Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Line

There's a movie set to premiere Monday at the Sundance Film Festival, the main character of which is a 1950s girl named Lewellen. Lewellen gyrates in her underwear, wakes up as her naked father climbs into her bed, demands that a prepubescent boy expose himself to her in exchange for a kiss and, finally, is raped by a teenager who lures her with tickets to an Elvis concert. The film’s title is "Hounddog."

Production of the film in Wilmington, North Carolina, was delayed last summer as hundreds of people signed a petition hoping to persuade the district attorney to prosecute the filmmakers under a law banning simulated sex with a minor, likening the movie to flat-out child pornography. The problem? The Lolita-like role of Lewellen is being played by 12-year-old Dakota Fanning.

The Wilmington district attorney was shown a cut of the movie and ultimately decided that no crime had been committed inasmuch as Dakota remained clothed during filming and was not at any time shown nude.

Dakota has been quoted as saying, “Because that has happened to her (Lewellen), that doesn’t define her. Because of this thing that has happened — that she did not ask for — she is labeled that, and it’s her story to overcome that and to be a whole person again.

“There are so many children that this happens to, every second,” she added. “That’s the sad part. If anyone’s talking about anything, that’s what they should be talking about.

“You know, I’m an actress,” she said. “It’s what I want to do, it’s what I’ve been so lucky to have done for almost seven years now. And I am getting older. February 23 is my birthday, I’ll be 13 years old. And I will be playing different kinds of roles. I won’t be able to do the things I did when I was 6 years old when I’m 14. And that’s what I look forward to — getting to play new roles that aren’t too old for me and aren’t too young for me, that are just at the right time.”

She added: “Lewellen is still very innocent, she’s still a child, but she’s also a little bit wise beyond her years because of the things she’s seen and been through. So I think that I should be able to do what I feel is at the right time for me.”

Talking about when she was sent the script for “Hounddog” during the summer of 2005, Dakota said: “The bottom line was, I couldn’t not do it. It’s all I could think about. I knew I was at the perfect age.”

She said that the most difficult, grueling scene for her was one in which Lewellen is covered while sleeping by snakes that crawl in through the window of her decrepit shack of a house.

Many others, however, think that it's another pivotal scene that deserves more criticism. In it, Lewellen does her best Elvis impression, singing and dancing and writhing while horizontal on her bed, when she learns that her idol (Elvis) is coming to town. While she does all that, there's a teenage milkman in the room, looking on just a little too hungrily.

Yes, Dakota Fanning is a precocious, worldly little girl, mature beyond her years in many respects. I agree in theory with the basic premise of her remarks. This stuff (poverty, violence, sexual assaults, etc.) does happen, and it happens to too many children, entirely too frequently. But … this is a movie. I think it’s exploitative to place a 12-year-old in such a complex and surely confusing role. She's a child. An 18-year-old could have played the role equally as convincingly. I'm sure there are plenty of 18-year-olds who don't look "too old." It actually sounds like a good story, worthy of adaptation to the big screen. An older actress in the key role would have made a very big difference in the public's perception of and acceptance of the film, I believe. I'd have no qualms whatsoever about watching an actress of legal age bring Lewellen to life, but I'm afraid watching tiny little Dakota Fanning act it out would just make me squirm uncomfortably.

I'd like to know what you all think. Is this crossing a line that shouldn't be crossed? I think it is. Is it wrong to sexualize a child for the sake of art? I think it is. She is a child, presumably lacking the life experience to bring to the role and to fully comprehend the disturbing subject matter she’s portraying. Moreover, she is too young to have made the decision, or to have been allowed to make the decision to take the role completely on her own. I find her parents’ apparent state of laissez faire about this quite remarkable.

What Japanese smiley are you?

You Are "Wow"!

Here’s what the Twisted Linguistics paddy wagon rounded up today.

hoards of writers - Authors carefully stored in the pantry and cellar for writing emergencies.

fruitation – One wacked-out nation.

consecrative – Some folks go to church each consecrative Sunday.

free of speech - One who is mute.

an member of – Oooooookay.

Perplexed about your inner harmony? Curious about your future? Speak to the Underwear Oracle.

What Your Underwear Says About You

You like to think of yourself as innocent, even though you're not!

You're comfortable in your own skin - and don't care to impress anyone.


Kanrei said...

This is a tricky subject because it is dancing a very fine line. It appears from the sound of it to be wrong, but when you actually look into what was done, how it was done, and why you realize it is not as big of a deal as it first seemed.

