[Here’s a Warm-Up warm-up that has nothing to do with ethics. In “Ben-Hur,” which I watched again last week, Charlton Heston’s character is know by three completely different names. One, of course, is Judah Ben-Hur. What are the other two?]
1. Virtue signaling and pandering are both inadequate to describe this. If only it were a joke—but it appears to be proof of institutional brain rot. The British army is reaching out to “selfie addicts,” “snowflakes,” “me me me millennials”—remember, I’m not making this up!—“class clowns”, “binge gamers”,and “phone zombies” celebrating the alleged virtues these juvenile behaviors demonstrate, such as self-belief, spirit, drive, focus, compassion and confidence. Here are two examples of the new posters:
Stuntwoman Joi ‘SJ’ Harris was killed in a motorcycle accident last month while filming “Deadpool 2.” Her death occurred not long after stuntman John Bernecker perished in a fall on the set of “The Walking Dead.” Even though CGI technology would not have saved Harris or Bernecker, their deaths have re-ignited a controversy that began surfacing almost 20 years ago, and it is more bewildering now that it was then. Moreover, it will only get worse.
The question: Does it make sense—and is it ethical—to endanger human beings in filmed stunts when they can be accomplished using computer technology?
Interestingly, a case could be made that movie stunts are safer than ever. Bernecker’s death represented the first stunt-related fatality in the US since 2002 (Harris’s death was in a Canada shoot.) This represents great progress from the wild and woolly days of cinema’s pioneers, when actors like Douglas Fairbanks performed insane stunts for stunned moviegoers, and maniacal directors like D.W. Griffith bullied actors into taking life-threatening risks. For example. in this famous sequence, Lillian Gish waited for actor Richard Barthelmess to rescue her from a real ice flow that was on its way over a real waterfall as a frozen river broke up:
Many actors have died, and in the modern age when few stars are allowed to do dangerous stunts (one exception is Tom Cruise, who broke his ankle last month roof-jumping on the set of “Mission: Impossible 6”), many stunt performers as well. From 1980 to 1990, 40 stunt-related deaths occurred in the US. Computer technology has made the stunts safer, but if real people aren’t placing their bodies at risk, movies just aren’t as exciting….or profitable.
“It’s a terribly fine line when it comes to guaranteeing safety, because in reality there is no guarantee,” says Andy Armstrong, who has done stunt coordination for “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Thor,” “Planet of the Apes” and “Total Recall.” “If these stunts were common, you wouldn’t want it in the movie. So you’re invariably asking someone to do something outside the box, which is where it becomes so difficult to regulate.”
Now dramatic improvements in the technology make an ethics examination unavoidable. “When CGI first came about, stunt people thought, ‘that’s the end of our business, everyone’s going to be replaced by computers’,” Armstrong says. “That hasn’t happened, because there’s still a certain authenticity to seeing a real human do something.” Yes, but at what cost? Is that authenticity worth the inevitable deaths of human beings?
Movie artists say yes, and stunt performers don’t want to be put out of business. As with pro football, the beneficiaries of proposals to eliminate the deadly risks in their profession don’t want to be saved. Continue reading →
Once again, a Hollywood film has political correctness furies attacking its casting. This time, it’s the sci-fi “Ghost in the Shell,” starring Scarlett Johansson.
The sad fact is, movie makers can’t win. If a black actor isn’t cast to play a white character in the source material, Hollywood is engaging in bias by eschewing “non-traditional casting,” which is necessary to remedy de facto segregation and prejudice in movies. If Charlton Heston is cast as a Mexican, as in “Touch of Evil,” it’s “whitewashing”—prejudicial and racist casting of whites to play non-whites. Of course, when Morgan Freeman, an African American, is cast to play a dark skinned Semitic character in “Ben Hur,” nobody calls that “blackwashing,” for there is no such thing as blackwashing. Casting Denzel Washington as a white character from “The Pelican Brief”: great! Who doesn’t like Denzel? Casting Denzel as the white hero of “The Magnificent Seven” in the remake, when the white hero was non-traditionally cast with the sort-of Eurasian Yul Brenner in the original, was also great, because—who doesn’t like Denzel? Casting Andy Garcia, a Cuban-American, as member of the Italian Corleone family in “Godfather III” was also fine and dandy, but not the casting of sort-of Eurasion Brenner as the King of Siam in “The King and I,” (even though he won the Tony and the Academy Award for an iconic performance)—, especially with all those great Thai musical comedy stars available. So that was–what, “sort-of-whitewashing”?
All right: how about a musical conceived with the novel conceit of having the Founding Fathers played by young black and Hispanic performers? Is that non-traditional casting? Minority-washing? Is it racist to stay with the original (brilliant) concept and tell white actors they can’t audition to be Hamilton, Jefferson, and Aaron Burr? Of course it’s not racist. After all, those actors are white. Screw ’em.
