Sex may be a turn-off for Hollywood audiences but violence is all over the big screen, as filmmakers seek to capture the youth market, industry figures at the Cannes film festival said on Friday.
With online porn readily available, sex scenes are no longer prized by producers who look to action sequences or special effects to fill the gap.
“The Paperboy” in which Nicole Kidman played a woman sexually attracted to Death Row prisoners and the sex surrogate film “The Sessions” with Helen Hunt are examples of recent films with sex that flopped at the box office.
Michael Lavey, of the Los Angeles-based sales agents Taylor & Dodge, told AFP the need to pull in younger audiences was driving an explosion of violence on our screens.
“I think that young kids are just immune to violence. It’s video games, it’s almost (as if) you’ve got to have some violence for them to go (to the cinema),” he said.
“Directors could be more restrained (in their use of violence) but the smart ones are going to do what people like me say works. If they’re open to that feedback they’re going to make money,” he added.
A number films screened at Cannes over the past 10 days — including China’s “A Touch of Sin” (Tian Zhu Ding) and Japan’s “Shield of Straw” (Wara No Tate) — have shocked audiences with their levels of violence.
Mexican director Amat Escalante was forced on the defensive after his ultra-violent film “Heli” left many critics feeling queasy.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives” was equally blood-spattered with one critic describing it as a “sickening pornography of violence”.
Many at a press screening found the Bangkok-set revenge drama starring the bankable Ryan Gosling almost unwatchable.
And even co-star Kristin Scott Thomas described it as “hyper violent and quite disturbing” adding “this kind of film is really not my thing”.
Edmee Cuttat, film critic for the Geneva Tribune daily, who has covered the festival for two decades, said she had witnessed an increase not in the level of violence but in the level of “gratuitous violence”.
She described “Heli” as “appalling” and said she was unable to watch “Only God Forgives” in which a man in one scene is pinned to an armchair with knives and then stabbed in the eye.
“What I don’t like is gratuitous violence. I don’t find it useful but perhaps the directors think it corresponds with the era,” she said.
Gratuitous violence would appear to have replaced gratuitous sex as a marketing tool.
Sex scenes were once written into scripts “no matter what the plot”, Vincent Bruzzese, president of the film division of market research company Ispos, was quoted as saying earlier this year by Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper.
But now producers tended to ask “do we really need the sex? Can we fill the space with special effects instead and keep the family-friendly rating?”, he added.
Indian director Dibakar Banerjee said he preferred films that used only violence essential to character and plot such as Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull”.
“That film is about a violent man who deals with everything in his life through one answer, one response. That violence is necessary.
“(But) sometimes filmmakers use violence as a way of showing off and attracting a kind of notoriety because that’s the fastest way of getting written about,” he said.
In other cases, he added, it was just “there for the lack of a better idea”.
French-born Australian filmmaker Chantal Denoux urged directors to remember the power of what was not shown.
“It is a bit like sex. Sometimes it is completely important to see the violence, however sometimes now you have the feeling it is gratuitous,” she said
“Hitchcock never shows anything but we are terrified. If the shower scene (in “Psycho”) was made today we would see blood everywhere. I think the imagination is more important,” she added.