Leading Article : Natural born hypocrisy

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Even if I am a hypocrite, that doesn't mean I'm wrong, says Oliver Stone with a logic that, in a less enlightened age, might have been condemned as jesuitical. The central accusation of his film Natural Born Killers, which opens in this country on Friday, after months of skirmishing with the film censor, is that our modern culture of violence is essentially the product of newspapers and television stations, desperate to boost circulation and ratings. To prove the point, Stone has produced a movie in which the physical horror is orgiastic.

The media reaction to Stone's violent condemnation of violence proves the point, he insists in an interview in this newspaper today. Journalists who habitually turn horrible murders into entertainment have been happy to report the copy-cat killings that followed his film's opening in the United States but then failed to report police denials that the film was a factor.

Just who is being disingenuous here? The PR material for the film is full of meretricious guff about "a hallucinatory journey that shocks and disorients as it reveals and informs". Making it was, apparently, "an odyssey into the unknown recesses of each cast and crew member's spirit". To the suggestion that Natural Born Killers shamelessly exploits the phenomenon it sets out to indict, Stone responds: "You can accuse me of that, but does it mean I can never make a film?"

Hang on. We are asking the questions. It is not enough to point out that NBK, as Stone winsomely calls the film, has only 52 killings compared with 106 in Rambo III or 264 in Diehard II. Does a play about boredom have to be boring? Does a book about pornography have to be pornographic? Violence is deeper in our culture than the merely cinematic. It is in cheap thrillers, computer games and even pop videos. It is not something that can be excised with the censor's scissors.

This is not a question of censorship or the suppression of artistic freedom. Nor is it about our collective moral responsibility for our children and the issue of whether violent films make some people behave violently. It is a question of taste.

"Of course, I wouldn't ever be a serial murderer," chirruped one American movie-goer vox-popped yesterday as he left the cinema, "but if I was, I would want to be one like in Natural Born Killers." The serial murderer as style hero.

Stone is more accurate than he might intend when he calls his film "a warped mirror of contemporary excess". Since Heisenberg, we can no longer avoid the knowledge that the observer by his or her very presence alters the thing observed. Natural Born Killers is as much a part of the process of brutalising and desensitising as those it seeks to condemn. "It was," says Stone, comparing the movie to a Jackson Pollock painting, "like we vomited on to the canvas." Pass the sickbag.