Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On violence and the media...

From an interview with Michael Henek:

Cineaste: Funny Games seems to be a contribution to the self-reflexive films about media and violence along the lines of Natural Born Killers or Man Bites Dog.

Haneke: My goal there was a kind of counterprogram to Natural Born Killers. In my view, Oliver Stone's film, and I use it only as example, is the attempt to use a fascist esthetic to achieve an antifascist goal, and this doesn't work. What is accomplished is something the opposite, since what is produced is something like a cult film where the montage style complements the violence represented and presents it largely in a positive light. It might be argued that Natural Born Killers makes the violent image alluring while allowing no space for the viewer. I feel this would be very difficult to argue about Funny Games. Benny's Video and Funny Games are different kinds of obscenity, in the sense that I intended a slap in the face and a provocation.

Full disclosure: I have not watched Funny Games (either version), but I have seen both Natural Born Killers and Man Bites Dog. In fact, when I was invited to present at symposium my last year of undergrad, it was for a paper I wrote about Man Bites Dog. Anyway...

I think that there's something to that criticism of NBK, and it was one of the same criticisms I had of MBD, too- for a film that seems to be suggesting that the media has at least some burden of the blame for excessive violence, these films glorify and entertain through the use of violence, too. Having not seen Funny Games yet, I can't say whether it falls into the same trap, but it's a problem I'm certainly interested in. I can't say how good the rest of that interview is- I stopped reading it because they go on to talk about a number of other films that I'm interested in seeing but haven't yet, and I didn't want them spoiled, so to speak.

I'm a big film fan, and I recognize that a lot of the films I like contain some pretty violent stuff. I'm a big horror fan (with the exception of slasher films- I hate most slasher flicks), which tends to involve some violence. But, one thing that I think is interesting is that I'm really fond of films that push me to places I don't usually go, or that create extremely strong reactions, or that force me to confront uncomfortable feelings or truths.

Take the film Hard Candy, for example. I'm a big BIG fan of Hard Candy. It's not a fun film, though. It's not the sort of thing that I think I'd sit down with a beer, a bowl of popcorn, and some friends and say "Hey, guys, let's throw in Hard Candy and get tipsy!" It's an extremely intense and horrifying film full of extremes. After watching it, I couldn't stop talking about it and discussing the premise of the film with the people around me. It was a film that was essentially a piece of wish fulfillment, but where, I think, many viewers found themselves placed in an uncomfortable position of almost feeling sorry for the antagonist of the film- while we might wish terrible things on people, when we're forced to see those terrible things taking place, the reality can make us profoundly uncomfortable.

Now, of course, this is manufactured. The film is designed in such a way on purpose. Would we feel as uncomfortable if the protagonist were someone else? Would we feel more comfortable if the action were presented in a different way? The ways that violence is used in a film can completely alter our perception of the film.

For me, violence in film can be many things. It can be entertaining, it can be gratuitous and exploitative, it can be interesting and informative, it can be educational, it can be an important tool for forcing the viewer to question something, etc. It all depends on the context.

I could (and still might) write at great length about this, but I'm interested to know how other people perceive violence in film- do you avoid violent films? Only certain types of violence? Do you think that films can use violence to teach a point or a raise important questions? Is it possible for a film to use violence to implicate the viewer (as Funny Games supposedly does), and if it does so, does it also implicate itself (as, I think, Man Bites Dog does)?


Tracey said...

I may be slightly unqualified to comment, since I haven't seen any of the movies you mentioned. I tend to avoid movies that are violent if I can, because I usually really have a hard time watching it. I do think it can be used effectively, though especially to make people think or to represent reality.

The reason I'm commenting, though, is to say that even though I haven't seen Funny Games, I remember when I was seeing the trailer for it every time I went to the movies, and I found the preview so disturbing and potentially triggering that I found it totally inappropriate for the theaters to even show it. The thing I most hated about that trailer is a part near the end of it when words are being flashed up on the screen to describe the film, and after showing the lead actress tied up in her underwear, one of the words shown is "sensual". I'm sorry, but there's no damn way there's anything sensual about violence. Ever. And even if there are other scenes in the movie that are sensual without depicting violence, the trailer makes it seem as though holding this woman captive is somehow sensual, and that makes me so angry.

Sorry for that rant. I was going to go and find the trailer on YouTube to provide a link, but I'd rather avoid having to watch it again.

mabisa said...

I think that Funny Games is absolutely sucessful in its endeavor. It is haunting in a way few films are, forcing the viewer into problematizing film, media, and their own expectations and desires. As for the above comment, we must realize that the film is about film, which often sexualizes violence. Making that sexualization explicit through text is just one of several ways in which Haneke draws attention to common tropes surrounding violence in film (the film is highly self-conscious, and becomes explicitly so as it progresses. At times, in fact, all subtlety is laid aside in order for Haneke to achieve his goal.). Calling the film a treatise on violence in film is not some pseudo-ironic, post-hoc explaination of is themes, but rather the most obvious exploit of it. With excitement, I recommed seeing Funny Games; it is truly complex, wholly arresting, and highly insightful for a movie that could have easily been a trite echo-chamber.