T Nation

Irresponsible or Good Movie Making?

I’ve always heard the critics say that an important element of a good movie is that you must “care” about the characters (good or bad) or the movie will not work. I agree.


So…is it good movie making or irresponsible movie making if we are made to “care” about characters that are murders, thieves, killers and the like? My examples:


1)“Natural Born Killers”: I found myself at the end of the movie ROOTING that Mickey and Mallory would get away, despite the fact that they were heartless killers of innocent people.


2)“Bugsey”: In the end, I wanted Bugsey Segal and “The Flamingo” to be the most successful Casino ever, and for him to live “happily ever after” with his love. In reality? Segal was another selfish, heartless killer and thug.


In contrast, I didn’t like the movie “Ghandi” because AS IT WAS PRESENTED (I’m NOT talking about the real man, so no flames…!), I was indifferent about the “character”.


The list could go on. (“Godfather” comes to mind, and Pat recently alluded to “caring” about the charcters in “Spider Man”), but you get my drift.


So…good or irresponsible movie making for “making” us care about thugs and murderers?

How about how '40 days and 40 nights" ends with a rape scene that nobody is calling a rape scene? It’s absolutely undeniable in any possible sense, but presented as comical it reaffirms to us that the notion of “rape” in any context outside of traditional stereotypes of violence are a hoax.

Mufasa, are you alluding that it is then the fault of the movie industry for many in the US to becoming desensitized to violence? I have never ever given that much “power” or credibility to the movie industry. I believe it’s primary reason STILL in it’s existence is for entertainment. BUT there are those that are using their films as a way of beginning some sort of dialogue, discussion on some issues. I do welcome this. Movies are a powerful way of introducing subjects to the general public.

Granted there are those like Oliver Stone, Marten Scorsese, Sydney Lumet and others who have used their creative abilities to use their movies as presenting a "message". I believe that Natural Born Killers message was about the manipulative power of the Media. Now, I never saw that movie and am not a Oliver Stone fan. However, I think he over estimated the intelligence of most who saw that movie. In the end, it was seen as grossly romanticizing violence. But really that was not the purpose. The same could be said of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" some 20-30 years earlier. Yeah, it wasn't as violent but didn't it romanticize two criminals? (I still love that movie, though!).

Bugsy is indeed one my faves. The John Milius script is flawless and yes, here's another movie that turned a Mafia thug into a romantic lead. In the end, I didn't care for Bugsy. I knew and understood his history. However, I wanted him to succeed in his quest to build a Las Vegas strip. I don't think the film turned Bugsy Segal into a hero. But showed convincingly his flawed nature.

I don't think it's the responsibility of H-town - I believe it to be the responsibility of the movie going public. Afterall, H-Town is only giving the public "what it wants". The public went in droves to see such drivel as Pearl Harbor - a movie which turned a major historical event and tragedy into a "background" for a so-so romantic triangle. But did people care? Nope. And I could go on. BUT people just say, "it's entertainment" and "can't you just sit back and enjoy some entertainment?". I think people need to start looking seriously at their choices - I don't have much "extra" time on my hand. I have to be a little picky as to what I'm forking out $8.50 for (and sitting 90 minutes to two hours to watch...). I do want to be entertained, but don't want to be treated like a twit during that time. So I've never given the movie industry that much credit on what I choose to go see. It's my fault if I seen something that I consider to be "awful" or insulting to my intelligence.

Mufasa, if you want to watch something that is truly "shocking" but also a discussion on the violent nature of people -check out a recent Japance import, "Audition".

I have alot more to say, but we've gotta go! I just wanted to get this in!

As always, Pat…thanks!


No, no, no…this wasn’t a thread about H-Town “causing” violence or desensitizing us. I don’t believe that kind of drivel either. It was more straightforward; and that was the need to care about the characters in a film for the film to work…irregardless as to whether or not they have any redeeming qualities or not. So…I had no “hidden” message.


Stated another way…the characters can be either devils or saints…it makes no difference…if they don’t elicit some emotion in you AS A CHARACTER, the movie simply will not work.


So…I would answer my OWN question that it’s good film making to FIRST have a story that invest us in some way in the characters. SECOND, and excellent overall screenplay/story. THEN, “other” (special effects, action, titillation, comedy, etc).


So…any additional thoughts?


(P.S. Don’t you think that in “Pearl Harbor” they were attempting (albeit poorly) to duplicate Cameron’s success in “Titanic”? Take an historical event, but put it in the context of actual characters? I agree…it didn’t work…).

I agree, Mufasa: it’s important to have characters, be they “good” or "bad, in which the audience feels some kind of “connection”. If you look at the AFI’s Top 100 movie list, you can see that many of the top movies in the list had exactly this. Hmmm, but then you can also go into if the movie is “character driven” - yes, interesting/compelling characters would be important. “Plot driven” would be different in that the story is entirely important. Oh, but I can go on this forever - much to Ko’s chagrin -when I go off on this “tangent” he just gives me a blank look followed by a “but does it (the movie) have 'fight scenes and 'splosians?” :slight_smile:

Some movies that are good examples of "bad characters" that we actually don't mind investing time with: In the Line of Fire: the cat and mouse game between John Malkovitch and Clint Eastwood is memorable in that Malkovich's character is clearly homocidal but yet highly intelligent. While we are horrified in the fact of how easily it is for him to dispatch/murder people, we are drawn to him. His characterization is not one-dimensional - far from it. One of John Malkovich's best performances and a damn fine movie.

