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Rights And Responsibilities

WARNING: Major Spoilers for Wolf Creek are present in this post towards the bottom.

My husband works with kids who have behavioural difficulties. This ranges from kids who have a basic attitude problem because they’re finding growing up hard, right through to kids who have been abused and/or neglected and kids with special educational needs such as Asperger Syndrome. I don’t think he’s paid even half what he’s worth, especially since he loves working with these kids. And who else wants to? Not very many people. But that’s a soapbox moment for another time.

One thing that my husband is required to do by law with these kids is have them work out, for themselves, what their rights and responsibilities are. Teens are notoriously self-obsessed, so they can pinpoint their rights with relative ease: I have a right to be listened to, to be an individual and so on and soforth. Yet what are their responsibilities? What is a responsibility, who should it be a responsibility to, why should it be one?

I was thinking last night about this very same subject with regards to what our rights and responsibilities are as writers and filmmakers then. On the blogs, bulletins, message boards etc we *seem* to have pinpointed our rights with that same ease as those recalcitrant teens (online people have demanded the right to write whatever we want, a right to courtesy from those producers et al who still don’t reply to us, a right to training that is value for money, etc etc), yet in my view the notion of responsibility seems to have been somewhat disregarded. What ARE our responsibilities as writers and filmmakers? Why should we have them – or not? What constitutes a responsibility anyway and to whom??

FrightFest has just come and gone in London and it seems quite a furore has erupted over one particular film, Teeth. Sarah of The Dead has been most vocal in blogland over her disgust at this film, not only writing about it on her own blog but Jason’s as well.

Now I haven’t watched Teeth but I can tell you one thing: I am sick, sick, sick of reading scripts with rape in or any scenario where a woman is punished for enjoying and/or experimenting with sex. I’ve been quite vocal myself in the course of this blog about rape scenes and not just those on women either, but men too: what are they for? Are they horrifying? Yes. Are they needed in your storyline? 9/10 – no. In my view, if you really *must* include a rape scene (really? Are you SURE??), a suggestion of this horrifying act is far, far more effective than seeing every last gory detail. And please, please don’t think you’re “out there” whilst writing them and that it’ll get you attention for being controversial either. Over the course of my script reading (roughly 5/6 years now, on and off), I have read loads of rape scenes, especially in the horror and thriller genres. They. Are. Not. Original!!!

In short though, I think rape scenes in scripts and the punishment of women in particular for enjoying sex is irresponsible. There are enough sickos in the world who will believe this sort of shit anyway: do they really need a new platform to indulge their fantasies? I don’t believe those filmmakers or even writers are those sickos, it’s just, by chasing sensationalism in this regard, are they adding to an already sick society and keeping a vicious circle going? Giving people what they might want is not always what they actually need, after all and whilst censorship is a pain in the bum to all artistes, are there not some subjects or elements where we might think, “Hhhhhmmmm…better not”?

I sat down to watch Wolf Creek last night. To say I was bored is an understatement – its lack of pace and meandering structure did my head in royally – but at the same time, I was disturbed by its insistence that it was based on actual events and that these were real people that this had happened to. Not because the film was actually any good I might add, but because at the end it flashed up in the credits that the two girls had never been found and their killer never brought to justice. Immediately I thought: their poor families had to put up with not only a badly-written film being made about their missing daughters, there was this hideous speculation as to what had actually happened to them – ie. they had been murdered in guresome fashion by this mysterious Crocodile Dundee character – which of course we couldn’t possibly know, since the only “survivor” was completely omitted from the whole of Act 2 and not present when either of those two girls were killed!

But of course that survivor was not real, a Google search this morning reveals – and neither were those two girls. We’re just supposed to think it was real so as to add to its visceral, cinema-verite angle. In short, it was cheating. Yet every single review you’ll see is “based on actual events”. What events were these, then? I’m thinking Peter Falconio’s murder seems the most obvious, yet other than the fact he was murdered in The Outback (his girlfriend got away), there bears little other resemblance.

