.......Cinema Notes .......

By way of explanation:

As regular readers know, this magazine's interest in the film industry began when Braveheart was released to a fanfare of publicity proclaiming it the authentic story of Sir William Wallace, Guardian of Scotland. This outrageous pretence prompted long discussion on the Internet and some of the analysis from that time, still held on the Baronage server, can be downloaded.

Perhaps the most risible of the film's inventions was the claim that Edward Longshanks, King of England, persuaded his knights to go north to conquer Scotland by promising them the first night with all newly-wedded wives in the lands he would grant them. Apart from the fact that this never happened (and no one, not even a Hollywood scriptwriter, has ever in these last seven centuries previously suggested it did), and apart from the fact that the idea, in the context of mediaeval warfare, is nonsensical (in the British Isles the jus primae noctis was never anything other than a fanciful theme for a romantic novelist), there is one other major factor which ought to have aroused audience condemnation.

The womenfolk of the vanquished tended to be raped anyway. Often they were then butchered and dropped down the village well. But the film's proposition postponed the rape to the wedding night and thus hinted at a quasi-legitimation that a few moments of quiet contemplation will find horrific. The question that is then prompted is: What next?

Let's look at that question first.

The Promotion of Conflict?

The entertainment industry is removing its audiences from reality. Yes, of course, this has always been the task of storytellers, minstrels, dramatists, musicians and novelists, but the transport they offered was transitory ~ the listeners found little difficulty in adapting to reality as soon as the entertainment was over. Today, seemingly quite suddenly, it has become different.

One major component of the difference is the time entertainment occupies. In the United Kingdom many children spend four hours every day watching television. Some watch at weekends for more than eight hours per day. If they sleep for eight hours, then half their waking time is spent in an unreal world. What do they see there? Ask any concerned adult and the immediate answer will be "Violence"! ~ for the amount of violence on television has become a serious issue for many parents and it is an easy question to answer. Ask what effect that violence is having ~ and the answer will be neither so prompt nor quite as easy.

Before moving onto the main theme of this article, obscene violence in the cinema, it will be worth noting that there are two aspects of television entertainment long overdue for detailed analysis. The first is the effect on perceptions of reality created by ratios of from one quarter to one half of a child's waking life being spent watching television. The second is the effect on perceptions of reality created by the structure of television plays, films, serials and "soaps".

Let's combine the two. Drama, which drives the scriptwriter and the producer, is based on conflict. The structure of the "entertainment" may have three acts and two principal plot points and several pinches and a couple of character arcs (which is all great theory), but the platform for the intended result is conflict. Conflict captures the audience, boosts the ratings and soothes the sponsors. In the "soaps" it erupts every six and a half minutes, is sometimes resolved, is sometimes left to simmer until the next episode, but in one oversimplified form or another it is always there. And the watching children for whom this occupies up to half their waking life ~ do they understand that this is not real life? Or do they think it is and expect "real life" (as some readers may consider non-television life to be) to consist of continual conflict to which they should contribute?


Soon on a Television Set Near You!

WARNING ~ The following extract from a filmscript is OBSCENE.

(The action and dialogue is produced here in one of the formats producers prefer and in which the text is always printed in black. Colour has been introduced only to highlight the words discussed later.)


Appears, snarling, POUNCES on Barnes ~
Succeeds in annoying him.

For his trouble, Hal gets three broken ribs and a trip to the fireplace.
Airborne. Comes down, bam ~ !

He catches fire. SCREAMS. Rolls over and over on his broken ribs, as


Kicks Samantha in the gut. She collapses onto the stairs. Splinters the bannister.

Then he sees CAITLIN. Top of the stairs, she's paralyzed.



Barnes is already moving forward. SPIN-COCKS the shotgun, draws a bead ~

Promptly slips on festive M?'s. Goes down.
Gun goes off, WHAM - ! A flat concussion.

The bannister EXPLODES. A storm of wood chips, as


Surges up the stairs, toward her daughter ~


On the ground. Fires, WHAM!


