DO RAPE SCENES HAVE A PLACE IN MODERN CINEMA?

Margaux Hemingway in Lipstick (1976)

Margaux Hemingway in Lipstick (1976)

I wrote about the contentious issue of rape scenes in the movies for the Telegraph. Mercifully, they didn’t allow readers to make comments on it.

There are few more controversial and emotive subjects than rape, so one sympathises with the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) which in its annual report, published last week, resolves to “continue to intervene in relation to any depiction of sexual or sadistic violence which is likely to pose a non trivial harm risk through, for example: making sexual or sadistic violence look appealing.”

In fact, depicting rape in a salacious way appears to have fallen out of fashion in Hollywood, possibly due to political correctness, which is a mercy. I don’t like watching it, and I don’t know anyone – of either sex – who does. It’s a point at which the unspoken contract between film-makers and audiences becomes problematic: identifying with the victim feels like masochism, identifying with their assailant is hard for anyone who isn’t morally bankrupt, so you’re left in an uncomfortable void, wishing the film-makers hadn’t gone there.

To read on, please click on the picture of Margaux Hemingway in Lipstick (1976) (above) to be taken to the Telegraph website.

And here are another couple of pictures of Hemingway (who knows how to handle a shotgun – of course she does, with a name like that) in full-on revenge mode in a red sequinned dress.

lipstick02

lipstick01

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11 thoughts on “DO RAPE SCENES HAVE A PLACE IN MODERN CINEMA?

  1. Slightly off-topic, but…
    The burning question that drove me last year to pick up my pen after a 12 year hiatus and write a novel was: Why are we as a society so accepting of the idea of vampires feeding off the blood of non-consenting humans when we have such horror of non-consensual sex? Both are a deeply personal invasion. Does the fact that we don’t really believe in vampires make it okay to glory in their predations?

  2. Hmm, interesting. I don’t think we’re traditionally accepting of that idea, Frank – vampires used to be considered as thoroughly evil, and their predations were to be dreaded. It’s only in the past 25 years or so, with the rise of the romantic vampire and Goth culture, that vampires have been seen as anything less than soulless predators. I’ve written about it a bit in this article: http://multiglom.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/vampires-there-will-always-be-blood/
    but also in the forthcoming BFI book to tie in with their Gothic season.

    • I don’t have a problem with vampires being more human and romantic. What troubles me is vampires being depicted as heroic and noble yet acting in ways that would horrify us if we were the victims in real life.

  3. I hope this reads as constructive criticism, or just a genuine question, but I’m left uncertain what the Telegraph piece was trying to say or supposed to be about?
    It makes for an interesting analysis of various historical rape scenes, but I feel like I missed the part where it addressed the titular question?

    Your concluding paragraphs discuss 70s rape-revenge movies as some kind of passed trend, yet while acknowledging the existence of the Dragon Tattoo franchise – something I would argue is a ‘thing’ now, the ‘Lisbeth Salander type’ being a go-to character trope and image system.

    Then you mention the kidnapping of women, seemingly in the context of it being some new found rape substitute, as if everyone from Galahad through Buster Keaton to Super Mario doesn’t have such as part of their lore? Certainly such is a problem of ongoing, institutional sexism, or just poor imagination – but I remain uncertain how it addresses the titular question?

    Perhaps it’s because the immediacy and context of the article implies the addendum ‘going forward’, that I was surprised when the article trailed off after the history lesson.

    DO you think such scenes are necessary? I genuinely want to know.

    Also, apropos your Tarantino section, I would suggest that the Quentin of yore is on a sort of metatextual Polanski-like exile from America. That the Tarantino who made Death Proof (a film I found irredeemable apropos gender/rape issues) found himself scolded (though probably not financially) which is why he’s switched to ‘historical’ men-only genres.

    Or perhaps it’s a purely self imposed exile like Sam Raimi, who’s whole career in my view has been one long profuse and extended *on screen* apology for the rape scene in The Evil Dead?

    • Thank you for your interesting comments.

      I should perhaps point out that journalists almost never choose the titles or subheadings of their articles or digital posts.

      • Quite right, I guess my concerns were addressed more at the practice amongst newspapers and tv documentaries to offer essay titles for articles that then don’t proceed to be an essay, leaving me at least dissapointed (I like essays).

  4. I think like anything it all comes down to context. A film with a rape in it would lose its power if it wasn’t portrayed. Something like Irreversible wouldn’t work so well without its shocking rape. If it isn’t gratuitous and is done for the right reasons then I feel that anyhorrible eevent can be put on screen. Again, context

  5. It’s a tricky subject to discuss, fraught with the potential for misunderstanding.

    In modern cinema, which I interpret as 21C cinema, it is virtually unjustifiable. Not only Box office poison, but probably career ending for any director that tried it and got it wrong. Though that has probably more to do with the speed, strength and volume of protest that can be mounted on social media, than innate revulsion in audiences.

    There is a countervailing position that anything can be shown, and should be shown. But this is based on the mistaken view, that there is an absolute freedom of expression.

    This has never been true, it’s a big subject, but the most cited case disproving that it exists as an absolute right is the example of shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre.

    The more explicit depiction of sex in mainstream cinema, seemed to rise through the 1960’s. Not a decade without controversy, starting with the Chatterly trial, the release of Lolita, and Peeping Tom, (which effectively destroyed Michael Powells career).

    Eventually all the obvious forms of behaviour were used up, despite the occasional foray into kinks like bondage, (Emma Peel famously appearing as a dominatrix on mainstream TV, to the general bafflement/tittilation of many.) And an ever so slightly coy treatment of gay themes.

    But it was in the 1970’s with a new wave of directors did it start to turn very dark and nasty. Woody Allen’s comedy ‘Bananas’ contains a joke about child molesting, (oh, the irony). It became such an insidious trope, that the Oscar nominated ‘Saturday Night Fever’ depicts not just an attempted rape by the films nominal hero, but also a gang rape by his friends.

    Other films of the era that casually use rape, just to establish a facet of a character, (from memory, and ones that you will doubtless know), ‘High Plains Drifter’, ‘Get Carter’, ‘Scum’ and ‘Mad Max’.

  6. It’s a long time back but wasn’t ‘The Accused’ supposed to be the final word on the topic?

    It didn’t work completely but it created an enormous amount of discussion around the whole subject. And studios seemed to shy away from depictions for quite a few years.

    • The Accused always struck me as being classic exploitation restyled as mainstream discussion-bait with tony cast and production values – and it worked, since everyone discussed it. Director Jonathan Kaplan had an interesting early career, started out with Corman’s New World Pictures but nowadays seems to do nothing but not-very-distinguished TV. I loved his Heart Like a Wheel – ripe for rediscovery.

      • I think you have nailed it with excellent precision, the opening is classic explo’ and there is the implication that it will resolve as a revenge ‘thriller’.

        But when KellyMcG’s character is introduced, it shifts into a courtroom drama. Which was an interesting change of tack and saved it from being dismissed as just mere trash. Along with the masterstroke of putting the spotlight on the culpability of the bystanders.

        I do worry that the phrase ‘ripe for rediscovery’ has come to signal in Hollywood, a good, old film that can be dusted off and remade badly for a new audience to rake in buckets of cash.

        [Happy Blogiversary.]

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