Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the movie “The Interview” because of some cogent comments a friend with solid produced movie writing credits posted on Facebook, which read in part “Did not see ‘The Interview’ and will not see it because if I do then the studios win.”
While we might someday look back at all the hullabaloo surrounding “The Interview” as something little more than a Y2K scare that made money (estimates put the take from the film’s holiday weekend Internet-involved release at around $15 million), there’s no question that people were hurt by the initial hacking of Sony.
Private communications and Social Security numbers were hurled into the Internet, and the embarrassment over Sony’s weak cyber defenses became a clarion call to any industry relying on computers… which is just about everybody short of those using pocket calculators to sell avocadoes at the Farmers Market.
So the hack at Sony produced substantial harm. But who or what would have been hurt if the film had not been released? This caused me to ask a friend involved in the performing arts here in Santa Monica some questions about how he might view some perceivable harm in Sony’s initial reaction not to release “The Interview.”
Mike Reilly, who is in charge of production and development at Santa Monica’s Ruskin Group Theater, supported the release.
He replied, in part, that: “What frightens (and disgusts) me has more to do with the combination of a corporate cave-in to cyber-terror (albeit after being softened up by the beating it took in earlier email disclosures), and a slow, tepid, and ultimately ineffectual response by the federal government to what has clearly been an affront to the most basic of constitutional rights, that of the freedom of expression and association.”
Reilly posited that live theater should take strength from what happened with “The Interview”: “Political, controversial, counter-cultural, and even unheard of content in live theatre should always strive to be bold in its expressive search for the truth, especially in these times.”
Was the initial planned suppression (if that’s not too big a word) of “The Interview” in any way cultural? When food products turn out to be tainted they are quickly recalled, and those recalls give us comfort that somebody is watching the food industry.
Who monitors the film industry and then recalls corporate movie products that exploit women or violence against children as entertainment? Where’s the patriotic response to over representing the resolution of conflict with hand guns?
There have been millions of words printed in the Los Angeles Times about the new attitude that cable networks have toward our shows that tell a serial story, and this column is a fan of the great writing that is often on display in those shows.
But take the gun violence out of “Boardwalk Empire” and “Breaking Bad” (which shot, killed, and then chemically dissolved the body of an innocent child bystander) and remove the bare breasts and sword violence in “Game of Thrones” and ask yourself where some of this new excitement about our cable shows is taking us.
Some would argue that it’s taking us exactly where we should go: to adult-oriented content that doesn’t waste our time. Or at least, we are happy to surrender our time to binge-watching these bold new shows on DVDs. The release of “The Interview” and the response to it likely benefited from a new openness to content that doesn’t pull punches and a contemporary definition of “comedy” as anything that could potentially cause you to laugh.
“Citizen Kane” didn’t do that well at the box office when it was released in 1941, thanks in no small part to the way it was excoriated and arguably suppressed by the Hearst newspapers of the day.
Rent the superb film “RKO 281” (a fine HBO production with no guns) to see how Hearst himself attempted to stop “Kane” from ever being produced. It took decades for Americans to realize it would stand as one of the greatest films ever made in our country. One vintage poster for “Citizen Kane” declares “Everyone’s talking about it! It’s terrific!” Someone is bound to make a satirical reproduction of that poster touting “The Interview,” only with that second part crossed out. Sorry, Seth, but that’s how freedom of expression works.