Monday, December 14, 2009

The night of moral disgust

My brother Jim is staying with Two Dogs and me until he can find an apartment of his own (or until we find a new place for us to stay together – homesharing is not out of the question for us).

Not too long ago, Two Dogs showed the DVD of Reservoir Dogs (the 15th anniversary edition in the mock gas-can packaging) to Jim. It gave me a chance to re-watch the movie, too. This time, I didn’t enjoy it as much.

I bought the movie during the Steve Buscemi phase of my life, shortly before I met Two Dogs. Of course, Mr. Buscemi is still great as Mr. Pink, and so are the other actors – Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, and the late Chris Penn and Lawrence Tierney. The director/writer Quentin Tarantino’s inimitable style still zings and crackles, and who couldn’t love K-Billy’s Sounds of the 70s?

What’s wrong with this movie now? When the final credits came on, I was permeated with moral disgust.

I use those words, “moral disgust”, very carefully. It’s hard not to associate that terminology with people who have the FCC on speed-dial just in case they hear a fart (the word and/or the sound) on television. Believe me, I do not want Reservoir Dogs, or any other movie, taken off store shelves and TV screens. I have no problem with strong language, explicit sex, bathroom humor, and non-traditional lifestyles.

So, what was it in Reservoir Dogs that I found morally disgusting? It wasn’t the blood. It wasn’t even the realistic depiction of what really happens when you shoot a guy in the belly (Hint: First he screams. Loud.). It was the casual attitude towards violence.

With two exceptions, the characters of Reservoir Dogs are at best amoral criminals who think it’s just fine and dandy to shoot people who get in their way, and at worst cheerful psychopaths who torture victims while dancing to “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel. This may have been cool back in 1992, but today it just makes me sick.

Story is the number-one factor when I decide what movies I want to see. When I say story, I mean human beings deciding how best to live life. In his 1973 book, The World of Star Trek, David Gerrold lamented that the original series (which was all the Star Trek there was on TV back in 1973), contained too many “Kirk in danger” stories and not enough “Kirk has a decision to make” stories. Too many moviemakers think that conflict = danger = guns, explosives, killers, monsters, ad nauseam.

I’d rather see real stories about real people who will live to use the insights they gained through the action of the movie. I’d rather see movies that tell us that life is weird, funny, sad, bad, and ridiculous – but we can get through it without giving up our selves (or for that matter, our guts). In other words, the kind of movies that mainstream Hollywood is afraid to make anymore.

So be it. Leave the toy movies to the boys of all ages. I will go to the art houses and the Netflix in search of meaningful cinematic experience. As for Quentin Tarantino, if I could ask anything of him, I would ask him to write a movie with no blood and no violence and no killing. (But the strong language can stay in.)

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