A couple of years ago I helped out a friend with a short film. It was a three-minute vignette called Metamorphosis, a smart, imaginative, off-kilter chiller about human guinea pigs, experimental drugs and what happens when the human body is unable defend itself against alien changes.
It played widely on the festival circuit, gaining deserved kudos for writer-director Robert Nevitt. Not bad for something that was shot in one frenetic day. So we were all delighted to learn it would get its TV debut as part of a new series showcasing work by breakthrough filmmakers.
Then the world went mad.
The events in Paris a week ago prompted the producers of the TV show to make cuts to Nevitt’s film before it could be aired. Principally they focused on a sequence in which masked soldiers shoot and kill a patient who is attacking (and devouring) a doctor. Now this is fantasy. But when movie horror collides with real-life horror then the only sensible and sensitive thing to do is to be wary of causing offence and adding to people’s suffering.
And so the film went to air. Only those involved with it – and festival audiences who watched it previously – would have been aware of the missing elements.
The shooting scene in Metamorphosis brought a touch of reality to a strange, surreal backdrop. The look of it, the sound of it was wholly authentic. On that basis it tipped over into plausible actuality. Removing the scene was entirely appropriate.
Cinema is the great art form of the 20th century. It represents humanity on all its many different levels. But when it risks causing outrage, either deliberately or accidentally, then it is right to reconsider content and direction.
The day after 9/11 was played out on our TV screens Bradford’s HMV store quietly removed DVD copies of The Towering Inferno from its shelves. At the same time there was much discussion about the impending release of The Two Towers, the second chapter in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Should it be re-titled in light of what occurred in New York? History tells us it wasn’t. But history also lays bare the raw emotions of that time, the shock, the disbelief, the desperate need to cope with overwhelming loss. In the 14 years since September 11 there have been several films and TV dramas devoted to aspects of the story. All of them have been rooted in fact, and delivered respectfully.
I’m an unapologetic devotee of horror movies. But over the past week I’ve found that the reports coming out of France have dulled my appetite. I’m censoring my viewing, seeking laughs that aren’t there. The fun will return. Just not yet.