Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Criticizing the controversy (Part One)

A few months ago, Entertainment Weekly published a list of the 25 most controversial films of all time -- and interesting list, to be sure, but with some odd choices that got the gears in my head rolling. And when I saw their number one choice (when it seemed completely clear to me what the number one choice SHOULD have been) I knew had to comment on it.

But I just didn't get around to it.

But because I haven't done any significan writing in the last week or so, I am feeling a burning urge to write SOMETHING, and so I pick this idea out of the discarded-idea-bin, and dust it off, and see if I can breathe some life into it. Because the wheels are still rolling, and there's still a desire for commentary.

I've decided to quote EW's article, instead of actually just linking to it (which, in the interest of fair use, I'll do here anyway) because it's just easier than expecting everyone to keep two documents open at once, right? Right.

25. ALADDIN (1992)
THE PLOT You know: the genie-in-the-lamp tale.
THE CONTROVERSY The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee balked at a lyric describing the film's Arabian setting as a land ''where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face.'' Result? The studio dubbed out the lyric for subsequent releases.
THE COMMENTARY Seems likely that they were desperate for something to fill out the 25th slot by including this one, though I suppose the fact that it came from Disney just amp up the controversy factor just a touch. How could the home of Mickey Mouse and Cinderella be the source of such a racial insensitive comment!? Perish the thought!

24. CALIGULA (1980)
THE PLOT This lavishly decadent film depicts the orgy-filled life and death of ancient Rome's most notorious — and clearly psychotic — emperor (Malcolm McDowell).
THE CONTROVERSY Described as a ''moral holocaust'' by Variety, the film was first given a very limited theatrical release for fear of prosecution on obscenity grounds.
THE COMMENTARY What is pretty much the first (and one of very few) big-budget, mainstreamish attempts at pornography, yeah, this was pretty much a given on this list. I've never seen it, but a part of me has been curious, if only to watch what I'm sure, even at the time it was being filmed, was a sort of cinematic train wreck. Because, seriously, there's no way this could have gone well.

23. KIDS (1995)
THE PLOT A group of teens (played by, among others, Rosario Dawson and Chloë Sevigny) prowl the streets of NYC in search of sex, booze, drugs, and other high-risk kicks.
THE CONTROVERSY Clark's disturbing vision of promiscuous, borderline-sociopathic teens was heralded by some as a much-needed wake-up call about the nation's youth. Others saw prurient exploitation. As a buffer against the furor, Miramax created a new entity, Excalibur Films, to release the pic.
THE COMMENTARY "Others saw prurient exploitation." Um, which others are we talking about? Mormons? Neo-nazis? It's important to know, before we decide whether we're going to give their opinion any credence. And really, in the post-Britney-Spears world of the oversexualized teen, it seems to me that maybe this sort of "Wake-Up Call" is more than just necessary. The idea that, as a culture, we're actually breeding pedophiles is sort of disconcerting.

THE PLOT Racial tensions in a Brooklyn neighborhood escalate from amusing to tragic during the course of a single scorching summer day.
THE CONTROVERSY While the film was seen by some as a masterpiece (and earned Lee a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nom), others blasted the director as irresponsible, predicting that the film's shocking climax — in which Mookie (Lee) hurls a trashcan through a storefront window, inciting a riot — would evoke similar reactions from urban moviegoers. Thankfully, the film proved to be more of a catalyst for heated debate than a flashpoint for actual violence.
THE COMMENTARY It was controversial because what people feared might happen, didn't? I think that alone should drop this one a few notches. Maybe place it just above Aladdin.

THE PLOT Faye Dunaway is Bonnie, a bored Texas girl looking for danger. Warren Beatty is Clyde, a pistol-packing ex-con. They fall in love and kick off an infamous Depression-era crime spree.
THE CONTROVERSY Two years before Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, Penn's bloody, slo-mo bullet-riddled finale, where the young lovers bite the dust, sparked an outcry — even tough-guy actor James Garner, no stranger to shoot-outs, called it ''amoral.''
THE COMMENTARY This, I must confess, I haven't seen, in spite of knowing that I should, if only because of it's place in film history, for being a violent, bloody, and, yes, ultimately controversial film.

THE PLOT This nauseatingly graphic Italian prototype for The Blair Witch Project follows four documentarians filming cannibal tribes in the Amazon. They become lunch.
THE CONTROVERSY After its 1980 Milan premiere, the film's print was confiscated by the city's magistrate. Later, Deodato faced life in prison when Italian authorities believed the stars of his film were really killed. The actors finally appeared on TV to prove otherwise.
THE COMMENTARY Now THAT is a controversy. The print being confiscated? The filmmaker in prison? Holy crap, why hasn't an American film company used that sort of thing is a viral marketing campaign? It's brilliant?

THE PLOT A trigger-happy detective (Michael Douglas) falls for a bisexual author (Sharon Stone) who's suspected of murdering her male lover with an ice pick.
THE CONTROVERSY Gay-rights activists objected to the portrayal of man-hating lesbians before a frame of film was shot and protested through the film's opening. Then there was the film's eye-popping sex, including Sharon Stone's notorious leg-crossing, which contributed to Basic's initial NC-17 rating.
THE COMMENTARY I love people who criticize something before they've seen it, going simply on speculation and rumour. Because we all know how accurate that sort of information is. Which isn't to say that Basic Instinct is a film that should be defended as some sort of great crusader in the fight for film freedom, or whatever. It's just a crappy murder-mystery. With, you know, a Sharon Stone crotch-shot.

18. I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW) (1969)
THE PLOT Freewheeling Lena experiences the swinging '60s: protesting Vietnam, questioning the class system, and exploring carnal desires.
THE CONTROVERSY Before the 1967 Swedish film could open in the U.S., it was seized by customs officials concerned that scenes containing full frontal nudity and simulated sex acts were pornographic. The courts initially deemed the movie obscene, but the verdict was overturned.
THE COMMENTARY "The courts initially" blah blah blah. Unless there are actual, you know, paying, movie-going, people involved, it's not much of a controversy, if you ask me. The government getting their panties in a knot does not a controversy make.

17. FREAKS (1932)
THE PLOT For his still-creepy circus noir about a midget who's conned by a greedy temptress, Browning used real sideshow performers.
THE CONTROVERSY Audiences fled preview screenings in droves. (One patron claimed the film caused her to miscarry.) Even with a castration scene cut, the National Association of Women found the film ''offensive'' and urged boycotts. It was banned in Atlanta and pulled from distribution; it was forbidden in the U.K. until the early '60s.
THE COMMENTARY This is one that I've wanted to see for *years* and still have yet to. As a controversial film, could you ask for any more than someone claiming that they MISCARRIED because of your movie? No, I don't think so.

16. UNITED 93 (2006)
THE PLOT An ultra-vérité re-creation of the tragic heroism surrounding — and inside — the only hijacked 9/11 flight not to reach its intended target.
THE CONTROVERSY Greengrass' virtually-there experience may have been a little too close for comfort for some moviegoers. Even the trailer's suggestion of the movie's content prompted audiences to shout Too soon! One New York City theater pulled the footage from its preview reel after many viewers (one left sobbing) complained.
THE COMMENTARY This I haven't seen. And while I am slightly tempted because of it's inclusion on this list, I'm pretty sure the film is just going to be a big rah-rah masturbation session about how awesome America is that really doesn't manage to see 9/11 in any large or significant or, really, accurate sense. So no thanks.

And that's episode one of criticizing the controversy. I'm kind of getting into this, and would love to keep going, but it's late, and I have to go to bed, so I won't. More to come soon, though. Or not. Hard to tell.

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