Friday, October 05, 2007

American Crime & The Girl Next Door: Why The Fascination?

Earlier this week the teach sent me an e-mail about the film The Girl Next Door, which was released in New York on Wednesday.

No, this is not a remake of the 2004 Emile Hirsh/Elisa Cutberth film with the same title.

No, this film is based on the Jack Ketchum novel, which is a based-on-a-true-crime story about the abuse, rape, torture, and murder Sylvia Likens, which was allowed and facilitated by her guardian Gertrude Baniszewski.

This is the exact same story which the upcoming film An American Crime (Catherine Keener & Ellen Page) is based on.

And I'm not sure how or why this topic has effected me, and the content of StrangeCulture over the last 4 months, but one has to wonder, why are films like this being made.

In the New York Times review, Neil Genzlinger says that director Gregory Wilson's film is so repellent that it "makes you wish you could rinse your brain in bleach, to wash all traces of it from your memory."

And I know I keep on bringing forth the evidence, but why is there interest in making a film like The Girl Next Door, or An American Crime?

Or what about the story of abuse and torture in this years film Hounddog?

Why is Julianne Moore attracted to a story of a sexual abusive mother in the real life story of Barbara Daly Baekeland?

Why are the award caliber films of 2007 filled with so much violence?

Why have their been such an onslaught of sexually driven torture films?

Will a film like Rendition answer and challenge thoughts on torture, or just show torture?

I just don't get it. What does this say about our society? Are we searching for answers? Do we enjoy these types of films? Is this mirror real life or allow us to escape? Why is this type of film so common this year?


maryt/theteach said...

RC, thanks for crediting me on your post about "The Girl Next Door" and "American Crime."

As for your questions... I've seen almost all the Vietnam movies: Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Deer Hunter. I haven't been able to watch Deer Hunter a second time.

I"ve seen "Saving Private Ryan", Black Hawk Down, To Live and Die in LA, Desperado, Braveheart, Last Man Standing. I've even seen "American History X and Natural Born Killers. Those last two were really the limit for me BUT I thought AHX had such redeeming qualities that I can't condemn it.

I think maybe you mean why are films today so filled with gratuitous violence, eh? Is that what you mean?

I don't know why Hollywood makes these movies or why certain actors act in them...

Heather said...

I can't speak to the horror/torture/gruesome stuff, but I think the sexual abuse/rape stuff allows people to talk about things they feel they can't talk about. While most people don't feel comfortable talking about their own experiences in the first person, it's easier after seeing a movie to ask what motivates the bad guy, when what you really want to ask is "why did my cousin do such a thing." It's an escape of sorts, and also cathartic in a way. And you do realize that 1 in 3 of all women in the US have been victimized sexually. That affects all of us -- men and women alike.

nate said...

The movie buff with a conscience...that's unique. I just got into a conversation with a friend ( who works for a non-profit whose mission is to stop sex trafficing in 3rd world countries. Her organization had refrain from endorsing TRADE. Even though the movie came through witht the message saying the sex industry sucks, they used graphic scenes of rape and torture to get the point across, scenes that could in fact prompt a viewer to get wrapped up in the very thing being railed against.
So why did Lions Gate have to include such scenes? In my opinion, the almighty dollar. An 'R' label will attract more viewers than say a 'PG' label.
But thus is human nature...I.E., the Colloseum--the hollywood prototype.
Check out my blog, and join the now forming book club, we will be reading the book, ARE WE ROME, which is a comparative study of the Colloseum builders of the first century and the hollywood builders of the 21st.
Great post!

Fox said...

This film played at Fantastic Fest this year. I didn't see it, b/c, well I had the same suspicions about it that you express.

The feedback I heard from fest goers was mixed. (Granted this was a festival that targets fans of gore/horror, but...) Most of the people that liked it thought it was "cool!", meaning, "dude that was so f**ked up!! cool!".

Personally I think many filmmakers find cynicism and malaise to be fashionable these days... from *Children of Men* to *Hostel II*. I don't know if it's boredom, the low point of a cycle, or maybe... just me? (And sorry, I just don't buy the "it's a reflection of our socio-political times" argument).

But I'll hold off on *The Girl Next Door* until I see it. I feel pretty confident I'll hate it, ...but then again, I was caught off-guard by a tiny film at Fantastic Fest called *Five Across The Eyes*. It was marketed as another "let's torture girls" movie, but it ended up revealing some truly human moments. It has it's problems, but for a sub-genre that constantly churns out crap it was a relief.

Michael Parsons said...

We live in a society where an uplifting positive movie like "Shortbus" gets slapped with an 'X' rating because it shows people having sex, but "Hostel 2" gets an 'R'.

Violence is the new porn. We allow our kids to play video games with killing and murder, and wath movies with the same. We read of horrors in the papers committed by humans, and we feel aweful, and then entertained by them that evening in DVD/video game.
Will someone connect the dots?

RJ said...

I'd just like to add to his post that a movie like 'Once' gets an R b/c they say 'fuck' twice. That's ridiculous.

Anyway, it's always odd when two movies about the same thing are made at the same time, particularly when it's not a well known subject.

RC said...

@the teach, it's not even gratutious violence, but more films that are outside of the horror film genre or action genre that are dealing with violence as a potentially entertaining topic.

@heather, i think you're right, but a film like "the girl next door" doesn't really seem to help aid in opening up the conversation...i appreciate what NATE WATSON says below, about how sometimes as entertainment these films potential could be more harmful then helpful. (thanks Nate for your comment)

@ fox...the whole horror genre can tend to sicken me, thanks for your throughtful comment.

@ rural juror...yes it is wierd when that happens (sort of like 2 capote films recently)...and you are right what makes a movie "R" is a number of is a wide gamet of films.

Dad said...

Well, having just finished my first (and last) Stephen King novel (Cell), I've been thinking along the same lines. One of the reasons our society is becoming more open about exploring formerly taboo subjects is we are continually seeking an answer to the question "why does pain/evil exist?"

Since popular culture has increasingly dismissed the idea of a personal God, "they" are slowly realizing that if there is no God to answer for himself then then answer is in our own mind/soul. That means that the limits of pain/evil have to be tested. In fact there are at least two implications.

1) If there is no personal God then, how is evil defined? What is the standard? Who's to say torture and rape is the ultimate evil if it brings at least some pleasure to some people?

2) Where is the limit of the human capacity for evil?

And along the way we can get paid a truckload for indulging in perversities. That probably adds to the thrill for filmmakers don't you think?