WRATH OF THE TITANS, in IMAX 3-D, sequel to CLASH OF THE TITANS, opens this weekend.
Also opening this weekend is BULLY, the new documentary by Lee Hirsch about the increase in, and increasingly vehement, incidents of bullying among young people.
The release of BULLY has been embroiled in a very public controversy between the ratings agency MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), and The Weinstein Co., Harvey Weinstein in particular, who is distributing the picture.
The MPAA has given the brutally honest documentary an ‘R’ rating which means that kids under 17 can’t go see it without their parents. It Is the kiss of box-office death to any film to loose that audience, but in this case the concern of the filmmaker is that it restricts the target audience from benefiting from its educational value.
The story of WRATH OF THE TITANS (Warner Bros.) directed by Jonathan Liebesman, is drawn directly from Bullfinch’s Mythology (paraphrased from the production notes);
Perseus (Sam Worthington) the son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), is living quietly as a village fisherman and the sole parent to his 10-year-old son, Helius. There is a struggle for supremacy raging between the gods. Weakened by humanity’s lack of devotion, the gods are losing hold of their immortality, as well as control over the imprisoned Titans and their ferocious leader, Kronos, father of the long-ruling brothers Zeus, Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Poseidon (Danny Huston). The three brothers had overthrown their powerful father long ago, leaving him to rot in the gloomy abyss of the Underworld. Perseus cannot ignore his true calling as Hades, along with Zeus’ godly son, Ares (Edgar Ramirez), switches loyalties and makes a deal with Kronos to capture Zeus. The Titan’s strength grows as Zeus’ remaining godly powers are siphoned… and hell is unleashed on earth. Enlisting the help of Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), Poseidon’s demigod son Agenor (Toby Kebbell), and fallen god Hephaestus (Bill Nighy), Perseus bravely embarks on a treacherous quest into the Underworld to rescue Zeus, overthrow the Titans and save mankind.
WRATH is a perfect story archetype, well suited to a rollercoaster ride through a 3-D/CGI amusement park. Look not here for great acting or sparkling dialogue, no, this is entertainment on a stadium seating, IMAX scale. While it may lack subtlety, it does carry a strong message, albeit wrapped in soft and fluffy spectacle.
BULLY, on the other hand is a documentary about bullying in schools at the center of a controversy over its rating for release to theaters.
From the Hollywood Reporter: “Despite vociferous protests from the film’s distributor, Harvey Weinstein, as well as powerful advocacy groups, the MPAA has refused to budge from its ‘R’ rating on Bully, which is likely to go down among the organization’s more asinine decisions. Lee Hirsch’s affecting documentary offers personal evidence against a scourge that afflicts vulnerable children and youths across the globe. That makes this a potent social-outreach tool that deserves to be seen as widely as possible.”
Lee Hirsch, the director of Bully, released a statement Monday regarding the MPAA decision. “The small amount of language in the film that’s responsible for the ‘R’ rating is there because it’s real. It’s what the children who are victims of bullying face on most days. All of our supporters see that, and were grateful for the support we’ve received across the board. I know the kids will come, so it’s up to the theaters to let them in.”
Back in the 30’s the equivalent of the current ratings system was called the Hays Code with the MPAA as the enforcement arm. They imposed stiff restrictions on what could be on the screen, basically, censorship. Writers and directors quickly found ways around the imposed restrictions and in most cases made better movies as a result, through innuendo, like the kiss between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in NOTORIOUS for example.
Over the years, the restrictions have become eroded and the ratings are being used more like a weapon wielded by the gods in WRATH. Weinstein along with the AMC Theatre franchise have managed to finesse their way around the code by screening it as ‘un-rated’.
Now, I can remember when this rating system was instituted back in the 60’s when going to an ‘R’ rated movie was like achieving the holy grail. Eventually it was more like, if it wasn’t rated ‘R’ it wasn’t worth going to. This probably just followed my ageing process, but it’s also to the point, we’ve grown, as a society, and the rules have not.
The last time this issue flared was a couple of years ago with the beautiful film, THE KINGS SPEECH, also released through Weinstein Co. MPAA gave it an ‘R’ for the scenes when Lionel Logue (Geoffery Rush) the diction coach, has King George VI (Colin Firth) say ‘fuck’ out loud repeatedly to help him get over his inhibitions. It was another case where the rating board would not consider the context and intent before committing their sentence, and a sentence it was. The roll out was frustratingly slow for the financiers of the film, but then Weinstein didn’t have such a good relationship the agency and perhaps they were teaching him a lesson.
Revenge, they say, is best served cold and the reaction was swift. By releasing BULLY without a rating, the PTC (Parents Television Council) board says that it compromises the whole rating system.
“This move, regardless of intentions, sets a precedent that threatens to derail the entire ratings system,” said PTC head Tim Winter, “If a distribution company can simply decide to operate outside of the ratings system in a case like Bully, nothing would prevent future filmmakers from doing precisely the same thing, with potentially much more problematic material.”
Maybe that is what is needed.
What has slipped through the cracks in this system, and the argument, is that even on TV, gratuitous violence, violence and misogamy against women, ignorance, greed, hateful stereotypes and just generally bad behavior is glorified and are often the weapons that inform and drive bullying in schoolyards.
Now, bullying is part of human nature, we have examples throughout history. So too is language wielded like a bludgeon, or a sword. How it is dealt with is much of its purposefulness within the tribe. I think of Dargelos in Jean Cocteau’s mythologizing of his own youth in LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES and of my own family’s stories about young Abraham Lincoln coming to blows with Uncle Jack Armstrong only to end up shaking hands and becoming lifelong friends.
Ideas of strength and vulnerability, of what is good and what is evil, have remained fundamentally unchanged over millennia, however the methods of expression and thresholds of tolerance have changed. For one thing, we don’t live in such tightly knit communities as we did even fifty years ago. Ironically, the same ‘protect our children’ attitudes that have resulted in restricting teachers from intervening in schoolyard scuffles have led to issues with bullying becoming more widespread.
Hirsch is right to say that the language in question is nothing that these kids don’t hear every day. “The MPAA said they wouldn’t drop the ‘R’ rating unless this language was removed, but nothing can remove it from the halls and playgrounds of schools, where bullied students hear it each day, except education and exposure.”
So what I kept hoping would happen in WRATH, that Perseus would not just take the beating but do something clever or unexpected to slay the monster, Weinstein and AMC Theatres are doing. Rather than just let the old gods control through unreasonable inflexibility, they’re pulling a side-move that may just undermine the gods’ very existence.
Where the willow bends with the wind, the ridged mighty oak snaps and breaks.
The gods of WRATH OF THE TITANS have faded into dust, largely due to their neglect of the needs of their people, so too aged institutions must either reflect the change they helped shape or fade into obsolescence.