Are you seeing a theme here? Neither am I. What matters in casting a play, film or writing an adaptation is whether the final result works: How well do the actors play their roles? Is it entertaining? Does it make money?
Now the casting of Johansson as an originally Japanese character in a Japanese manga comic and animated film is being attacked as racist. Whitewashing, you know. No, in fact the words applicable here are “adaptations,” “movies,” “cultural cross-pollination” and “commerce.” In this case, not always, but in this case, the accusation of “whitewashing” is pure race-baiting.
More than forty years ago, the real life German prison camp escape engineered by captured WWII British fliers was made into the film “The Great Escape.” Brits were annoyed as production got underway, however, by the presence of heroic American prisoners in the cast, the characters played by U.S. stars James Garner and Steve McQueen. This was, British critics and veterans said, an outrage: Americans had nothing to do with the real escape. The answer by the producers contained three segments:
1. We own the film rights, and can do whatever we think will make the best movie.
2. The film is fictionalized, and makes no representations to the contrary.
3. Garner and McQueen will ensure that the film makes a profit in the U.S, plus they are both great and entertaining young stars.
Good justifications all. “The Great Escape,” as we now know, is a classic, still honored the real event, and made lots of money. Somehow, British self-esteem recovered.
The Brits also didn’t complain when Japan’s great film auteur director, Akira Kurasawa, made an all-Japanese cast adaptation of “King Lear,” which is about a Celtic king. Wasn’t this–what, “yellow-washing”? Don’t be silly: all good stories can be told in myriad ways, in many cultural contexts. “Ghost in the Shell” is a science fiction fantasy. It is not about real people, and the characters were Japanese because the author and intended audience were Japanese—you know, like the original “King Lear” was in Elizabethan English.
“Ghost in the Shell” director Rupert Sanders cast Johansson as the cyborg assassin named Motoko Kusanagi in the original and renamed the character “Mira Killian.” It is the “Who doesn’t like Denzel?” non-traditional casting principle, except the even more understandable “Who doesn’t like Scarlet, especially when she looks naked for much of the movie?” variation. The perambulations of critics trying to find something racist about the most obvious box office casting choice imaginable border on hilarious. At some point, actress Johansson decided it was more lucrative and fun being the next female action movie star than starring in solemn costume drama bombs like “The Girl With The Pearl Earring” and “The Other Boleyn Girl.” Since then, she has been rising as a bankable star in blockbusters like “The Avenger” films and “Lucy.” Quick: name another hot (I mean, of course, popular and bankable) female action star?
Thank-you, O producers of the new “Ben-Hur,” for so quickly after my post ridiculing the new politically correct casting ethics in Hollywood—according to Turner Movie Classics, it’s just soooo wrong to cast an Anglo Saxon like Charlton Heston as a Mexican, for example—-coming out with the official trailer proving that the new, enlightened casting ethics really only applies when it means it takes jobs away from white actors. Okay, just American white actors. Or something….actually, this casting ethics rules are kind of made up as things shake out.
Which was what I thought all along.
In the 1959 Ben-Hur (starring, ironically, White Guy Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur ), the plum part of Shiek Iderim was played by brilliant Welsh character actor Hugh Griffith, whose performance rightly won him an Academy Award. Yes, he wore dark make-up, because actors wear make-up. Ah, but these are enlightened days, and now we know, because it has been decreed by Ben Mankiewicz and the rest of the heralds of politically correct casting, that the casting of a master comic actor of unique gifts who was an audience favorite to play the sheik was insensitive and essentially racist, not to mention unfair to all of those unemployed but equally adept Arab actors qualified to play the part. So who plays the sheik in the new, improved, enlightened “Ben-Hur’?
“As for DeLay, his time will probably come. He has ethical blind spots galore, and is only getting bolder with time. The more the Republicans move to protect “The Hammer,” the more damaging DeLay’s inevitable fall will be to the party. As the old newspaper columnists used to say, “You read it here first!”
A strange tale in the New York Times, told by reporter Adam Liptak, raises a persistent problem of executive ethics. Is it unethical for a state governor to reject a recommendation of clemency based on strong evidence?
As Liptak tells it, it had been 28 years since Ronald Kempfert had seen his father, imprisoned in an Arizona prison in 1975 for a 1962 double murder, when a lawyer contacted Kempfert and told him that his father had been framed—by his mother. Nearly the entire case against the father, William Macumber, had been based on his wife’s testimony that he had confessed the murders to her. Kempfert, knowing his mother, and knowing the toxic state of their marital discord at the time of her testimony, agreed that she was quite capable of doing such a thing, and after doing some digging on his own, concluded that his father, now elderly and ailing, had been wrongly sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.