Bloody summer at the movies

Elise Chisolm

September 18, 1990|By Elise Chisolm

IT WAS A SUMMER of violence, and I don't mean the Persian Gulf crisis. I'm talking about movies.

Film violence was at an all-time high. SAT scores are at an all time low and a testing official concludes that too many students are watching music videos and playing video games instead of reading. The FBI reports that violent crime is up.

Is there a correlation? Sure.

Did you see "RoboCop II," "Die Hard II," "Total Recall," "Wild at Heart" or "Delta Force?" If so, then you know that this was the summer of our discontent with movies, or our summer of violent intent.

On a rainy day I sat through the beginning of "Wild at Heart."

In a chase scene on a New York subway, one man beats the other guy's brains out on the floor of Grand Central Station. It was upsetting for me -- gross.

I got up and left. Pictures of blood and guts I can see on the evening news.

The critics warned us that this would be the most violent film summer. Although these films did well at the box office, one savvy critic said that "Pretty Woman" won out in popularity this year so maybe the public is coming around, preferring love stories to blood and mayhem.

A 15-year-old told me he thought "Driving Miss Daisy," was "boring and too long." But then he is of the breed of teens that was reared on visual excitement.

The National Coalition of Television Violence put out a pretty scary account on "the bang we're getting for our bucks" during the shootout summer of 1990 -- the killing summer: "Total Recall" cost $50-$55 million and included 110 acts of violence per hour. "Dick Tracy" has 59 acts of violence per hour. Hollywood spent at least $210 million on one month's violent movies.

But the danger of NCTV is that it is sometimes too "watchdoggy."

The Motion Picture Association of America, which hands out the ratings, is thinking about redefining its categories, but I'm not sure that's the answer. Nor is tighter censorship. The movie industry should just re-evaluate its conscience.

Psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Radecki, consultant for NCTV, says that research proves that people are affected by violent entertainment. He thinks movies cause normal husbands and boyfriends to beat their wives and girlfriends, and that it makes kids more likely to fight.

Psychologist Dr. Leonard Eron of the University of Illinois agrees that there is a direct correlation between violent behavior and violent entertainment, but he and others are more sure of the bad effect on children.

Evidence is growing that life imitates art. And certainly teen-agers often have poor impulse control, anyone knows that.

So while the schools are worried about drugs, guns and security, they also have to do something about low scores in reading and getting kids away from the tube. By the way, the number of college students who have televisions in their rooms is up too.

An exchange student who came from Holland this summer for a year in America was told not to speak to people on the street in American cities and not to go out after dark. She was staying in our nation's capital.

But while parents and teachers wring their hands over violent videos and movies, what are the film makers doing to help?

Nothing, it seems. What will be the behavior of students in this school year after a summer of blood, mutants, guts, guns and terror?

They say that the fall movie season is better. So how will next year's SAT scores look?

Stay tuned.

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