In any case, in order to utilise that “based on actual events” tag, surely there has to be a little responsibility employed here: if you’re going to make a movie about real people, facing real hardhsip and/or suffering, you need your movie to have some kind of point? Wolf Creek had some nice scenery and some gory bits including the torture of one girl and the paralysis of another, culminating with the male character waking to find himself nailed to a cross. None of the characters worked together or learned anything about themselves, let alone vanquished the beast. What was this film trying to say? That nasty, terrible things can happen? We know this already from watching and reading the news – though Peter Falconio’s family have it etched on their hearts forever, as do any other family who has suffered a loss as shocking as that. So why was Wolf Creek a movie? I have no idea, but I daresay there will be some fans out there in www.land: re-educate me!

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95 thoughts on “Rights And Responsibilities”

  1. I hate films with torture in – when that girl is pleading with the Aussie not to kill her I found it really unpleasant. Relieved it’s not a true-true story though, thanks for that.

  2. Yes I was surprised, they’re SO insistent it’s true, etc etc I should have known it was a load of guff. What troubled me most was the fact that I had absoilutely no idea who was the protagonist in that film. It looked as if it was going to be the boy, then the thin girl, then boy again, then she took over for a good chunk, got killed, it switched to the other girl, she got killed, boy wakes up, staggers out into the desert – gets rescued.

    Have to say – for an evil murderer, he really doesn’t plan very well that Bush guy: all his victims escaped at some point. Since he’s already killed loads of people, you’d have thought he be a bit better at keeping hold of them?

  3. It’s a horror film so it’s supposed to be unpleasant and unsettling. It’s also sucessfull precisely because it breaks lots of ‘rules’. Nothing really happens for 60 minutes and the story focus switches between the three travellers. And why not? There’s more ways than Syd Field’s surely.

    In fact there is very little actual violence (compare it to Hostel for example) but a lot of implied threats.In fact it’s quite subtle and if unsettling I suspect its because it is possibly closer to what could happen if you were caught in the hands of a maniac.

  4. Of course horror is supposed to be unpleasant and unsettling – that’s why I watch it. But this was unpleasant and unsettling on the basis I worried about those girls’ (as it turns out, fake) families, not actually ‘cos of the content which was rather familiar and as you say, tame. And a movie where “nothing really happens for 60 mins” is not the most shining of recommendations to my mind.

  5. In view of the fake nature of the film would it not be viewed as an exploitation movie? In this case an exploitation of audience concern? For what its worth, I thought the film missed opportunities in its rambling point of view, the supposedly mystical nature of the killer etc.
    For a turly horrific evocation of rape and its effects look out for ‘Warchild’ which I saw at EIFF. The ‘victim’ never refers directly to her experience in a rape camp, nor is it depicted yet we are left in no doubt as to the gravity of that experience for the central character.

  6. That’s it Elinor – you’ve found a word for my feelings on the matter! I DO feel exploited. Last night I lay awake worrying about what those girls’ (fake) families must think of that film and the depiction of their daughters’ supposed demises. That’s not entertainment, that’s taking advantage in my view.

    I will look out for War Child – another that’s very good is THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER. Though you “see” the rape, you actually see nothing as the psychiatrist relates what happened to his patient. A good compromise perhaps.

  7. Blimey O’Reilley, madam: talk about different strokes for different folks. Wolf Creek was one of my favourite films of 2005! I love a good cold-hearted, disturbing horror flick see, and it fitted my bill wonderfully. I also loved it for a few of the reasons you disliked it – the uncertainty of who the protagonist was, especially. In horror movies – especially ones which seem to follow the slasher formula – it’s great to occasionally be uncertain who will survive. Wolf Creek pulled this off brilliantly, and I loved the slow build-up which allowed us to like the characters more than we otherwise might with a ‘hit the ground running’ approach. I also felt it had a pretty well-defined two-act structure, even going to the lengths of turning the screen black between them, like a play. Anyway, I reviewed the film on my horror site Slasherama at http://www.slasherama.com/reviews/individuals/wolfcreek.HTML

