Saturday, November 09, 2013

How I Bailed on TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE...

I had planned to review this film for Crimespree Magazine this week. Several people had told me it was a great film and certain to be a tough competitor for Best Picture. The reviews were outstanding. But I knew it would be a difficult movie for me--I had the difficult experience of watching Django last year.

But I thought this director was a more serious film-maker and would treat the subject with more respect and ground it in a more authentic story since it was based on a memoir. The Tarantino film seemed to engage in torture porn--if there is such a thing--and I was sure this one would be more rigorous in its approach

I lasted 50 minutes and then paced the lobby while Phil and our friend, Mel Small, a historian, finished the film. So I cannot review the film or even comment on its merits. What I did see did not seem particularly artful or less generic than the other films about slavery I have seen. The world is painted very much in black and white. And I don't mean that racially. Or perhaps I do.

Going into this film, my thought was if slaves could endure their treatment, I could manage to watch it. In a theater of all black patrons with the exception of us, I was the only one to walk out, making me a coward. When I mentioned this once to a black friend after Django, she said, "Well, we have lived with this story our whole life. Watching it affirms that it happened."

And I guess this is also why Jewish friends seem able to bear films about concentration camps more easily than I can. They feel none of the guilt (in both cases that I feel). I feel guilt at being a part of the group that allowed such things to happen.

Related to this, I will not see THE BOOK THIEF, which managed to convey the idea that a lot of Germans were as much a victim as the Jews in the book. I cannot go along with that idea because it is one step closer to denying the Holocaust for me. My book group loved the book but I found it turned the war into a fairy tale at points.

I am drifting all over the place here, but what I want to ask is what things would make you put a book down or walk out of a theater? I have walked out of only four films, I think, and all for different reasons. But this is probably the film I should have sat through. I will always feel like a coward for bailing on this one.

20 comments:

JTG in Detroit said...

There is a war out there that's been going on for the last few years and it's called a war against "White males." They are an easy target for the press, Hollywood and politicians. Even though those three are mostly run by "White males. Go figure...

David Cranmer said...

I have to be in the right frame of mind to watch a particular show or film that presents a LOT of true human suffering regardless of who the victim(s) are. You've piqued my interest in TWELVE YEARS, Patti. Noted.

George said...

I suspect many other people are going to walk out of 12 YEARS A SLAVE. THE BUTLER had some scenes of racism, but not as graphic as in this movie. I've walked out of a dozen or so movies over the decades. I walk out when a movie bores me.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It was not only graphic but relentless. As well it should be but still...

seana graham said...

Good to know. I've been wondering about this one. I think for myself, I would probably read Solomon Northrup's own account of his experience rather than watch the film.

Cap'n Bob said...

Unless you owned slaves there's no reason to feel guilt for slavery.

Anonymous said...

I walked out of "Viva le Morte," a surrealistic view of the Spanish Civil War seen through the eyes of a young boy. Horrific, if surreal, violence made it impossible for me to watch it. I almost walked out on "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover." I stayed, but I can't say the experience was particularly edifying. I have never seen "Shindler's List" and doubt I ever will--the same with this movie; it's the same reason I can't read much about that man who kept those women chained up for ten years--I'm not the kind if person who needs to see the evils that humans are capable of inflicting on others in order to believe they can happen. Some things are just too horrendous to be allowed to live rent-free in your head.

Deb

Dana King said...

I have no interest in seeing TWELVE YEARS. It's not going to tell me anything I don;t already know, there;s not a damn thing I can do about what I see. All it's going to do is to make me feel bad, and have to eat the feeling.

That being said, I am a middle aged white male, and, JTG, the reason we take such a beating on some matters now is because white males have historically been responsible for a disproportionate share of oppression. I don't feel guilty, because I was not responsible, but I can;t complain about a factual representation, either.

As Louis CK says, white people aren't better, but it is definitely better to be white.

Ron Scheer said...

Patti, I'm in agreement with you. The one movie I can remember walking out of was SOPHIE'S CHOICE. Being of German ancestry, the troubled feelings that Naziism brings up in me go back to my Nebraska boyhood during WWII.

