A casual friend asked me what new project I was working on. At the time, I was currently writing the essay to accompany the DVD release of “Amateur Porn Star Killer,” a film about as reprehensible as they come. My essay was, of course, defending it … sort of. I hesitated to tell my friend this, however, because he had previously read my review of the film and my interview with the director, Shane Ryan. After reading them he fired off a letter expressing concern that I would give credibility to such efforts and wondered how I would feel if Ryan were arrested because the police thought the film was real. Or, worse yet, what if the film was real? How would I feel knowing I gave him press?
My first reaction to his fear was: A lot more people will know my name. The second: I hope they wait until the DVD comes out so sales go through the roof.
Mercenary? Yeah, but at least I’m honest about it.
As a film critic/journalist, part of my job involves going to bat for things I think have some sort of validity despite the fact that the majority of the public may think otherwise. “Amateur Porn Star Killer” is a hell of a film to recommend; I had an easier time telling people to see “Irreversible.” But that’s why I wanted to write the essay. I wanted to defend something that would make a good crusade for a DA running for re-election. I wanted to give validation to something that would cause even the most liberal cinemaphile to sit back and say, “This is going too far.”
My contention is that sometimes movies should be dangerous. That’s not just some line of bull. That’s how I really feel. And if I feel that way, I shouldn’t hesitate to tell people that, so I told my friend about the essay.
“You’re both going to end up in jail,” he said. “At the very least, you won’t be able to look at yourself in the mirror. Not defending that kind of garbage. That’s the kind of thing serial killers get off to.”
He hadn’t seen the film and had no desire to. I don’t blame him. I equate it with getting shot. I don’t have to get shot to know it hurts. Sometimes you don’t have to see a film to judge it. I know that goes against everything we’ve been taught, but it’s true. How many of you saw “Snow Dogs”? Why not?
I told him I understood his feelings. I know he has a problem with violent films, especially when there’s sex mixed in with the violence. I know a lot of people have problems with that. I know it’s especially distasteful that this film makes it look real. I know all that, and I don’t care. It’s a film. It does what it does well, and Ryan has every right to make it. I also have every right to defend it. If I didn’t, who would?
It’s easy to sit back and extol the virtues of “Dogville.” It’s easy to proclaim David Lynch a god. It’s not as easy to honestly say that a low-budget fake snuff film has artistic merit. I’m not singing the movie’s praises just because it’s a nasty film, either. Far from it. I think it does exactly what Ryan wanted it to do, and I don’t think many filmmakers can say that. It wasn’t easy for me to sit through, and it wasn’t a pleasure. I actually had to watch a new cut of the film for my essay, and it wasn’t any easier seeing it the second time around. In fact, I was even more uncomfortable. That’s good filmmaking, and that deserves some respect.
“What are you going to do, Doug,” my friend asked, “when some guy does the same thing that happens in that film and admits that Shane Ryan’s movie inspired him? What will you say when he says he thought his actions were art, too? Won’t you feel bad knowing you contributed to that?”
Here’s the deal. I’ll feel bad for the victim. I feel bad for most victims. What I’m about to write, though, will paraphrase what I told my friend.
A movie is a movie. Real life is real life. One can inspire the other, for better or for worse. Movies don’t cause crime, though. At some point people have to be responsible for their actions. They can blame movies, the church, pornography, white people, backwards sounds on a Judas Priest album. In the end it’s their hands on the knife. Blaming a movie is a weak way out taken only by cowards afraid to face the outcome of their actions. It’s an excuse, and not a very original one at that. If someone watches Ryan’s film and acts it out, they were touched to begin with. If someone reads my essay and thinks I condone murder and sexual assault and then wants to commit “art,” too, they’re also screwed up in the head. Ryan can’t worry about that, however, and neither can I. Artists, and that includes filmmakers and writers, have to do what they do and not worry about how some mythical person may react. That’s worse than self-censorship. That’s paranoia. Now here’s the fucked up thing.
I actually do think that at some point the law may get involved with this film … unjustly, but it may happen nonetheless. I think that if it gets into the outlets Ryan is planning on getting it into, it will cause problems. The FBI or local police may knock on his door, and I think I may be dragged into it. I think some psycho may actually see this movie and do the same thing, and I think he (or she) may actually read my piece and think I defend such crimes. (That person would have totally misread my essay, but let’s face facts — if they think that, they aren’t that smart to begin with.) I know all that, but I’m writing the essay anyway. Film is film. Real life is real life. People need to remember that. I’m defending art, not rape and murder.
The conversation my friend and I were having ended soon after my little speech. He said he felt sorry for me. He told me I was so “blinded” by my argument that films were art that I failed to realize when they sometimes crossed a line.
“No,” I told him, “I know when they cross the line. I just don’t care. Lines are meant to be crossed. At the end of the day, it’s still just a fictional movie, and nothing will change that.”
“Good luck sleeping at night.”
The funny thing is, he’s right … to an extent. I don’t feel totally comfortable doing the essay, and that’s the point. If I’m expecting filmmakers to cross lines and push boundaries, I have to do the same as a writer, only the lines I must cross and the boundaries I must push are sometimes personal ones. I could’ve easily written my review and never said another word about the film. I could’ve never interviewed Ryan, and I could’ve never pledged to do the essay. I would’ve done those things, too, if I thought the film had no merit. But it does, and I need to make people aware of that fact. That’s my job. Ryan did his, and I’m doing mine.
It would’ve been easier to turn away from all this and let Ryan to his own devices. Art shouldn’t be the playground of the timid, though. It should be a battlefield for the brave and those willing to get scarred. If I get visited by the police or feds, I’ll tell them the same thing I told my friend. “It’s a movie. It’s fake. Now leave me alone. I’ve got some fucking writing to do.”
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