The successful attempts by cyber criminals to cancel the release of "The Interview" reminded me of an eye-opening episode from my childhood.
In 1988, the lead-up to the opening of Martin Scorsese’ “The Last Temptation of Christ” was universally polarizing, rage inducing and provided fodder for countless talking heads. It was, appropriately enough, the first time I ever heard the term “controversial.”
I won’t discuss the film, which some deemed blasphemous. Whether the film is or isn’t doesn’t matter anymore. What mattered is that enough people were angry and willing to picket outside the studio, inundate Universal Pictures with letters and encourage a boycott. After months of build-up, with the film’s critics and defenders butting heads, and reports of sign-waving demonstrations outside several major theater chains, the film came and went.
A film like “Last Temptation” will always create a divisive reaction, as many religious-themed movies do. What I admired was how the studio stood by its director, publicly defended him and, in spite of efforts to have the film silenced, released “The Last Temptation of Christ.”
Now, on the one hand, I think the comparison to what happened with “The Interview” is somewhat wobbly. In post-9/11 America, we tend to be sensitive to threats of any kind, regardless of plausibility. When “Last Temptation” came out, the biggest fear Universal faced was the bottom line, above all.
There were members of the studio staff who were against “Last Temptation,” and resentful that Scorsese had the studio brass partake in a sensitivity course, on appealing to faith-based audiences (today, there are well-established units in several studios dedicated to this).
In 1988, violence breaking out in a movie theater was unheard of. Well, aside from isolated incidents, like fights and a shooting occurring during screenings of “The Warriors” and “A Clockwork Orange.”
In a way, I believe Sony is doing the right thing, in that they’re assuring the public that they won’t taunt a potential outbreak of violence. Yet, not only is their delayed release playing into the plans of the bad guys, it’s kind of implying that they’re siding with the enemy. Even if “The Interview” is a lemon, they should stand by their art and the artists involved. Hiding the movie and giving into the censorship tactics of cyber-bullies is unacceptable.
I imagine everyone at Sony is licking their wounds and in constant damage-control mode. They deserve time to step back from the damage, take a moment to re-group and come up with a plan. Working at a movie studio is stressful, but it shouldn’t have to feel like being a chef on the Titanic every day you clock in.
Were the studio to release “The Interview” and a violent incident occurs, it would not be the fault of the studio, though it might come across that way to some. They should have known, people would say, a threat was made, they should have taken it seriously and shelved the damn thing! This way, the artists are shoved aside in favor of cutting losses and making a plea of peace.
Again, my “Last Temptation” comparison is shaky, because the threats made through letters, anonymous and identified, were not, as far as we know, not made by any terrorist organization, cyber criminals or associates of North Korea.
After a few weeks of the film playing in theaters, the film survived the toxic lip service and was viewed on its artistic merits, not on how many protestors were outside the screening.
What has happened recently with “The Interview” angers me, and not just because I’m a fan of Seth Rogen and James Franco (I make no apologies for this and never will). The reason I’m angry is that we’re letting alleged North Korean terrorists censor an American movie. This makes me mad as hell, and anyone who cynically says otherwise is missing the point.
As with “Last Temptation,” the content of the film doesn’t matter. A few of my friends have cracked wise that they’re thankful that someone stepped in and saved them from enduring “The Interview.” With respect, this is a moronic way to look at this. Who cares if it’s a Seth Rogen movie? Pretend it’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
Oh, do I have your attention now? Now, are you pissed off? Good!
No one wants to call “The Interview” art with a straight face, but that’s what it is. When a work of creativity is created with purpose, either by one’s self or in collaboration, with the intent of expressing an idea or narrative, that’s art. My definition of art may be loose, but “The Interview” fits the bill. As a cinematic expression of pop culture irreverence, “The Interview” is art. So is “Harry Potter,” “The Hobbit” and “The Hunger Games.”
Whether art is popular and embraced by the zeitgeist or only a few dozen film critics is besides the point. In the same way, whether “The Interview” is an important film or viewed as an expression of lowbrow humor is besides the point.
What matters is that someone is stepping forward and telling the artists, we won’t allow you to show this, you shouldn’t have made this and we won’t accept it. To misquote my favorite line in “Wild At Heart,” no one who stands for individuality and believes in personal freedom should stand for this.
The Sony hacking debacle is horrible enough. I’m morbidly fascinated by the info that has leaked, but you know what, shame on me for even reading any of that! Wagging our fingers at poorly chosen words and insensitive e-mails from studio brass is a distraction from what happened.
This is a crime, a horrendous breach of private information, not a car crash to gawk at. Adding the canceling of releasing a major motion picture, days before its planned opening, is a battered studio taking defense by crying out, “we surrender.”
A practical part of me is relieved. This presumably is a weight off the employees of Sony’s backs, a time for them to deal with the damage inflicted by their grotesque loss of privacy
On the other hand, another part of me wishes the studio had used its left finger to hit the play button on the projectors showing “The Interview” and its right hand to extend two middle fingers at their censors. This is America in the 21st century, dammit! Since when do we give in to someone saying “you can’t show that!”” or “you’re not allowed to let people see this movie”?
Delaying “The Interview” may have been the best hand Sony had, but it’s still a losing hand. America is too advanced, too free and too proud to allow art to be silenced.