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Column: Hollywood a violent place, or just meeting our wants?


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Gun control has been a hot topic since Dec. 14, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 26 students and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Also being discussed, to a lesser degree, are the need to improve mental health care in this country and the proliferation of violence in the media.

While I’m certainly no scientist, I decided to do a little research of my own on violence in the media, specifically in the movies being produced these days.

What prompted my interest was a Philadelphia Inquirer feature containing capsule reviews of feature films. This weekly report offers brief summaries of films currently on the big screen and lists each film’s Motion Picture Association of America rating and the reasons for it, such as adult themes, violence or nudity.

The particular report I examined, dated Feb. 7, contained reviews of 39 films. If this report is typical, and I believe it is, then movie theaters today are not for the prudish or the squeamish.

Of the 39 films reviewed, 32 contain adult themes, 27 contain profanity, 17 have both profanity and violence, while nine contain profanity, violence and sex.

But perhaps the most startling statistic was this one: 24 of the 39 films, or roughly 62 percent, are rated for violence, intense violence, sexual violence or some combination thereof.

No doubt about it, the silver screen is a violent neighborhood.

It’s hardly surprising that Sylvester Stallone’s latest, “Bullet to the Head,” is rated R for strong violence, nudity, profanity and substance abuse. With a title like that, one doesn’t expect a love story.

Curiously, however, “Bullet to the Head” is not rated for containing adult themes. I haven’t seen the film, but perhaps all the shooting, nakedness, cussing and drug use occurs at Disney World.

More likely the film is just too immature to be called adult.

“Silver Linings Playbook,” considered by critics to be one of the year’s best films, contains profanity, sex, drugs, violence and adult themes. What, no nudity? I want my money back.

Another critical darling, “Les Misérables,” contains not only regular violence but also sexual violence — and singing!

Today even the comedies are crude. “This is 40,” the latest from Judd Apatow, is rated R for profanity, nudity, sex, drugs and adult themes.

Sounds hilarious! One wonders how the Marx Brothers ever made anyone laugh.

I am old enough to remember when the movies were different. I remember when profanity and bare breasts were equally rare in feature films.

Surprisingly, there was a whole slew of excellent films made in those days, films that contained little or no violence, drug use, profanity, nudity or sex.

I often wonder what some of my favorite classic movies would look like were they made today. Perhaps Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood would be the leader of a merry band of drug smugglers. And when he climbs to Maid Marian’s balcony, he likely would find Olivia de Havilland lounging on her bed, nude of course.

“Spartacus” would surely feature graphic scenes of sex, plus gladiators being torn limb from limb. Don’t believe me? Check out the new TV version on STARZ.

And I shiver to think of Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart stripping to their birthday suits to beat the sweltering heat in “The African Queen.”

Yes, there always has been violence in the movies, real or implied. But when more than half of the movies currently in theaters include violence, strong violence or sexual violence, plus all the other “goodies,” maybe it’s time to reconsider the possible effect on the audience.

But perhaps Hollywood is only giving us what we want.

Doug Showalter can be reached at 379-5625 or dshowalter@therepublic.com.

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