Siskel and Ebert give ‘Faces of Death’ two thumbs down, 1987
09:16 am

The 1980s were marked by a spike in parental crusades—the widespread “satanic panic” of the day has been well-noted, and Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center seeking to censor or label music acts like Prince, AC/DC, Madonna, and Judas Priest, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving looking to raise the legal drinking age as well as other measures.

The arrival of video rental shops in many towns in America created an opening for a parental panic over “video nasties,” which is to say, exploitative and cheaply made videocassettes selling little more than death and human dismemberment under the cover of regular horror movies, of which the Faces of Death series was the best known example. Faces of Death purported to be a documentation of people in the act of experiencing death in various ways, with dubious veracity. Some were clearly quite real.

In 1987 the two best known movie critics in America tackled the issue head-on in a segment of Siskel & Ebert. In the segment they warn parents that the “video nasty” trend is infiltrating video stores, with irredeemably violent movies masquerading as more conventional horror fare. Siskel says that the genre describes movies that are “full of blood and guts—sometimes real, sometimes faked.”

As soon as I heard the term “video nasty” in connection with this show, I had the hunch that only the British would invent a term like that, and I was right. “Video nasty” was a term invented in the U.K. to refer to violent movies distributed on videocassette that came under fire for their content. A group called the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (NVLA) popularized the term in the early 1980s. Essentially, the furor over “video nasties” in the U.K. led directly to the imposition of a rating system.

The Director of Public Prosecutions released a list of movies with the goal of “prosecuting” them under the Obscene Publications Act 1959. According to Wikipedia, “39 films were successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act but some of these films have been subsequently cut and then approved for release by the BBFC [British Board of Film Classification].” The list of movies prosecuted by the DPP included Faces of Death, Gestapo’s Last Orgy, Cannibal Holocaust, Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer, and Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein

“The most popular nasty of them all,” says Siskel, “is a piece of trash called Faces of Death.” Obviously the Siskel and Ebert look at Faces of Death is not a regular review at all, merely an instantiation of the general thesis under discussion, that more parents need to be alarmed by “video nasties.” Still, Siskel and Ebert review movies, so they do show an obviously faked clip of a supposedly lethal bear attack, and then return to the studio to comment on how obviously fake it was.

More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider
09:16 am
Kubrick veteran Peter Sellers HATED ‘A Clockwork Orange’

In the June 25, 1972 issue of the Chicago Tribune there appears a profile of Peter Sellers written by the paper’s film critic Gene Siskel. The article focuses on some serious health problems Sellers had recently undergone, specifically “eight heart attacks in one day.” Sellers seemed to be recovering well, in part due to a newfound interest in yoga.

The article does not mention what triggered those “eight heart attacks in one day.”  According to Wikipedia, on the night of April 5, 1964, prior to having sex with his wife Britt Ekland, Sellers took amyl nitrites as a sexual stimulant in his search for “the ultimate orgasm” and suffered a series of eight heart attacks over the course of three hours as a result. This unfortunate medical outcome forced Sellers to withdraw from the filming of Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid; he was replaced by Ray Walston.

Knowing that Sellers was likely the world’s most famous actorly collaborator of Stanley Kubrick’s, having appeared to spectacular effect in Dr. Strangelove and Lolita, Siskel naturally inquired as to Sellers’ opinion of A Clockwork Orange, which had been out for a few months and had sparked intense discussion over the role of violence in the movies.

Much to Siskel’s surprise, it turns out that Sellers’ opinion of the movie was unequivocal: he hated it.

Sellers: I hated ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ I thought it was the biggest load of crap I’ve ever seen for years. Amoral. I think because of the violence around today it’s lamentable that a director of Stanley Kubrick’s distinction and ability should lend himself to such a subject. I’m not saying that you can’t pick up that book [the Anthony Burgess novel upon which the film is based], read it, and put it down. But to make it as a film, with all the violence we have in the world today – to add to it, to put it on show – I just don’t understand where Stanley is at.

Siskel: Are you saying that it will influence people to commit violence that they would otherwise not commit?

Sellers: I think it adds to it.

Most fascinating (and in a way, hilarious) is a passage later in the profile, which comes when Siskel is trying to get Sellers to admit that it’s okay for movies to handle violence as a subject. Sellers interrupts: “I must tell you first of all that I’m a yogi. I am against violence completely. Hare ommm. So you now know why. So there’s really no point in asking any more questions about it.”
Via A Stanley Kubrick Tumblr

Posted by Martin Schneider
09:34 am