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Rob Edelman: Boston Bombings and Manufactured Mayhem

This week, I was planning to discuss in detail THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES. This was my agenda for two reasons. First, and simply put, this film is well-worth seeing and reviewing for a range of reasons. Second, it was shot on location here in upstate New York.

However, a piece on THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES seems sadly irrelevant right now. That is because of the horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon. Those bombs exploding and the resulting chaos were captured in images that were of course played and replayed on television. And the blood we see in them is not ketchup. It is not red paint. It is the real thing.

For me, these images are eerily reminiscent of the plane crashing into the World Trade Center tower on 9/11 and the resulting pandemonium. Such moments in time, of which there are visual records, capture the sheer terror and tragedy of the day. And these images, of course, are not staged by a filmmaker. There is no director on hand to yell, “Cut.” The “victims” are not extras who respond by rising from the dead so to speak, and wiping away the ketchup, and heading off to a nearby restaurant to enjoy a nice hot meal.

We can go see THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES and enjoy it, if it is to our taste, because it is, after all, only a movie. As we watch this film, and as we even watch films like ARGO and ZERO DARK THIRTY, which are based on fact, we know that what we are seeing has been staged by the filmmakers. Those are just actors on celluloid. No one is really being maimed. No one is really dying.

As I find myself glued to my TV, watching the Boston explosions and their aftermath, I am reminded of the seemingly endless debate regarding manufactured brutality in movies. The question at the core of this discussion is: Does watching violent images somehow deaden the viewer to the horror of real violence? Taking this even further, do audiences react differently if they are aware that the brutality they are viewing is real, as opposed to Tinseltown fantasy? With this in mind, I vividly recall the countless individuals who observed the Twin Towers collapse eleven years ago, whether in person or on television. These individuals, one after the other, noted that what they saw appeared to be images from a movie.

This debate has been ongoing for years, and it undoubtedly will continue. Sadly, what also is certain is that, given our recent history, we have not seen the last images of real-life explosions, real-life mayhem.

And for this reason, as I say, a piece on THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES-- or any other film, for that matter-- seems sadly irrelevant right now.

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the views of this station or its management.