Films cannot only be about cookery classes and nice people doing nice things. If they were, does anyone seriously believe the mugger would wake up and say, "Gosh, cookery classes, I'll help old ladies across the streets today"?
Drama has always taken events from the society around it - often events of conflict, even of nastiness. So what? In Victorian times table legs were covered with cloth for fear of offending the sensitive, but as historians have frequently remarked, it was far more dangerous to walk the streets then than it is today.
In Trollope's time (well before films!) people were regularly garrotted in London's parks. In the early part of this century the Peaky Blinders gang had razors in their caps and dunked their heads to split open their victims. What would the Independent claim had "desensitised" people in these historical times? And how can it explain that in Japan, where anything goes in film and television, the crime rate is one tenth of what it is here?
Oliver Stone's film will not make a blind bit of difference to the crime rate, or the mind of its viewers to violence. We waste time and energy blaming film and television for aspects of human nature that have always been in place.
If we were to say that "bad taste" (whatever that means) is indefensible, then we would have no Impressionist painting, no jazz music, no modern art, nor hundreds of things now deemed worthy of cultural admiration. You would have written nutty editorials about all of them.
What on earth is the point in saying, and I encapsulate, "We didn't like this film, it's nasty"? The headmaster at my Quaker school rambled on with similar tedium about how the Warner Brothers gangster films, which I devotedly saw, would turn us all into dreadful human beings. Desensitised schoolkids on the road to perdition! But I cannot recall any of us who became murderers. Now those same films are shown in cinematheques.
Oliver Stone is entitled to make a film which I view as a magnificent piece of craftsmanship and wickedly witty observation, and which you think is crass. That is what a free society is all about.
You say it is not a question of censorship. But it is. By suggesting that films depicting horrible aspects of life are so unsavoury as to be unnecessary, you encourage a limitation of expression that would ultimately destroy you as well. But then newspapers love to ride on films like Natural Born Killers, tut-tutting in horror while selling a few extra copies along the way.
Michael Winner is a film director, writer and producer.Reuse content