On top of that, she is an incredibly mature young lady. These interviews on this subject are showing a girl with a greater understanding of what was asked of her more than most adults. She is very clearly able to separate the acting from reality. I think this is a movie that should be seen before protested and those protesting are only making sure this is a box office event instead of the small indepentant movie it was.

Kanrei said...

"What Your Underwear Says About You

You tend to buy new underwear instead of doing laundry.

You're not afraid to lay around resting your hand in your pants."

My underwear is talking too much it seems. That was private I thought.

Anonymous said...

Dakota is an amazing young actress. Wise beyond her years. When we forget that TV and Movies, for the most part, are portrayed by actors, we cross the line. When we start believing that what we see is real, we cross the line. When the day arrives where I cross the line, I need to get a life.

Serena Joy said...

These interviews on this subject are showing a girl with a greater understanding of what was asked of her more than most adults. She is very clearly able to separate the acting from reality. I think this is a movie that should be seen before protested...

I agree with you there, Kan. She is in many ways a very mature child -- but still a child. I will see the movie, but I think I'm going to have a hard time watching this little big-eyed girl playing a nymphet.

My underwear is talking too much it seems. That was private I thought.

Nothing is private on the Internet. LOL.

I've crossed the line a few times, I guess, Steve. And I've had my line crossed. It hasn't killed me. Yet. Seriously, though, I do understand what you're saying. And ... I need to get a life, too. I'm waiting for the sale.:)

Scary Monster said...

Me believes that Kanrei says it clearly enough. Dakota Fanning possesses enough maturity and skill to handle the role. Acting is acting so it might not matter if you have an underage actress performing the part. Once you are watching the movie you don't usually think about the actors stats. (if the flick is at all decent)When me sees George Clooney in a movie me don't start thinkin, wow, Me and he be the same age.

RexZeitgiest said...

I see why there is contriversy but has anyone ever seen 'Bastard Out of Carolina'? That movie WAS a graphic depiction of a rape by a drunken and abusive step father....not much was leftt to the imagination...It was gut wrenching and horrific, watching it once was more then enough....

Watch Bastard out of Carolina and you will see what I mean.....

Many things happen in real life that we do not need to see ona big screen......My question is, what good does this movie do? And is it worth it?

RexZeitgiest said...

What Your Underwear Says About You

You like to think of yourself as innocent, even though you're not!

You're the type of guy who lets his girlfriend pick out his underwear.

This is true...If a lady wants to pick out underwear for me, who am I to stop her?

Serena Joy said...

Hello, Scary. I wasn't sure whether you were on your way to Mt. Fuji yet. I do take your point -- acting is acting. The casting still strikes me as a little icky, although it's true that if she has no problem with it, neither should I. It is what it is, will be what it will be.

Rex, I did see 'Bastard Out Of Carolina,' and it was raw and graphic. I'm not sure whether any of the young girls in the cast were shown in any overtly sexual behavior, though. Didn't the rapes take place off camera? I don't remember, but it's been a long time. HD may have a lot of merit as a film; it's hard to tell on hearsay alone. I guess I'll reserve judgment 'til I see it.

Serena Joy said...

If a lady wants to pick out underwear for me, who am I to stop her?

Heh. You're braver than I am. I wouldn't let a gentleman pick out mine. I'd be afraid it would be too butt ugly.:)

RexZeitgiest said...

Nope, the final scene showed the young girl getting beaten and raped by her step father in graphic fashion......I saw the unedited version not the one they have replayed on lifetime....

I think most of the uproar is about Fanning, Americas best actress, in the role....I just think we don't need to see it....And I won't...

RexZeitgiest said...

Bastard Out of Carolina
Directed by Anjelica Huston
Wellspring 03/00 DVD/VHS Feature Film
R - strong depiction of sexual and violent abuse

Based on a bestselling novel by Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina presents a graphic portrait of child abuse that includes rape and battery. Anney (Jennifer Jason Leigh) gives birth to her illegitimate daughter in Greenville during the 1950s. Uncle Earl (Michael Rooker) comes up with the name "Bone" because, as he puts it, "She ain't no bigger than a knucklebone." The poverty-stricken Anney marries Luke (Dermot Mulroney), but he's killed in an auto wreck. Then, while working as a waitress, she meets and marries Glen (Ron Eldard), an angry young man who harbors a deep hatred for his father. He takes out his frustrations on Bone. When Anney loses the son she's carrying and is told she can't have any more children, Glen starts beating his stepdaughter. Even after Anney learns that her husband has raped Bone, she stays with him.

Anjelica Huston directs this riveting drama which is carried on the small shoulders of Jena Malone who plays Bone, the nine-year-old victim who miraculously survives the hell she goes through. The only sanctuary she finds is when she is in the care of the women in her extended family. For Bone, the betrayal of her mother when she stays with Glen is as soul-shattering as the violations she receives at his hands.


