NYU anthropology professor heads to the Amazon to locate four missing documentarians, but can only return with their footage. Upon viewing, he discovers how the group's fate came to be, after they tortured and exploited the natives they were filming."

Sure. I'm saying a good director could make a damn fine picture of that story with less grue.

I know that a couple of times the nude scenes in Lakeside were an issue, certainly at the time I had someone refuse to audition for the male lead because of it (see Integrity and prudishness).

Here's where the distinction needs to be drawn.

I like graphic violence and nudity in movies, so part of what interested me in writing and developing this story was the potential for violence and nudity. There were other factors involved. Based on my viewing of a number of horror shorts, I believed it was worth holding the ground that nudity could help it be noticed and remembered above other shorts that may be of approximately equal quality, but wuss out on the actual display of flesh. But most of all, I want those elements in my movie... and probably in most, if not all, of my future movies.

I've never stated or purposely implied that I couldn't tell this story without those elements. I could. It might even be a good movie... just not the one I want to make. These are two different things.

I doubt you could find many moviemakers or storytellers of any sort who wouldn't basically agree with this, at least if they were being wholly honest, with themselves as well as you.

It's all gratuitous, though.


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