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Hollywood hunkers down 

Mass media reconsiders what's entertainment in the new world order

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A film like this Christmas' Ali may contribute to this, featuring as it does Muhammed Ali's conversion to Islam, with Malcolm X as a major supporting character.

Bernstein passes along a theory that Hollywood indulges shoot-'em-ups like True Lies because the United States has been insulated from real violence for generations. "The most interesting thing I've read about this is that our fascination with violence in movies has been based on our sense of invulnerability and the absence of violent attacks on the country going back to the Civil War," he says. "Our fascination is based on our lack of experience with it. Now that we have the footage of last week's attack, we will never respond to such depictions as pure entertainment ever again."

But the idea of a desensitized Hollywood doesn't account for the popularity of American spectacles overseas: Independence Day, for instance, is the fourth most successful movie worldwide ever made. "I think that violence will never go out of style," says Kukunoor, who points out that Indian films have become more action-oriented to compete with Hollywood exports.

"The common language in the world is violence, and as long as Hollywood is supplying films not only to the United States but the rest of the world, it will continue," he adds. "There might be a little dip right now, but I don't think it'll ever go away. Even our worst memories fade. Maybe this will linger longer than other bad memories, because there have been images on the networks for so long. But when Hollywood feels safe, and believes they won't be accused of exploiting the tragedy, I think there will be a rush of films on this event. It'll be a few months, maybe a year, and then they'll start coming back."

Cook finds the Kennedy assassination and television's treatment of it an instructive example. "It was the first and most outrageous act of public violence in the post-war era. Afterward, there was a lot of breast-beating at that time about violence on television, and shows like 'The Untouchables' and Westerns were singled out. But because the networks gave up so much commercial revenue to cover the story, up through the funeral, afterward they felt that they could get away with increasing the quantity of violence on television. I have a feeling that in the wake of this disaster, with the loss of commercial revenue so much greater, that the networks are going to feel like they're entitled to something."

But he also believes that filmmakers will lack the stomach to show the violent deaths of innocents in entertainment. The Thursday after the attack, Cook had planned to show a film history class a bloody shoot-out from 3000 Miles to Graceland as an example of continuity editing. "But I couldn't do it -- it was too real. I'd be surprised if sequences like that, with the mass killing of bystanders, didn't go away for quite a while."

Bernstein expects future treatments of the terrorist attack to have a more positive message. "I can imagine that when movies are made about [Sept. 11's] events, they will be about survivors and heroes and therefore boast an inspirational intent."

If the actual terrorist attack has called violent escapism into question, films about large-scale tragedies can still serve a valuable purpose. Last summer's Pearl Harbor may be a poor example, as it's an empty epic nakedly striving to appeal to the audience that made Titanic the world's biggest hit. But in its half-hour sequence of the attack during "the day of infamy," it conveys the magnitude of the devastation, the suffering of the thousands in harm's way, to an audience that, 60 years later, may not appreciate it.

"The terrorist attack has been compared to Pearl Harbor so much, that I'll be surprised if the movie doesn't get a re-release," comments Cook.

The last thing the country needs is for the events of Sept. 11 to get a treatment like Pearl Harbor or Independence Day. But years from now, if someone approaches them with the craft and mindset that, say, Steven Spielberg brought to D-Day in Saving Private Ryan, we may get a worthy celluloid tribute to the ones that have fallen.

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