Let's look at a movie that is not considered to be "good" but yet, still drew a large audience. "Basic Instinct". Sharon Stone created a character out of a Hitchcock movie: a icy, cold blond. The reason we, the audience, was fasinated by her character, was the fact that she could possibly be the murderer or a genius writer who simply loved to manipulate/play people. It would have been such a "classic" of a movie if not for the fact that both Verhoeven (director) and the screenwriter (god, I forgot his name!!!), didn't even know how to end it themselves. And decided to just throw a icepick under the bed for the last shot. THAT scene threw out the window Stone's excellent characterization of a mysterious and compelling woman and made the audience feel completely cheated out of a good ending. What a loss! But yet, while Stone's character was not really the "good" but possibley "bad" - people were still drawn to her.

Micheal Corleone in the beginning of The Godfather did not want to continue with running the "family business". Which made us interested in him - he was "good". But in Godfather II, he had ended up as the "family leader". He was a "conflicting" character. A character of "grey" values. Where he isn't entirely good, but not entirely bad, too. And man, I can go on about this "grey" stuff in movies.

And yes, on Pearl Harbor. That's exactly what they wanted to do. And since Michael Bay is nowhere near the league of a James Cameron, it couldn't be pulled off. Thank god. And now I hear Michael Bay would like to direct a Arthurian legend-like movie and/or remake "Excalibur". I say he better keep his no-talent hands off one of MY favorites!!!!!

It also has to do with Hollywood. Hollywood wants the viewer to become sympathetic for the main character. I could go into this a lot more but that would take a lot work and no one woudl read the whole thing anyway. In the end it all has to do with how Hollywood works in order to make money.

I think people have a tendency to romanticize the lives of those who live outside the law or society that is not just in movies. A hundred years ago people cheered on the likes of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid long before Newman and Redford portrayed them on screen. Maybe they are not a good example because from all accounts Butch and Sundance were pretty nice guys,they just happened to rob trains.

I’m with you man! The value of a movie is a direct correlation of armaments per frame. Why Stalone hasn’t won an Oscar is beyond me.

If I don’t care about the principal characters in any given movie, I’m unlikely to even finish watching it. Case in point, A River Runs Through It was filmed here in MT (as in RIGHT here, in and around my community). I’m a fan of Norman Maclean, flyfishing, and anything to do with MT, but I must say that the only reason I ever watch that flick is for the cinematography. Quite simply, the characters didn’t engage me one bit.

Now, as a contrast, I’m a huge fan of The Sopranos. The principal characters are, by all accounts, pretty horrible people who assault, murder and steal in nearly every episode. In real life, these people’s actions would make me sick. But, the show is engaging. The characters have charisma and the stories are top notch.

The same for westerns. The historical cowboys and cattle rustlers are very different from the mythological (i.e. film and print) ones. There really hasn’t been a film that captures the “real” west, because in reality, the place was pretty boring. Yeah, we had some colorful characters and a few gunfights, but believe it or not the police would investigate such affairs in very much the same way they do now. There were still families and communities that demanded a safe, orderly environment. But I still watch westerns if the characters are engaging whether or not the stories are realistic. Let’s face it: reality is boring.

“In the end it all has to do with how Hollywood works in order to make money.”

I disagree. It’s about storytelling, plain and simple. It’s been that way for centuries. A sympathetic protagonist is essential to telling a good story. Homer, Ovid, and Shakespeare knew this. So does Hollywood. The difference is now more than ever, films, TV, and books are designed to cater to the lowest common denominator. That’s why writers and directors often opt to tell “love stories” (which are about as far removed from reality as you can get) against the backdrop of truly significant and interesting historical events like the sinking of the Titanic and Pearl Harbor. Oh well, I guess I still have the History Channel.

Good points, Demo. And true. LIke this weekend, I’ve been “trying” to watch “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. But, I am able to turn off the DVD and do something else or switch DVDs’ and watch “Alien” instead. Reason being? Ripley, as portrayed by Matt Damon, is not engaging. The most engaging character was Dicky Greenleaf (Jude Law) and he’s gone now…so, the rest of the movie is all about the title character, Tom Ripley. And he’s just boring as hell. Other than that, the cinematography is beautiful.

I think people are also drawn to characters that are the opposite of them. How many people do you know in the real world would do some of the things that Tony Soprano has done? Hopefully few to none - but then to watch someone like that, is almost a "rubbernecking" experience. Where you can't turn your eyes. Your drawn to a character who lives in either a "bad" world or "grey" area of actions. It's fascinating to watch what could be a "antithesis" of you - or even cathartic to watch a fictional character air out his/her "issues" in a "unconventional"way.

check this out…http://www.time.com/time/ magazine/article/0,9171,1101020513-235417,00.html

Now, when you get there, check out the Photo Gallery. First ever seen photos from the Matrix sequels. Enjoy. Patricia :-)

Patricia makes some great points…analyzing films is great…some people labor over films that have mistakes in them like blackhawk down{ the oakley ruby glasses worn by the delta commando, as well as the bike he was riding…both of which were not in existence in 1992)other look at movies from a historical standpoint…ie james camerons titanic…the statue of liberty would not have been green at the time of the titanic…estimated 76 years before it would have been totally green…and still other people like to go to movies to see what kind of “technology” the gov’t has and how the gov’t uses it track criminals…However no movie is entirely historaclly accurate…no way was there ever a Scorpion King… movies are made for entertainment…so you can pay you 8.50 eat buttered popcornand drink soda to escape the whole world outside for 90min…and if come out laughing at Chris Kattan in Corky Romano dressed up as a girl scout asking…"you want to bye some cookies…"then hollywood did it’s job.