    The allegedly true-life aspect initially sat uneasily with me too. So I quizzed director Greg Mclean about it around the time of the film’s release, and you can see his answers here: http://www.slasherama.com/features/wolfcreek.HTML

    As for film-makers’ and writers’ responsibilites, my feeling is that we have none, apart from to deliver great stories. I don’t see films as socio-political manifestos, which is why it really bugs me when a film itself is branded ‘misogynist’ or any other ‘-ist’. See, if we start thinking ‘responsible’ while writing, then we may as well stick to kids’ soaps, where every negative/illegal/non-PC action has to be seen to be punished in some way…

  8. I’m a fan of “build up” to stories too, you don’t always have to go MTV on everybody’s ass – but if Wolf Creek was going to do this, then why not invest in character more so I actually gave a shit when people died? Instead I’m all caught up in the ins and outs OUTSIDE of the story which I find out anyway is just a load of bullshit. WTF?

    I think it was Hitchcock who said “An audience asking questions is an audience not emoting” or words to that effect. Whatever, anyway. You like it, I don’t, life’s rich tapestry blah blah blah. Sarah pretty much sums up my feelings about this film.

    “See, if we start thinking ‘responsible’ while writing, then we may as well stick to kids’ soaps, where every negative/illegal/non-PC action has to be seen to be punished in some way…”

    Soz, but that is positively WARPED as far as I’m concerned… I’m not sanctioning the censorship of everything in the world. That would be ridiculous, especially since I like to write lots of violence and sex. I believe absolutely in free speech.

    But philosophically, there has to be a place for responsibility, for saying, to ourselves: is there a line that I SHOULDN’T cross and where is that, exactly? That doesn’t actually have to be within the storyline itself but the actual NATURE of the film. What I object to most about Wolf Creek is the fact there’s little point to it as far as I can see: backpackers get butchered in the desert, nothing to see here, move along now! YAWN!

    Seriously though, as unpopular a notion as it is, media images have to have some effect on us, our actions and/or thinking. Advertising works, this is never disputed – yet the same intelligent people will say there is no such thing as copycat murder or a misogynist film.

    And btw – clearly U don’t watch much kids’ TV Jase – have you not watched MY PARENTS ARE ALIENS? The Dad has homosexual leanings towards his foster son’s friends so obvious that my cat could notice them. What’s more, it’s an actual feature and not apologised for in the slightest.

  9. “What I object to most about Wolf Creek is the fact there’s little point to it as far as I can see: backpackers get butchered in the desert, nothing to see here, move along now! YAWN!”

    See, that’s the thing. You either enjoy watching fictional characters being sliced, diced and generally inconvenienced, or you don’t. Slasher movies are a tad like Motorhead: they’ve only got one song, but if you like that song, you’re sorted.

    My Parents Are Aliens? Nope, haven’t had the pleasure, madam. And coming from you, I’ll take ‘warped’ as a compliment. 😀

  10. I was going to comment about this but it would mean using the phrase “demented sick fuckos” and I’m not sure if it’s impolite to say that here.

  11. Okay, so it looks like I’ve done it…

    Maybe it’s an age thing, but to me horror films meant scary films: ones that creeped me out or gave me the odd shock.

    I don’t get how people can be entertained by extended torture sccenes. I don’t why writers and directors would want to make this sort of sick shit.

    What is the merit to it? People being mutilate, women being abused… folk who make this sort of stuff have serious issues that need to be addressed.

    They’re serious DSFs and deserved a massive great cockpunch.

  12. I would agree with your gist Lucy and I’m afraid this will get long.

    The ‘based on’ tag is quite a staple and often a lie (Blair Witch, Chainsaw Massacre and Fargo) and is often used ‘to add verisimilitude to an otherwise bold and unconvincing narrative’.