Slavery didn't really end with Emancipation. We live today with its after effects, and I quite agree with Cap'n Bob. If your skin color has been an advantage for you and your forebears, you benefit from an economic system that once countenanced slavery, whether you have slave owners in your family tree or not. I won't be seeing 12 YEARS either.

Gordon Parks made a TV movie of Northrup's story in the 1980s. I'm wondering how he treated the subject.

Ron Scheer said...

That should read "I don't quite agree with Cap'n Bob," though his is an opinion I long held myself.

seana graham said...

I will say that Chiwetel Ejiofor was pretty great in the London immigrant movie Dirty Pretty Things, so I might see it for that. He does seem to pick challenging and interesting roles.

Anonymous said...

Patti, you do not need to apologize for this, ever. I've walked out of plays and movies, and there are others (AMERICAN BEAUTY) I wish I had walked out of.

I'm with George, however, in that I'm more likely to walk out of something that bores rather than upsets me. Last time it was a zombie movie...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Now SCHINDLER'S LIST I've seen three times, Deb. But other Holocaust movies, not so good.

I have no interest in TWELVE YEARS either. We are currently watching Ejiofor in the British mini-series DANCING ON THE EDGE om Starz. He plays the leader of an all-black jazz band in 1933 London.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

DEAD GUILTY review.

Doesn't sound that horrible, does it? I thought it was.


Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Loved DIRTY PRETTY THINGS!
Thanks ;for the rec. Jeff. I think we get STARZ.
And thanks for all the thoughful remarks here.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - I'm sorry to hear this one didn't live up to its promise. With a topic like this, it's hard to do it well. Actually, I haven't even made up my mind whether to see it or not...

Richard said...

Going back a long way, my family is English to Canadian to Illinois to California. No slavery anywhere. I abhor the idea and fact, but I can't feel personally guilty. If I looked for second hand guilt, it would be more what we did to the Native American peoples.

This isn't a film I'd see just because it doesn't sound entertaining, and that's the only reason I watch movies.

Chris said...

I've never walked out of a movie, mainly because I'm pretty careful about what I choose to see. I won't see this one either, basically for the same reason Dana mentioned.

White people in this country are pretty good at feeling guilt over slavery and feeling terrible about the Holocaust. We don't do a lot to take a long hard look at the repercussions of our own blood-soaked history as it relates to American Indians, though. Hell, Hollywood still casts a white dude in a major role as an Indian (that Lone Ranger flop) and we still allow a white billionaire to keep a name for his professional sports franchise as "Redskins." Frankly, it's a white hot ball of rage right in the middle of my gut that gets worse the older I get.

Which is why comments like JTG's make we want to puke. Or laugh. Actually first laugh, then puke.

Bernadette said...

The guilt factor is a difficult one for me too Patti and I don't always react the same way. I struggle for example to read the Arthur Upfield books - this is an Australian series featuring a part-Aboriginal detective in which he and other Aboriginal people are often treated appallingly and I cringe at the language and sentiments - sometimes with overwhelming white people's guilt. This is quite ridiculous really because the period covered by the books is long before I was born.

But I think it's fairly common. My ex once walked out of a movie depicting the brutal rape of a woman - afterwards he said he simply couldn't stand the guilt by association that men like him do such awful things to women.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's less about guilt and more about acknowledging that something as superficial as skin color has determined a person's place (for better or worse) in society and how that society treats a person. Those of us who have the "acceptable" (by cultural standards) skin tones should be aware that our skin color has in many ways protected us and made it easier for us to function in our culture. It's when I encounter utter cluelessness (everything from dismantling affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act to people putting on blackface or dressing as Trayvon Martin for Halloween--oh yes, it happened) that I feel despair that we'll ever be able to come to terms with our history. Although as William Faulkner out it, "The past is not dead. It is not even past."

/Dismounting soapbox now

Deb

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think part of my problem is that I am at the same time reading KING LEOPOLD"S GHOST, which deals with the Belgians in the Congo. Here we are half a century later, still trying to enslave people to make money from their labor and their resources.
Yes, the Native Americans and the aborigines share similar fates.
And my husband also has a hard time with rape scenes.
And today I am thinking about how our governments have consigned so many young men (and women) to die or suffer forever to fight in wars.
Mankind is so imperfect.