Serling on Film Violence
When The Twilight Zone ended its run in 1964, well-wishers posted an amusing sign at the show’s farewell party: “This plaque commemorates the 128 people killed during its turbulent five years.”
Even die-hard fans may be surprised by the length of the casualty list. A couple dozen deaths maybe, but 128? Perhaps that’s because the deaths weren’t graphically depicted.
This had much to do with the strict TV standards then in vogue, of course. But it wasn’t simply that. Rod Serling appears to have been no fan of over-the-top violence. Consider this excerpt from a lecture he gave in 1972:
The thing that disturbs me is that thread of violence that seems to permeate every current film. The other night I saw ‘The Godfather’ for the first time, and I’ll admit that I found it really quite a stunning film — at least, it was good, tight, believable, it had some beautiful performances, and it was very competently directed.
But the mayhem in that picture, the deaths, the killings. Six assassinations by machine gun — each machine-gunning taking a minimum one minute to portray — two strangulations, three beatings, one car explosion, and some very explicit portraits of a bullet plowing into an abdomen and the retina of an eye.
Now, obviously when you deal with an institution as violent as crime is, violence has to be integral. But … through the offices of films like Dirty Harry, Straw Dogs, French Connection, The Godfather and Clockwork Orange, we’re getting a picturesque view of the variety of ways that men can wreak havoc on other men — bullet, claymore mine, garrot, shrapnel, homicidal rape and kicking to death.
One can only imagine what Serling would think about the violence we see on screen today. He didn’t live to see Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees or Jigsaw.
We don’t have to go back to 1964. But considering how popular The Twilight Zone continues to be, proving over and over again that substance will always trump style, it’s worth asking: Wouldn’t we all be better served by less CGI and more imagination? By less blood-letting and more genuine storytelling?
In short, does anyone think we’ll be watching Friday the 13th marathons 50 years later the same way we watch Twilight Zone marathons today?
Posted on 12/28/2011, in Rod Serling and tagged A Clockwork Orange, Dirty Harry, film violence, Friday the 13th, Jason Voorhees, Jigsaw, Michael Myers, Rod Serling, Straw Dogs, The French Connection, The Godfather. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.