I binge read blogs. Most of the time I go months without visiting a “favorite” (see blogroll on the left); when I do visit, I’ll spend a week or so reading the posts I missed, at least the interesting ones. The procedure of reading Victorian novels makes eminent sense to me; all things should be consumed over short periods of time, in heavy doses, in order to properly enjoy the characters, the themes, etc. … This means that frequently when I want to respond to something, it’s already old, and has lost whatever piddling urgency it once possessed. Lo! it is the price paid for sanity in the modern age.
Of course, this is just windup (you’ll be forgiven for thinking that it looks as extraneous as John Gant’s): a way of working around to saying that I was reading Unequally Yoked, and found a Quick Takes link to an article on film violence, focusing on Game of Thrones (some examples not for the faint of heart). The article’s bottom line: violence in film can be a good thing from an artistic standpoint when it is revelatory of character.
It’s an interesting claim. I don’t disagree. Violence can be revelatory of character. The way a boxer boxes tells you something about him—I’m thinking of the scene at the end of The Quiet Man when John Wayne and Victor McLaglen go at it hammer and tongs all over the Irish countryside. And I don’t take offense at that particular scene, though I do cringe a little bit when the heavier blows land. As you may be able to guess from that admission, I haven’t seen any of G.o.T. Part of the reason is that (like Rosenberg’s second quoted reader?) I’m too sensitive to enjoy the series—that, and a lurking suspicion that the deadening of this sensitivity might not be an unmixed blessing.
But, setting that momentarily aside, as I read Rosenberg’s piece and contemplated her (nuanced) defense of (some) on-screen violence, a question popped up that’s been naggling me off and on since. Granting that violence can be revelatory of character, is it the only way to reveal the relevant aspects of a character? Is it even the best way?
I’ll pose another one. If the answer to the query above is Yes, if the justification for cinematic violence is the need to express relevant character traits—then why do we need so many violent characters in film anyway? Rosenberg quotes a reader offering what might serve for an answer, pointing to the actual violence of the Middle Ages and the temptation pretty the period up for the screen. But why is this tendency to “prettify” viewed as a temptation, as a negative, as opposed to a perfectly legitimate aesthetic choice?
I can think of one reply to my not-altogether-innocent inquiries. It is arguable that, much as sin enables the maturation of higher virtues in the real order, so too violence in the fictional order is needed to properly portray a certain kind of high heroism. This is plausible—but then, are such portrayals effective? True, watching minor characters burn before Nero in Quo Vadis (1951) strengthened my sense of the heroism of martyrdom. But I very much doubt that seeing a more realistic burning would have helped. I’ve never finished a (for me) too-clear depiction of heroic suffering thinking “Wow, I hope if push came to shove, I’d be like that.” Instead, my thought (if you can call it that) would be best expressed as “Agggggghhhhh! please please please let me sleep with the nightlight on!” I’m not sure that I’ve become any more heroic, or even more admiring of heroism in others, by experiencing that reaction.
Is this just me?
I think of The Passion of Joan of Arc. I remember the actual martyrdom; but the film lays much more focus on Joan’s prior mental suffering—and rightly so—for that is what made her extraordinary. Hamlet provides a secular parallel, in which the conscientious struggles of the characters (not just the hero) are far more interesting than the body pile at the end. There are myriad film versions of the play; but I defy anyone to define the best Hamlet as the one with the most blood (*cough cough*, Mel Gibson, *cough cough*).
Actually, if you want to know, the best Hamlet (that I’ve seen so far)
is the one Benedict Cumberbach did about a year ago for, I think,
the RSC, that was simulcast to U.S. audiences.
Now, if I could get my hands on a tape of that …