    Wolf Creek was banned in Australia’s Northern Territory so as not to prejudice the Falconio trial. I didn’t have many problems with this particular film: the shifting protagonist allowed for each teen to lose a degree of anonymity and thereby retain a little humanity.

    I would assert that nearly every film is at some level a socio-political manifesto being both a reflection and reflector on society. What we produce, accept and/or enjoy as a society is surely telling. If we accept enjoyment of, albeit fictitious, torture, misogyny or racism (looking further back) is this not condoning it to an extent? (Consider the changed attitude to Birth Of A Nation where the Klansmen are heroes.)

    Is so-called ‘torture porn’ a reflection of an Abu-Ghraib inspiring age or a softening up for further abuses and the eventual legitimization of real torture? ‘Torture porn’ has seemed specific to the US. A major element of demonizing a group is dehumanization, to harm someone they have to be seen as less than human: is showing ALL other people as mere objects to be destroyed in various inventive ways actually wise?

    It surely must be accepted that people are influenced by what they see. Didn’t Jew Suss and Triumph Of The Will serve the Nazis well? Didn’t In Which We Serve and This Happy Breed affect British morale? What about the News Of The World’s paedophile naming and shaming? Was it The Sun ‘wot won it’ in 1997? Are the billions poured into advertizing and product placements merely charitable donations to TV and film companies? Hasn’t Friends’ speaking mannerisms and AQI become all pervasive? Isn’t promoting something as enjoyable, whether it’s shampoo or killing, an advert? Do films exist in a vacuum?

    In British law there is an offence of Incitement which doesn’t just include asking someone to commit an offence but also of ‘counselling’ them to commit one. Such an incitement can be implied rather than express. How long will it be before it’s used to prosecute a film-maker or distributor? It’ll probably come down to context but isn’t context everything?

    The big question has to be what kind of person actually wants to watch the torture part? Surely the only reason for watching is enjoyment or revulsion: if you’re revulsed why are you continuing to watch? Is it a new form of self-harm? If you’re enjoying it, well…?

    There is surely as much responsibility when engaging with an audience as there is when engaging with the ‘person in the street’.

  13. I should mention I love horror films and really don’t want to go back to the days of heavy-handed censorship or the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. I don’t watch them to see people being sliced and diced, I watch them for the tension… they used to be called ‘chiller’ or ‘horror THRILLERS’ after all.

    And Lucy, you’re also right about My Parents Are Aliens: it’s quite disturbing when you think about the ages and ramifications involved.

  14. Lost my mind?! Lol, cheeky. But don’t expect nowt less from you m’lady.

    Men must have more basic tastes than women though, right? I mean, I like kebabs and my girlie likes cordon bleu and all that. Or is it that we’re just more basic, full stop and don’t empathise with characters that get tortured etc in the same way? But of course now this train of thought is shagged ‘cos Good Dog and Jon agree with you Lucy. I’ll shut up now.

    Luv Mike

  15. I told you NOT to watch it bro, not ‘cos of the torture but ‘cos of the fact it was shit if you remember. I said it was the most boring film I had seen in bloody years. Those characters were totally flat, with little backstory and no interesting/redeeming features as far as I could see. Plus when she’s looking through the window watching that girl being tortured — how old is that?!? And where did that Ben character go? Do we care? Um–no (or at least I didn’t). And then he just walks away, just like that when the other girls couldn’t EVEN WITH A TRUCK cos a cliff is in the way. Convenient! I like slasher movies btw but that sucked ass big style.

  16. smMike and ESM – Whoa boys, don’t start a family feud on my blog! ; ) With you two always on here and Anya and her husband usually disagreeing too, I’m beginning to worry that this might blog might get cited in court someday!

    Jon – all good points, eloquently put but I don’t know if I agree that the homosexuality aspect of MY PARENTS ARE ALIENS is “disturbing” so much as annoying. At the end of the day, I want to educate my children about peoplem and preference, yet TV and film sets itself up as this authority all the time when I think it’s a poor substitute for proper parenting. Of course, many parents out there suck, etc etc, but that’s not the point for me.

