Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Violent America: The Movies (Lawrence Alloway)

   “To consider the effect of violence in a movie on a given spectator, let us construct a three-phase situation consisting of: (1) predisposing factors; (2) contact in the theater; and (3) the post-viewing situation.  In the first phase the spectator makes a choice of film, influenced by such factors as publicity, location of theater, and leisure time.  The publicity, for any particular film including film reviews and any other media references, serves as a kind of conditioning of the spectator, somewhat preparing him for what is to come.

   Here, aside from audience interruptions (far fewer in number than at a play), the spectator occupies an architecture of considerable privacy, insulated from the street.  The privacy is not complete; there is an audience feedback which does not affect the actors, of course, but it does affect individual members of the audience. To see a film in, say, the suburbs and in a first-run theater are two very different experiences.  

   To the preconditioning of publicity and to the conditioning of the viewing environment other sources of knowledge can be added:  the spectator’s pleasure will be influenced by preferences derived from his knowledge of other films, knowledge of other media, and learned social behavior.  When he leaves the cinema the spectator returns to messages from other media of communication and to a world of non-media signals, social, familial and personal.   Lotte Bailyn has stressed the presence of ‘many mediating factors between exposure to material in the mass media and the translation of its influence into overt action.’

   If a movie-goer is to be inspired into his own acts of violence by violent films, it can only be a movie-goer for whom this third phase, the post-viewing situation, is abnormal.  That there are such individuals is certain, but it is not obvious that a change in movie content would normalize individuals who are already out of balance.”

Note:  There is nothing remarkable in Lawrence Alloway’s observations, but in view of all the clichés and insincere and predictable periodic public hand-wringing about the supposedly Pavlovian relationship between violence in narrative commercial cinema and actual crime (lately, absurdly, accompanied by ultra-violent-movie-distributor-troll Harvey Weinstein’s call for a Troll Moviemaker Summit on Violent Movies),  I think returning one's attention to common sense is sensible.

Unpleasant anti-social people can and will always do unpleasant anti-social things; crazy people can and will always do crazy things. 

And in view of Mr. Weinstein’s just-uttered aperçu declaring  President Barack Obama the “Paul Newman of American Presidents,” I think he himself might be one of them (although not in the sense, of course, of personally committing atrocious acts of physical violence).  However, anyone who has ever done business with any of Mr. Weinstein’s  companies will know exactly what I mean. The 360 degree sense of assault, battery and violation lasts a lifetime.  Memories are made of this.

Each of these illustrations is taken from John Frankenheimer’s extraordinary 1962 movie rendering of Richard Condon’s novel, The Manchurian Candidate starring Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury and Janet Leigh.  It’s a violent, but cathartic and redemptive film about the possibility of triumph for battered human spirits.   

The great photo immediately below showing Harvey and Sinatra joking around on the film set while shooting the harrowing Korean War sequences says to me: “It’s only a movie.”

Excerpt from:  Lawrence Alloway, Violent America – The Movies 1946-1964, Greenwich, Museum of Modern Art, 1971.

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