Sunday, June 18, 2023

The Criterion Channel Presents 25 Film Method Acting Showcase: Jun 1 | "Don’t Censor Racism Out of the Past" | The Atlantic

In his piece for The Atlantic, Thomas Chatterton Williams professor of humanities at Bard College author of "Self-Portrait in Black and White", and "Nothing Was the Same: The Pandemic Summer of George Floyd" speaks to the inherent dangers in altering our perception of the past, as it is represented in fiction. Specifically in reference to the depiction of racist stances and language, and the negation of social and historical realities in an attempt to engender the artistic work to contemporary attitudes, a kind of condescension is engineered. From his article, "Don’t Censor Racism Out of the Past" in which Williams states; "James Baldwin famously argued that “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Axiomatically, a history of racism that is not preserved cannot be faced. The people and institutions who attempt to wash away all past ugliness are condescending to audiences, and the audiences who accept these erasures are self-infantilizing. In the most extreme instance, we all grasp why Holocaust denialism, what the French call négationnisme, is morally reprehensible. Society is duty-bound to remember certain ideas and experiences, attitudes and perversions. Such negationism is obviously insidious because it ignores hatred in order to preserve it. But what we might call “positive negationism” is nearly as disturbing." In the article, he further reflects; "We cannot accurately gauge how far we’ve progressed as a culture since 1845 or 1971, or even the beginning of the 21st century, when epithets against minorities disappeared from common utterance, without an honest record of that cultural progress. Creative expression of any quality, which is to say efforts that go beyond the merely propagandistic or ideologically motivated, must perform several important functions that are not reducible to advocacy - even and perhaps especially when it comes to groups that have been mistreated."

"Setting aside the idea that intellectuals and artists ought to be free to state even ugly and mistaken sentiments, it is downright odd to presume that any idea conveyed within a work of art benefits from its endorsement. The cliché exists for a reason: Art holds up a mirror to society, one that does not and ought not merely reflect back its most flattering aspects. Through honest engagement with impure reality, we can perceive and also confront our deepest failings." William Friedkin, the director of "The French Connection" was certainly aware that he had cast Gene Hackman to portray an unsavory character from “grungy, pre-gentrification New York City,” as NBC described the era in a 2021 article. Friedkin told NBC that rewatching the film on its 50th anniversary had transported him back to that challenging moment. “I lived for a long time in New York,” he said. “About six months before I made the film, I rode around with the two cops (who inspired it), one in Bedford-Stuyvesant and the other in Harlem. It was devastating … The film reminds me of the different nature of New York back then. Nothing about the city was embellished in the film.” For The New York Times, Niela Orr writes, "What's Lost When Censors Tamper with Classic Films" and in the pages of The Independent, the writers and actors of the film also weighed in on the subject, and the Walt Disney Corporation's presumptions about audience and perception, when they chose to edit and censor the film in question as featured in this month's Method Acting showcase on The Criterion Channel. Writer Sam Adams remarked; “The uncensored "French Connection" should be the only one in circulation, whether on TV or in theaters. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Friedkin knew exactly what having his detective protagonist use it said about him.” Film curator Alexander Woell pointed out that Scheider “specifically said the scene resonated with audiences at the time”, adding: “Cultural context is an important part of media literacy. Historical revisionism is not the answer.” The film's lead actor Roy Scheider recalled that a Black audience in Harlem had expressed satisfaction when Hackman uttered the now-censored dialogue on the big screen. Finally, a reality they knew to exist was being acknowledged, a bittersweet confirmation of a painful experience. Today, the patronizing assumption we make to our detriment is that they wouldn’t be able to handle it."