    Good Dog – I don’t think it’s age, I actually agree with you. Torture porn does nothing for me in terms of shock except piss me off. I had previously avoided Wolf Creek because of this, only to have someone recommend it to me, hence the late viewing. Someone said to me the other day that that “type” of film was “adolescent”. I couldn’t agree more.

    Jason – whilst slasher movies are not my fave genre of horror (I prefer vampires, monsters/aliens, werewolves, devils, angels – the “fantastic marvellous” as philosopher Todorov puts it), I have enjoyed such films with homicidal maniacs in. HALLOWEEN is one example, SEVERANCE another. What I like about the latter and not about Wolf Creek is the fact that Halloween and Severance employ the notion of what film books call “The Monstrous Other” – the antagonist/s is a bogeyman of a kind, preying on those thoughts of monsters you had as a child. Plus there was a motivation for each of the killers in those films – a fear/revulsion of sex in Michael Myers’ case and a hatred of Palisade by the Severance Killers. The point was there was no point with this Bush guy in Wolf Creek and it’s all very post modern, but ultimately does not do it for me.

  17. I agree with Jason that writers shouldn’t feel that they can’t tell certain stories. But the censorship debate runs into trouble when writers and filmmakers take ‘we shouldn’t be censored’ to mean ‘I’m going to do what the hell I like, and screw you if you don’t like it. And if it has an adverse effect on individuals or society then tough because I won’t have my right to free expression curtailed.’

    Personally I hate ‘cautionary’ tales, especially given how many of them I’ve had to write while working on soaps. That to one side the casual use of rape to entertain angers me.

    There were some very smart torture horror films in the first wave. Not to my personal taste but I absolutely see the artistic merit in a genre re-defining film like Saw. A lot of what’s come after though aint that so much clever as gratutious.

    DD

  18. I’m not so sure that people who make so-called ‘torture porn’ movies have any serious psychological problems that they need to address: to a certain degree, they are responding to the basic economic issue of supply and demand. If a movie like Saw can get bums on seats, then’s who’s to say that Hostel won’t either? A factor borne out by the release of Hostel II. And doesn’t Severance contain its own little ‘torture porn’ sequence as well?

    I saw Wolf Creek a little while back and felt the same way as Lucy – i.e., what is the point of this exactly? However, I tend to like films that play with the notion of exactly who the protagonist is – The Prestige anyone?

  19. Chip – the notion of “supply and Demand” isn’t a big enough justification for me. On this basis the deluge of crappy moronic Reality TV in the vein of Big Brother is justified solely on the basis that people want it. But what you want is not always what you need, as I say in the article. As for torture porn in SEVERANCE, that really didn’t feature on my radar at all – are you talking about Gordon’s demise? His death was shocking for the very reason it wasn’t “extended” as GD says. I think that’s basically my problem with these scenes – they go on for too long and how does it push the story forward? It doesn’t in my view.

    DD – good points there. I think my view on censorship is not so much that certain stories shouldn’t be told, but we should take greater care in how they are presented sometimes.

  20. Don’t think Chip’s argument stands up unless you’re more the most extreme kind of libertarian.

    There’s clearly demand for all sorts of things that society deems beyond the pale – heroin, child pornography, snuff movies.

    No one’s saying that filmmakers or writers should censor what they do, just that they need to consider the potential impact on wider society.

  21. Oh, and Hostel II absolutely tanked in the US at least, which is a very good thing.

    I wrote something a while back about brief torture scenes within a film/TV drama and just full on, extended, from opening titles to end credits, one give torture.

    The latter is witless. The later is for rancid little twerps made by rancid little twerps. These are the guys who couldn’t get a girlfriend when they were in school or college or become part of a social crowd.

