Opinions: Directors cross boundaries in the name of art

The price of a cinematic masterpiece

Directors cross boundaries in the name of art


Bernardo Bertolucci, the director of Last Tango in Paris, wanted actress Maria Schneider to “feel a little raped.” Quentin Tarantino took it upon himself to choke Diane Krueger in her death scene in Inglorious Basterds to ensure that the scene was up to his standards. In The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock went to great lengths to elicit real emotions from actress Tippi Hedren, causing her genuine terror while he subjected her to bird attacks.

And, more recently, Uma Thurman released footage of herself in a car crash on the set of Kill Bill. Thurman said she had misgivings at the time, fearing the car was unsafe to drive, but had been assured by Tarantino that it was perfectly safe. She suffered a concussion and serious injuries to her knees and neck, and to add insult to injury, the incident was covered up for years by the infamous Harvey Weinstein.

When is enough, enough?

As more stories come to light, we have to wonder how pervasive these “artistic” tactics in Hollywood are and question the lengths some directors will go in the name of art.

Illustration by Ryan McDiarmid

Many actors are known to bend over backwards to achieve realistic scenes, which are their own prerogative, but it is also common for directors to manipulate actors without their knowledge or permission in order to execute their creative vision. The recent outpouring of criticism against many Hollywood moguls has called into question the power relationships between actors and directors, and these interactions are under more scrutiny than ever before.

We are full of praise for movie scenes and characters that feel believable, yet at a certain point, boundaries become blurred as directors dance the line between art and abuse. In no other industry would withholding crucial information and exposing workers to real danger be seen as acceptable. For some reason we turn a blind eye when the result is a cinematic masterpiece.

Since not all instances of director manipulation result in disastrous consequences, we have normalized the betrayal of trust between directors and their cast. Not all boundaries are quite as clear cut as bird attacks or sexual abuse and choking, and the haziness of actor-director relations are often accepted as part of the job.

Actors put their faith in directors, but there are many who abuse their position, forgetting their medium. When an artist works with oil paint or clay, they can create with little consequence, but many directors take for granted that they work with humans. There is a tendency to treat actors as a means to an end, reducinging actors to objects of manipulation.

When it comes down to it, the point of acting is not to recreate real life, but to, well, act. Directors should not have to rely on external manipulation. When directors cannot trust their actors to do their jobs, it becomes an issue of control, furthering the lack of trust between both parties. Richard Brody wrote in The New Yorker, “in theater, an actor gives; in movies, the actor is taken from.” We are learning just how much is taken, whether it be physical or emotional safety, or just a sense of control. Abuse should never be “just part of the job,” and directors should not be celebrated for the mistreatment of their muses.

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