After a screening of Killer Joe at the Jacob Burns Film Center last week, the eminent director William Friedkin (left, with Janet Maslin) had an interesting comment about the influence of films in the Aurora shootings. Disagreeing with comments that Friedkin’s capable contemporary Peter Bogdanovich made in The Hollywood Reporter (“Violence on the screen has increased tenfold. It’s almost pornographic. In fact, it is pornographic. . . .Today, there’s a general numbing of the audience. There’s too much murder and killing. You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge. It numbs the audience into thinking it’s not so terrible. . . . The respect for human life seems to be eroding.”), Friedkin didn’t think movies were to blame for events like Aurora. “Go back to the Leopold and Loeb case,” he said. “Cold-blooded killers–they said they were influenced by Nietzche. The Manson killings were supposedly influenced by The Beatles; they wrote `Helter Skelter’ on the wall. Mark David Chapman was supposedly influenced by The Catcher in the Rye. James Holmes told the police his favorite movies were Star Wars and Dumb and Dumber. These are excuses.” Personally, I don’t know why both of these men can’t be right. The excessive violence in movies does coarsen people’s expectations, but to blame movies, or any other art form, for events like the Aurora shootings is simplistic.
Friedkin had some amusing comments. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, he called Killer Joe “a kind of a Cinderella story”, in which the ingenue is waiting for her Prince Charming; one wonders if the appearance of a can of pumpkin filling in the final scene is a subtle reference. kind of hommage. He easily admits that the film scene has passed him by. “When I came out to Hollywood in the late sixties from Chicago, I met all these great directors like Billy Wildee, George Cukor and Richard Brooks, and they hated all the movies that my generation thought were so terrific. Well, now I’m one of them. If I were going into film today, I would go into computer generated imagery. That’s the future of film.” He said that in casting the title role, he considered a lot of leading men, including Tommy Lee Jones and Billy Bob Thornton (“the hard-bitten types”), and was very interested in casting Kurt Russell (“He finally dropped out; he said that if he took this part, it would be the end of his relationship with Goldie Hawn.”) Friedkin eventually saw McConaughey on a talk show, and began to think that maybe the role would be better played by someone young and handsome and charming. “Matthew read the script and was at first appalled. Then he came around. He knew all these people growing up.” Friedkin also made a funny reference to McConaughey’s mother: “Her dream is to appear in a remake of The Graduate, with her in the Bancroft role and Matthew as Benjamin.”
As for the movie, well, I have to say I was pretty entertained–stupid people, wild violence, over-the-top humor. Matthew McConaughey and Thomas Hayden Church were pretty wonderful, and the whole thing was kind of amazing spectacle. But I must say, after seeing films from Quentin Tarantino, and Martin McDonagh, and now Friedkin, I’m thinking that I’ve seen this pseudo-intellectual, postmodern, blood and yucks act enough for a while. It’s no longer cutting edge, dangerous territory.
Come on, boys–what else can you show me? Bogdanovich in his comments seemed so square when he wondered how come we don’t make films like From Here to Eternity and How Green Was My Valley. But good strong dramas, with honest feelings and heart? Maybe that could be the new cutting edge.