Blown to shreds, you can SEE OUTDOORS.

Samantha doesn't miss a beat. GRABS her daughter ~


Through the hole in the wall. Takes her by the belt and fucking HURLS her out into space ... !


Two stories up. The kid is ejected, flailing.

Floats in SLOW MOTION. Across a ten foot gap ~


Sails head over heels into the place. Hits with a CRASH. Alive and unhurt.


Samantha didn't even look. Didn't need to.

Here comes BARNES. Up the staircase. Reloading.

Samantha launches herself down the stairs.
COLLIDES, head on ~ Down they go.

Barnes, rolls to his feet. Propels her into the KITCHEN.


She hits, WHAM, spray of cat food ~
SKIDDING. Across the linoleum.

Slams to a stop. Hard. Cupboard pops open, out comes the IRONING BOARD. Falls into place, SNAP ~ !

A GUN BLAST disintegrates it. Reveals Sam, cowering behind.


I want my eye back, bitch.

Samantha struggles to her feet. Dazed. Barnes abandons the shotgun. Takes the IRON down from its spot on the shelf ~

Begins to beat her with it.

Savagely. Methodically.

Samantha takes hit after hit. Head snapping to and fro. Reeling backward.....

Still he comes. No mercy. SLAM. To the head.

Bleeding now. Stumbles ..... Raises her arms pitifully ~

Still he hits her. DENTS the iron.


Goddamn you. Fight me. What's wrong with you, fight me!


Joe Besser (the gayest of all the Stooges) takes a pie in the face.
Mugs wildly.

Barnes raises his arm for the killing stroke ~

Samantha takes Hal's cream pie from the counter and shatters every bone in Barnes' face.

Comes from nowhere. Back foot planted, body twisting, entire organism focused into the outstretch arm. WHACK ~ !

We have never seen anyone move this fast.

Samantha RECOILS. Startled by what she's done ~

The glass dish is SPLINTERED into his head. It STICKS there. Begins to fill up with blood.

He topples. Hits the linoleum.

She lunges. Straddles him. Grabs the pie dish and brings it down like an axe. Breaks his SKULL.

Stillness. She hovers. Breathing hard.

The barking dog "Jingle Bells" plays inanely in the background.

Samantha stares. Trembling. Pokes the body. Nothing. Pokes it again. Still nothing.

She leans forward. Grips his neck and wrenches. CRACK ~ !

Just making sure.

She's out of it. In shock. Glaring at her own hands as if demanding an excuse for their behavior.

There is pie filling all over her fingers. She kneels beside the corpse. Catatonic.

Absent-mindedly licks the bloodied cream filling from her fingers. That's when she turns her head

And HAL is standing in the doorway. Wide-eyed. He has seen Samantha break the man's neck.

She looks at him. Frowns.


It took me three seconds. That's ..... that's good, huh.....?

He stares, dumbstruck. She blinks, snaps out of it.

The derivation of the word OBSCENE is contentious, some arguing that it refers to theatrical action that should remain offstage, out of camera, not to be seen. By those standards this extract from a recent film may be judged obscene. Why? What are our reasons? Well, we did hope you would ask.

Action movies are full of absurdities. Men fall off buildings and bounce back unhurt, full of fight. Trucks explode and demolish townships, but the heroes emerge from the inferno with only a carefully applied smudge to the forehead. It's comicbook stuff. Fantasy. A lot of it is harmless.

But when it communicates the message that no matter what is done to someone it doesn't matter really ~ because they should be able to take it ~ it is no longer harmless.

There is a progression in the violence of this extract that is truly alarming. Barnes fires his shotgun three times at close quarters. First he "explodes" the bannister. Then he blows a hole in an outside wall big enough to throw a child through. Then, within touching distance of his human target, who is hiding behind an ironing board, he takes his final shot. The ironing board disintegrates. His target is unhurt.

Okay. So it's an action movie. S T A R T ! (So That's All Right Then!)

Now we move onto the next stage. Barnes grabs the IRON and starts to beat his victim with it. One strong blow to the chest with a domestic iron is sufficient to put any woman out of action, perhaps permanently. But this is an action movie. S T A R T !

