Not for ethical or social reasons, although the absence of gunfire in mass entertainment would probably be, at the very least, an interesting thing to experience and quite possibly beneficial in certain ways. No, what Fine is really suggesting is a radical creative challenge to all filmmakers, particularly the action crowd.
Instead of always shooting your way out of situations, what if you guys had to figure some other solution? Could you? Do you have the imagination? Or would you just give up and complain and stamp your feet and yell “I want my Glock back!”?
If I was Emperor of Hollywood, I would impose a ten-shot rule. You can still use firearms to resolve conflicts, but using dozens or hundreds of bullets is out. Okay, you can use automatic gunfire if the film is about a wartime situation or about the Newtown or Aurora massacres or about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Or is a remake of The Wild Bunch or Heat or something in that vein. Otherwise you’ve have to shoot no more than ten bullets. That would be a challenge that would separate the men from the boys, you bet.
I’ve mentioned this before but think of how the gunplay feels in Shane, in which guns are fired sparingly in just three scenes — Alan Ladd “shooting that little white rock over there,” Jack Palance shooting Elisha Cook Jr. in the mud, and Shane gunning down Palance and Emile Meyer (Riker) and John Dierkes (Riker’s brother) in the final scene. Maybe nine or ten bullets in all. And each bullet means something.
In Peter Weir‘s Witness there was one brief shootout in a garage and a shootout on a Pennsylvania farm but I’d be surprised if more than ten shots were fired all in all. Okay, maybe twelve.
Remember that Robert Towne anecdote from the ’90s about how he’d written a scene in which his hero had picked up a rocking chair to defend himself against a couple of bad guys? And how the studio came back to him and said, “No rocking chairs…that’s too effeminate… have him pick up a baseball bat instead.” And how Towne concluded, “That’s what’s wrong with Hollywood these days…baseball bats!” But in today’s Hollywood a hero using a baseball bat (or a log, like Harrison Ford does at the end of Clear and Present Danger) instead of a .45 or an AK-47 would be novel and welcome.
“I’m not suggesting this because real handguns and automatic weapons are a threat to humans everywhere, though that is true,” Fine writes. “Nor is it because the casual, often comedic presentation of gun violence in films and TV shows tends to anesthetize young viewers to violence and its effects. Or that it warps their perception of reality so that it seems like a natural segue to move immediately from an argument to, say, lethal gunplay. The science isn’t all in on that last one, but I’d wager on the side of the empiricists.
“No, I believe we should ban guns from movies and television because they’re always the most boring and predictable dramatic choice you can make.
“And I say this, in spite of the fact that big-budget action films attract a mass audience that is entertained by extended exchanges of automatic weapon fire, in which hardly anyone ever gets hit. (Except when those automatic weapons are being fired by the hero – who can make every bullet in a machine-gun burst strike a different enemy.)
“A movie like this week’s Gangster Squad lend[s] credence to the theory that the mass audience would watch a movie that was nothing but two hours of fireworks, if each explosion was accompanied by blood spatters. Those kind of shoot-outs are not just a cliche in action films; they’re practically wallpaper. The shoot-’em-up scene is such a foregone conclusion that there simply is no pleasure or thrill to be derived from it.
“Guns are drama’s most reductionist element. Cell phones (or their lack of signal) have become a crutch for contemporary screenwriters as a dramatic device – but guns are the all-time fallback position. When in doubt, shoot first and ask questions later.
“Obviously, the kind of gun culture fostered in movies, the ease (and sometimes, amusement) with which life is taken — these are contributing factors to a culture that offers sudden national fame to gun-wielding mass killers, via the sensational coverage of those events. I personally don’t blame movies for the real-life gun violence; that’s the NRA’s excuse.
“I’m just a movie critic who believes that guns have long since made movie-makers lazy, based on the experience of seeing a lot of movies every week. And I’m here to call for a moratorium on guns in movies until our movies get better as a result. A lot of them couldn’t get worse.”