As the new year begins a few things are starting to fall into place. My new feature length documentary VHS Massacre 2 is coming along slowly but I’m making steady progress. I just finished a great interview with my friend Jason Carvey. He is a writer/director that cast John Krasinksi (The Office,Jack Ryan) in one of his first feature films. Carvey speaks about how certain distribution companies have really hurt independent filmmakers. Even when a film is profitable sometimes the distribution company refuses to honor their contract and pay filmmakers. I had the same situation happen to me with the film Land of College Prophets back in 2005. The film was successful but York Entertainment refused to pay us once they reached the break even point. If you can’t pay back your investors it can become difficult to raise more money again. This in a weird way works as a form of censorship though this is not necessarily the intention of a crooked distributor or the studio system. By financially starving out independent filmmakers “society will eventually lose out” to quote my friend Professor James Richardson.
This is different than banning a film from major streaming sites like in the case of Debbie Rochon’s Model Hunger. This is particularly bizarre in that I can watch films like Human Centipede 1-3 or a Lars Von Trier film on most formats but simply because Debbie has an unrated film from a smaller distributor, they lack the power and influence get it though. The third piece of this would be the outraged mobs on social media helped to get Debbie fired from her day job for playing evil nazi villains or doing nudity in films, something that even academy award winners have done like Christoph Waltz, Holly Berry or even Charlie Chaplin. With nearly 300 features under her belt Debbie Rochon might be the most prolific American Independent film star in history…and she has been treated like shit. She is a trailblazer for women in the genre and routinely tops lists of women in horror. To paraphrase her, “the judgement I get from a seemly younger generation is baffling.” Looking down on her for the roles she has taken. A bizarre twist to me that they can’t see a hero from a villain.
Exploitation films are meant to do what studio films can’t, push the envelope. Specifically in the horror genre that idea of a non-offensive nightmare seems rather toothless. After all we see horror film to be scared and shocked in a safe way. Odd that people would try to hold horror films to the same standard as a terrible network sitcom. This documentary has led me down some strange path but I think it is a good thing.
Then there was Blockbuster Video. Jason speaks how in order to get certain films into Blockbuster, films at times were heavily censored. In addition that fact that Blockbuster killed the independently owned video stores is a from of censorship because they only carried family friendly content. Exploitation films and low-budget content was to a significant degree excluded.
What I see from these three forms of censorship is problematic. What tiggers people now might not be what triggers people ten years from now. So in destroying a filmmakers career on social media, we may lose out on how we may reinterpret a film in the future or we may lose out on how that artist evolves. James speaks about how black exploitation films of the 70’s planted the seeds for Marvel Superheroes in present day. Even though the representations are imperfect and in some cases offensive we can look back and see that they are very important. If we look back at the past and cringe a bit, it is a good thing because it means that we’ve made progress. If we demonize the past by the standards of today the whole world looks evil though that lens. The problem is what we’re doing in 2019 will be demonized in five years as well but we don’t yet know how. How do you know you are the right side of history until the future bear its results. So I don’t think censorship good for a society in the long run. Take what is relevant and meaningful from the past, leave what is irrelevant where it originated, in the past. As of right now that that feels true to me. As the film unfolds I hope to learn more.