(And little Tommy's now learning, subconsciously, that when a woman's hit like this it's okay, really, because she isn't really hurt, even if she pretends, because she's going to get up in a minute.) So onto the next stage. Just two words. "Savagely. Methodically." Just two words, written by a very highly paid ($4million) scriptwriter who knows exactly how to portray to a producer what will satisfy the audience the producer wants. This is a brilliant professional at work. Watch him.

Samantha takes hit after hit. Bang, bang. Head snapping to and fro. Bang, bang. Reeling backward..... This has been written to persuade a studio to pay a very large sum of money. Do not forget that, ever.

Still he comes. Do you think the choice of words is an accident? This is a top professional going flat out for the money. Nothing is accidental.

No mercy. Nothing is accidental. Every sadist has his pleasure enhanced by the knowledge that he can stop. He can be merciful. ....... But he won't be.

SLAM. To the head. The killer blow. The first time the head has been hit. The reader is being led towards the climax.

Bleeding now. Stumbles ..... The first time that blood has been mentioned. This is terrific ....... getting really exciting.

Raises her arms pitifully ~ Submission! ... She's submitting!! ... Wow!!!

Still he hits her. DENTS the iron. The ultimate fantasy. A man can hit a woman's head so hard it will dent metal.

S T A R T !

What's little Tommy thinking now? He's thinking it's okay. Look, here's Hal standing in the doorway. Only a minute ago he had three broken ribs and he was on fire. He's okay, too.

One commentator wrote:

This is a genuine psychopathic fantasy blending in its hellish brew a mixture of the impossible, the improbable and the sick. Written in the prose of a de Sade or a Pauline Reage it would have been derided as the ramblings of an untalented beginner, but presented in the format of a modern script it seems to be only a product of a misogynist introvert's fevered imagination, with each element necessarily abbreviated as his diseased mind races on to the image it creates next, leaving the previous one fuzzy and unexplored.

But it was not written by a psychopath, nor even by a misogynist. It was written by a very professional speculator to extract money from a Hollywood studio. One wonders at the nature of the mind that was persuaded to write the cheque, the nature of the audience the studio sought, and the consolidated effects on both children and adults of a sequence of such films.

A final question (if you've read this far) ~ What, following Samantha's grab for the cream pie, is the subliminal message communicated by this hugely successful and cleverly manipulative writer with the sequence of these unaccidentally chosen words:

....... body twisting, entire organism focused ....... lunges ....... straddles ....... breathing hard ....... trembling ....... licks the bloodied cream .......


Two years ago, William Martell, a writer with fifteen produced films to his record, included in an article on the art of screenwriting:

The one thing you don't want to do when creating violence in an action scene is to make it ineffective and painless. If the audience doesn't feel anything when a character is killed or injured, that's akin to pornography. It's violence desensitized.

In "The Last Boy Scout", one of the heroes gets a knife stuck right through his hand. He is pegged to a desk. He pulls the knife out, wraps a handkerchief around the wound, and is as good as new. This very violent act was without pain, without feeling ..... desensitized.

In "The Long Kiss Goodnight", Henessey gets beat up, shot a dozen times, blown out of an exploding building, and manages to walk away unharmed. None of the violence in this script has any effect on anyone. Getting blown out of a building doesn't matter to Henessey, so why should it matter to the audience? Getting shot doesn't matter. Getting hit doesn't matter. When the bad guys kidnap Charly's daughter ..... it just doesn't matter to us. If they shoot her, she'll just get up and walk away. Right?

Wrong. In real life pain hurts.

THE GOOD NEWS ~ If you would like to examine the possibility of becoming a screenwriter (setting the facts straight and earning six-figure rewards!), check in with Lou Grantt, editor of Hollywood Scriptwriter and longtime script consultant. Just click her picture here, convert its hyperlink to a bookmark, and visit her when you've finished reading this issue of the Baronage magazine.

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The January-March 1999 issue of Cinema Notes

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