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How to say it

So Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, revealing that he has been recovering from throat cancer for the past 18 months, went and publicly flogged himself and his colleagues in an opinion piece in the New York Times last week. Looking back at the glamorous role smoking has played in some of the 14 movies he has written (including Basic Instinct), and reasoning that those movies encouraged people to smoke, Eszterhas writes:

I find it hard to forgive myself. I have been an accomplice to the murders of untold numbers of human beings. I am admitting this only because I have made a deal with God. Spare me, I said, and I will try to stop others from committing the same crimes I did.

The piece, of course, got lots of national attention (the San Francisco Chronicle's writeup is decent), much of it debating Eszterhas' sincerity (not to mention the fact that, of all the things Hollywood glamorizes, smoking isn't necessarily the most dangerous).

I have no idea how sincere Eszterhas is; perhaps he really did think he was going to die. In any case, it's odd, such a successful screenwriter turning to a newspaper to express himself. If Eszterhas really does believe that Hollywood has blood on its hands, he should say so in his own medium — a medium that can reach millions more people and make a far more gripping statement than dry ink on the last page of the Times.

He should make a movie.

August 12, 2002 8:55 AM

Comments (and TrackBacks)

I don't think an artist's editorial expression is legally --- or more importantly --- morally limited to the medium in which he's best known or primarily operates.

If that were the case, we should be disgusted to ever to see audio commentary within DVD Special Features and would criticise films that fail to express this or that said in the commentary.

Added, people's values change, and they should be allowed to editorialise these changes later -- after all, it is his work, not the our's.

And, this says nothing about maoist-like notions that might limit and squelch good healthy community discourse (g-d knows we have too much of that already, eh?)


Posted by rob adams on August 12, 2002 2:55 PM

I don't think an artist's editorial expression is legally --- or more importantly --- morally limited to the medium in which he's best known or primarily operates.

No, of course not; that's not at all what I'm trying to say.

There are two main questions about Eszterhas' publishing this opinion: Is he sincere; and if he is, has he really done what he can "to stop others from committing the same crimes I did."

I think it would be harder to doubt his sincerity were he to invest his energy and other resources into making a movie; he'd certainly be risking more in terms of his career to do it. And if it succeeded, the movie would be far more powerful a means of revealing some of the impact smoking has on society than his opinion piece was.

Posted by M on August 12, 2002 3:35 PM

Good point, Matt, but I think Eszterhas would be doing the world a much greater favour if he never made another movie. I also think he gives himself waaayyyy too much credit: just how much influence could a crapfest like Basic Instinct have?

Posted by Senn on August 14, 2002 10:08 AM

Too much credit for Basic Instinct? What about the ego it takes to announce that he has struck a deal with God. Of course, my deal with God got me through spelling tests in grade school, so poor planning on my part.

Posted by jr on August 14, 2002 11:57 AM

Whoa there... just because something is crap doesn't mean it won't reach millions! Basic Instinct was very popular in it's day... and most people are dumb enough to be influenced heavily. I could rave for days about how much crap Limp Bizkit produces, but no one would deny their influence over U.S. teens, right?

Posted by Bill on August 14, 2002 2:11 PM

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