Yesterday in this space I wrote about the death threats some film critics received earlier in the week when they panned “The Dark Knight Rises” before the picture debuted at midnight showings all over the country last night.
Now, some of the tone of that piece seems horribly glib in light of what happened in Colorado last night at a screening of the movie. 12 dead and dozens wounded in a shooting incident at a multiplex.
The convergence of such a terrible act of violence with the most heavily publicized movie of the year is leading to instant “analysis” and the return of the rhetorical question that has been swirling around Hollywood for decades: Do violent movies prompt violent behavior?
The event has also created what must be a nightmare situation for Warner Bros. which was anticipating a record-setting hit and now must cope with who-knows-what sort of fall-out:
Will parents stop their young kids from seeing the movie?
Twitter and Facebook disgust has already been directed at those whose business it is to report on the movie industry and who have been wondering on blogs and websites if the killings in Colorado will impact the opening weekend box-office take for “Dark Knight.”
Bringing up business matters in the wake of terrible violence connected with that business is not something that I would want to be involved with. (Remember how we were urged to go shopping and theatergoing in order to bolster the post-9/11 economy of New York City?)
The scale of the incident in Colorado is unprecedented but outbursts in packed movie theaters are, sadly, nothing new. The release of the 1979 Walter Hill gang drama “The Warriors” (below) was curtailed by Paramount after violence erupted in more than a few theaters, scattered across the country.
Within a week of the film’s opening, three young people were dead and numerous incidents of violence were blamed on Hill’s movie.
“If someone comes to a movie with a gun, who’s at fault?,” the picture’s editor, David Holden, asked in a People magazine story.
It took years for that media storm to dissipate and for “The Warriors” to achieve its current place as a major cult film (and, sadly, the inspiration for a violent video game).
There are parallels between “The Warriors” and “The Dark Knight Rises” but the media landscape is completely different now and the scale of the latter film’s opening dwarfs that of the Walter Hill drama (the Batman movie is playing in close to 4,500 theaters in the U.S. this weekend, “The Warriors” opened before the era of multiplex mass releases and was only on about 600 screens when the violence broke out in theaters).
I don’t really care about the financial fate of one movie, but I hope there is not a rush to judge a whole entertainment medium because of the monstrous event in Colorado last night.