Now that I have your attention:
I’m coming to the end of my third week back in Hong Kong and I keep finding myself suddenly flooded with old memories. A smell, or a sound, or a bus ride will transport me back in time sometimes to a place very specific, other times into a cloud of vague nostalgia that leaves me with the most random thoughts.
One such thought came to me the other day as I was walking through Sha Tin’s New Town Plaza – the site of my family’s first flat in Hong Kong and the home of the first movie theatre that I ever loved. Everything about New Town Plaza (and Hong Kong for that matter) has changed considerably since I lived there, but walking around that old mall and seeing that old theatre got me thinking…
When I was growing up my parents were pretty strict about the kinds of stuff we were allowed to watch. Before we left Canada, movies in the cinema were strictly taboo – at that time (the 80’s) the Christian denomination my parents belonged to had very strong feelings about movie theatres and that meant that we couldn’t go. We MAY have (allegedly) gone to a few movies across the border in Buffalo, flying under the radar to see scandalous fare such as An American Tail and Lady and the Tramp, but the cloak and dagger outings were rare and kept deadly secret.
I find that whole thing preposterous – especially considering that no one in pretty well any Christian denomination cares at all about movies any more (or Harry Potter for that matter, don’t get me started) but at the time it was serious and so we took it seriously. But when we moved to Hong Kong that all changed – suddenly we could go to movies. And I fell in love at once. A big dark room, air conditioning, comfy chairs, candy, pop, a big huge screen – everything about it was intoxicating. The first movie we saw in Hong Kong was An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. In line for that movie we saw a couple of kids in line for Spielberg’s Hook and were able to convince my dad to take us to that one too. Movies became a big part of my life after that – leading me up to this very moment where going to a great movie is still one of my all-time favourite things to do with my time.
Ok let’s cut right to my trip through New Town Plaza and what that has to do with Kate Winslet’s Boobs.
In 1997, in that theatre in New Town Plaza, I watched James Cameron’s Titanic for the first time and it was the first time I had ever seen any kind of nudity on the big screen. My brother somehow watched Braveheart on the big screen (which, tragically, I never got to do) and so for him boobs on a big screen was probably old news. For me it was not. Even though our family had lifted its movie ban we still had a pretty strict censorship system operating when it came to what we were allowed to watch.
Violence – usually ok. I saw Terminator 2: Judgement Day and The Silence of the Lambs when I was pretty young, maybe 10 or 11. But when we went to see The Bodyguard (also at New Town Plaza) we walked out when one of the characters mentioned masturbation. I was allowed to watch movies with swearing – up to a certain point – Lethal Weapon, Braveheart, Terminator were all fine, but The Usual Suspects got turned off. There was a graduating scale of tolerability to what my parents would allow – my brother used to describe it as sort of a “TISK” litmus test where my mom would start to click her tongue as she got more and more offended – if it happened for long enough the movie would go off.
But one thing my parents were always in immediate agreement on was sexuality. Nudity, graphic sex scenes or sexual language usually guaranteed that the movie got turned off – or at the very least fast forwarded. I still remember a funny moment where my dad tried to fast forward the REALLY tame and extremely brief nude scene in Braveheart and kept going too far and having to rewind back. Instead of seeing boob silhouette for 15 seconds we all watched it for about 5 minutes. So, Murron showing her boobs for a few seconds – we fast forwarded. Murron getting her throat slit a few minutes later – we watched.
As married adults Alison and I care far more about the forrest of movie content and far less about the individual trees. Done right, or by the right filmmaker for the right reasons, nudity, sexuality, violence or swearing can be powerful, effective and even essential tools for telling a story. The way nudity is treated in American Beauty, for example, is absolutely critical to the story that is being told. The idea of fast forwarding the graphic and unrelenting sex scenes in movies like Shame, or Blue Valentine or the violence and swearing in movies like Goodfellas or Drive completely undoes the point of filming them in the first place.
Do I think that all sex, nudity, violence or profanity in movies is worth watching? Or balanced? Or appropriate? No. There are a lot of movies I don’t watch because they are poorly made, or made for the wrong reasons, or because their existence represents everything I hate about movies. A great example of this would be a movie like Olympus Has Fallen – which was violent and profane purely to be “cool” or “exciting” or whatever the kids like these days but which I found empty and exhausting and offensive.
But when I hear about people who refuse to watch something because there’s sex or violence in it it makes me sad. When I see the MPAA’s blatant double standard in movie ratings geared towards censoring sexuality while promoting wanton violence and profanity it makes me frustrated. If you feel like you have to fast forward part of a movie you would probably be better just not watching the movie at all. If, on the other hand, you watch movies because of who made it, if you trust a writer or a director enough to see what they’ve made then do them the courtesy of watching the whole thing. Movies are all about choices – what to show, what not to show, what to hear, what not to hear. Watch the movie or don’t. Abstinence is better than censorship every time.
I love my parents very much and I know they were just trying to do the best they could. Parenting is hard and they did a great job!