Serena Joy said...

Now that you bring them up, I remember the characters' names. And I remember wanting to choke Anney for being such a do-nothing. I've never understood the mentality that could just sit by and allow her children to be victimized. There are ALWAYS options. A cave or a cardboard box would be better than living like that.

Kanrei said...

I think I will pass on that movie and this one. I agree that I do not see any reason to show anything in this movie, but I am also not the artist. What reason is there for the things a film like Hostel shows you? CSI and Discovery channel tells you how to pull off the perfect crime and get away with it. What is the real purpose of that? Will someone into kiddie porn really need this movie to get what they desire in a world of Abercromby and Finch(sp?)?
I am not saying to ban any of that, I do not believe anything should be banned. Things banned are things ignored which are things left to grow. Everyone is talking about this right now. Maybe that is a good thing.

littlebirdblue said...

***What Your Underwear Says About You***

When you're bad, you're very bad. And when you're good, you're still trouble!

You're comfortable in your own skin - and don't care to impress anyone.

***You Are "Dizzy and Giddy"***

Man. I'm getting mpd from these crazy quizzes. I'm a dizzy bad-girl?

Actually, that kinda works for me.

Roxan said...

***What Your Underwear Says About You***

You're a total rebel who doesn't conform to any rules. P.S. - It's a jungle down there!

You're also way too lazy to do your laundry more than a few times a year.

Serena Joy said...

Kan, I think the devotees of kiddie porn will always be able to turn over a rock and find a source. They probably like mainstream movies like these, too, though.

LOL, Little Bird. Dizzy bad girl sounds kind of fun. MPD must be lots of fun, too; God knows, lots of people have it in cyberspace.:)

Serena Joy said...

The rebel part, I buy, Roxan. Not the infrequent laundry part, though. Definitely not your style.:)

Roxan said...

I do my laundry a bit more frequently than that. LOL

Liz said...

I'm Wow too.

Twelve is very young to be so mature. I certainly wasn't as worldly as that. Growing up in the film world especially leads to such precociousness, I imagine, but it is sad that we don't allow children to be children for a little longer.

I don't think I'd go and watch it.

Liz said...

"You tend to buy new underwear instead of doing laundry.

You're sexy, in that pinup girl, tease sort of way."

Ooh, I like it!

Scary Monster said...

Me has checked, and checked, and checked again!
Me wonders iffin it's warm enough to go outside???

Serena Joy said...

Why did it take you 3 tries to figure that out, Scary? Never mind, don't answer that. Do not go out. You never know when you might get in an accident.:)

Southern Writer said...

I have no problem with Dakota Fanning playing the role. She's an amazing actress, and does seem to be very mature - and well-adjusted - for her age. As I understand it, the movie does not show her being raped. It's alluded to. I think I read that we see her hand hitting the ground as she falls, see a zipper being pulled down, and the rest is left to our imaginations.

Miss Fanning may be losing out on part of her childhood, but she's also making the most of her talent, and I think she's a very lucky little girl to have found that talent at such an early age. I know people in their 40's and even 50's who still have no idea what they want to be when they grow up. She may very well be a future Meryl Streep. Some people mature faster than others and she appears to be very happy in her life and work, so brava for her.

Remember 12-year-old Linda Blair in The Exorcist? They turned her into a very scary demon who spewed pea soup, spouted language that would make a sailor blush, and had her masturbating with a crucifix. And yes, the demon's voice was actually that of a mature actress (Mercedes McCambridge), but you can't tell me Blair didn't read the script. She understood what was going on. No one had a fit over that, as I recall. There was a bit of an uproar when Brooke Shields played a prostitue in Pretty Baby at the same age; now that she's an adult, she doesn't seem any the worse for it.

We might be censoring a little too much here. As writers, we don't like it when people tell us what we should or shouldn't / can or can't write. I'm sure actors, directors, and artists appreciate having the same privilege. Just my two cents.

Roxan said...

I agree with southern writer. Dakota Fanning is an amazing actress and I have no doubt she will be just fine.
There was a documentary I saw recently about all the girls who performed in the Annie plays on broadway and in the movie. These girls did and saw things they never should have. No one stepped in to put a stop to it-not even their parents.

Serena Joy said...

Duly noted, ladies. I really think the whole concept of censorship is a slippery, slippery slope. I don't want to see censorship imposed. Once it started, God knows where it would stop. It does disturb me that a little girl is perhaps growing up way too fast and losing too much of her innocence for the sake of a movie. She does appear to be mature enough to handle it. I hope so.