    If you want to read about n absolutely horrific torture sequence, go get Dennis Lehane’s Darkness Take My Hand. It is brutal and thoroughly unpleasant. But in the context of the whole story it is understandable, and the consequences of that action are equally brutal.

    Or you could just sit and watch 90 minutes of Chop the Bitch Up 2: Die, Die, Die, You Whore!

    You could argue that allowing these cock-knockers to vent whatever obvious frustrations they have on film is better than waiting until they eventually snap and climb up the water tower with a bolt action rifle. But most of their are probably way too pussy to do that.

    Remake of Halloween opened in the US with $26.5m, by the way.

  22. I was responding to a comment that GD made, and wasn’t suggesting that supply and demand is a ‘justification’ for movies of this type, just that there is a demand for them. Film is a business after all.

    Regardless of the fact that I can’t stand the latest round of torture porn flicks (Hostel for example is pure and utter tosh), there are plenty of people who do like them – which makes them legitimate ‘products’ from a purely economic point of view.

  23. SPOILERS FOR SUNSHINE BELOW.

    I assume everyone’s already read this, but just in case, Joss Whedon has a good old rant about misogyny in horror movies here.

    I liked the first half of Wolf Creek, and had to fast forward through the second half as I found it all too unpleasant. The girls in particular put in very good performances, but I can’t watch a)torture in horror movies b)rape or c)films where bad stuff happens and nothing is achieved.

    I’m fine with torture in action/thrillers, probably because in those films you know it’s going to end with the hero getting out and kicking the torturer’s ass rather than just dying – compare Lethal Weapon to Hostel, for example.

    As for the bad things happening but nothing being achieved… I’m okay with everybody dying if they do something great in the process, see Sunshine. The crew all die but the world is saved. Bonza. On the other hand, it doesn’t have to be about death… Closer, for example, was one of the most horrible films I’ve ever seen. People do really shitty things to each other for two hours, then it ends. See also Kids. Nothing is achieved in either of these films.

    And then onto the R word… I don’t think any writer has the right to go anywhere near this. My exception would be rape victims themselves, who are the only qualified people to even consider it; see The Lovely Bones. Making it a point of entertainment, along the lines of Teeth is out of the question, doubly so for male writers.

  24. I found this quote from Cronenberg which is quite illuminating:

    “Having children has assured me that there is a built-in resistance to exposure to things which might actually be damaging… I’ve found with my own kids that they literally put their hands over their eyes in order not to see something they can’t take. At the same time, they do have a definite desire to test themselves, to take themselves to the limit in terms of what’s scary or disturbing.”

    I don’t like films such as Hostel, et al, but rather than condemning them, is it not better to try and understand what makes them popular (the tanking of Hostel II notwithstanding)? The fact that extended torture sequences do not take the story forward is perhaps a little redundant in light of the fact that horror can be a genre where you can test your susceptibility to scary or disturbing images. In addition, could we be talking about a generational thing here? What I find scary or disturbing is not necessarily the same as what an 18 year old would (I have a nephew this age and he loves Hostel – I can’t stand it, and maybe that’s something that’s worthwhile exploring).

  25. I don’t think that a good parent lets their kid (and we’re talking 16 and under here) self regulate. Why? ‘Cos kids don’t know when to stop. Ever. They’d eat sweets (or if they’re older, drink/smoke etc) until they throw up, why not watch horror movies until they’re unable to sleep?? (That being the least of our problems of course, The Columbine Boys loved their scary movies apparently).

    In my view, the reason these torture porn movies are popular is because we don’t know when to stop. We’re like those little kids, wanting more and more and more. It’s more illuminating for me that something like ALIEN VS PREDATOR that has ten times the gore of the original is a 15 in the UK, when the first was an 18. We can take more, so we demand more – but the real question for me is, should we have it?

  26. I left an important part of the Cronenberg quote out! As follows: “The only problem is when adults drag a kid to a movie and the kid can’t get away and doesn’t want to be exposed.”

    And weren’t the Columbine boys big Matrix fans as well?!