Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cannibalism: Is it good for Amherst? ("Give me your zombies, your gore . . .")

Tartar cannibalism from a MS of Matthew Paris,...Image via Wikipedia

So, I'm sitting here working and I get a call from one of the newspapers.  The Town Manager was unavailable, as was the Select Board Chair (thanks, Stephanie), so I somehow ended up next on the list. It must have been a slow Friday all around.

At any rate, the reporter, Fred Contrada, had heard that the producers of a horror film involving cannibalism were thinking of filming either in Greenfield or in Amherst, and he wanted to know whether I had any comment. Obviously, he was looking for something provocative.

Now, one of the of the drawbacks of being an elected official—the Select Board is our collective chief executive officer, as the Town website explains it—is that you can't just say or scribble anything you want, because it might reflect on the Town as a whole.  I therefore had to stifle the urge to come up with several bad jokes, though given the persistent level of acrimony over such issues as Planning Board membership (1, 2, 3, 4) and the politics of the Amherst and Regional School Committees (1, 2, 3, 4, 5,), gory violence sometimes seems the only element lacking in the drama.

Anyway, here’s the backstory. Forty-four of the fifty states—Michigan and Massachusetts among them—offer subsidies to filmmakers who want to shoot there, as part of their economic development and tourism programs. As Michael Cieply of the New York Times observes, “Whether such payments ultimately benefit a state and its economy has been the subject of ferocious debate.” Reason magazine was more blunt: for Michigan to spend $ 132 million per year to support the film industry when its 14-percent unemployment rate is the highest in the nation, is “stone-crazy.”

Be that as it may, debate in this case turned on a specific film. As the Times explained, Andrew van den Houten “became one of the first to take advantage of Michigan’s generous subsidy . . . when he made 'Offspring,' a cannibalism-themed horror picture." (Plot summary:  "Survivors of a feral flesh-eating clan are chowing their way through the locals.")  However, when he attempted to secure similar support for the sequel, entitled, ”The Woman,” the Great Lake State turned him down.  Mr. van den Houten felt it was about content.  The Film Commissioner said it was about financing but was also quoted as criticizing “this extreme horror film’s subject matter, namely realistic cannibalism; the gruesome and graphically violent depictions described in the screenplay; and the explicit nature of the script,” as a result of which “This film is unlikely to promote tourism in Michigan or to present or reflect Michigan in a positive light.” Puzzled and hurt, the filmmaker assured the Times interviewer that the new film was less gory than its predecessor. “We had babies in the first movie,” he added, helpfully.

Enter Massachusetts.  Herewith some relevant excerpts from Mr. Contrada's witty piece in the Springfield Republican:
Director Andrew van den Houten movie cannibals hunger for Western Massachusetts
Published: Sunday, July 25, 2010, 7:00 AM

GREENFIELD - Michigan didn’t have much of an appetite for it, but Greenfield’s mayor finds it quite palatable that his town might be the setting for “The Woman,” a movie filled with cannibalism and more cannibalism. Whether the project would be tasteful in Amherst is another question. . . .

According to the film company, both Greenfield and Amherst are in the running as production sites. . . .

Whether or not “The Woman” will stimulate tourism in Greenfield or Amherst is anybody’s guess. Greenfield Mayor William F. Martin said he has heard little about the project but is not pre-judging it.

“If they’re going to make a (Martin) Scorsese film in town or this one, it’s not something that’s going to have a huge impact on our economic base,” he said. “I can’t judge it without seeing it. If they’re here, fine. I hope they like the area.”

Amherst Select Board member James J. Wald said he has heard nothing about the movie but doubts it will taint the town’s reputation for peace, tolerance and whole foods.

“ ‘Godzilla’ and ‘King Kong’ didn’t make a big difference in Tokyo and New York,” he said. “As long as they’re not showing Amherst people as cannibals.” . . .

The New York Times reported this week that “The Woman” could begin shooting Aug. 2.

Officials from the Massachusetts Film Office could not be reached Friday. Massachusetts offers filmmakers a 25 percent tax credit on money spent in the state. In recent years, that has been enough to draw movies like “Shutter Island” and “Gone Baby Gone” to the Bay State. In 2008, parts of the Mel Gibson movie “Edge of Darkness” were filmed in Northampton and Deerfield. Although Gibson’s character shot and punched numerous people in that film, he did not eat any of them.
Can't remember whether I actually made reference to peace, tolerance, and whole foods, but if I did, it was certainly tongue-in-cheek.  Bottom line: I can't seriously imagine that the location of a horror film affects how people view that place in real life—I mean, if we're talking about a town or city and not The Bates Motel.  And that applies to real crime stories, too.  Now that the fuss has died down, Jack the Ripper actually seems quite a tourist draw for London.

The jokes have already begun.

Among the top talkback's to Fred's piece:
"I've BEEN to Greenfield. There's NOTHING worth eating up there! ;) "
"Amherst is the perfect setting for a film about cannibilism. Residents have been full of themselves for as long as I can remember."
Michael Cieply, writing in the Times media blog, suggested a new tourist slogan: “Come to Massachusetts: We Love Cannibals!” (eye-catching, though not particularly witty).

Of course, if we're going to take cannibalism, film, and cultural tourism seriously, we'll need to do it up big, and really re-brand ourselves.  I could imagine a big statue in Boston harbor, with an inscription:
The New Anthropophage

. . . . . . . . . .
. . . Give me your zombies, your gore.
Your people-eaters yearning to eat men,
Send these, the hungry, horrible to me,
I lift my fork beside the holding pen!
Seriously, as long as they "spell our name right"—and, if speaking it, do not pronounce the "h"—most people around here will be satisfied (or is that:  satiated?)

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