A chorus of anger marked Hollywood’s reaction Thursday to comments by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, a leading Republican presidential aspirant, who condemned entertainment executives for debasing the nation’s culture.
Across Hollywood, the consensus was that Dole’s comments, which he delivered to about 600 business leaders and Republican stalwarts Wednesday night, would have little effect. “Hollywood is about entertaining large audiences,” said Thomas P. Pollock, the chairman of the MCA Motion Picture Group. “We’re not making films like ‘Casper’ or ‘Apollo 13’ to please Congress,” said Pollock. “We’re making them because that’s what the public wants to see.”
In fact, most movies now produced by studios are either romantic comedies, family films or the kind of big-budget violent comedy movies like “True Lies” that Dole actually extolled.
What he denounced Wednesday night, in a speech in Los Angeles, were violent films like “True Romance” and “Natural Born Killers” as well as gangsta rap performers, who, in Dole’s words, “revel in mindless violence and loveless sex.”
Dole’s comments marked an escalation in his effort to increase his support among conservative voters by lashing out at Hollywood, a target in recent years of political figures who say that films, music and television are sapping the moral strength of the nation.
Although some top executives and filmmakers declined to criticize Dole on the record, others defended themselves, noting that Dole had carefully avoided criticizing top stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone, who primarily star in violent action films. The three have supported Republican candidates. Instead, the executives pointed out, Dole singled out movies by filmmakers like Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino.
Stone, who directed “Natural Born Killers,” said that Dole’s comments were a form of modern-day McCarthyism, a reference to the 1950s anti-communist witch hunts that stirred turmoil in Hollywood.
“It’s the height of hypocrisy for Senator Dole, who wants to repeal the assault weapons ban, to blame Hollywood for the violence in our society,” said Stone. “Hollywood did not create the problem of violence in America.”
Tarantino, author of the film “True Romance,” angrily criticized Dole. “This is the oldest argument there is,” he said. “Whenever there’s a problem in society, blame the playwrights: ‘It’s their fault, it’s the theater that’s doing it all.’ “
He called Dole’s comments “a cheap laugh.” “He hasn’t even seen the movies. How can you take seriously someone talking about art he admittedly hasn’t seen? But then, that’s politics,” Tarantino said. An aide to Dole acknowledged Wednesday that the candidate has not actually seen the movies or heard the songs, but that he has read the film reviews.
Director Rob Reiner said it was “disgraceful” that Dole had cited “True Lies,” which starred Schwarzenegger, as an appropriate film. “Had he actually criticized films like ‘True Lies’ or ‘Die Hard’ or ‘Lethal Weapon’ I would have agreed with him,” said Reiner.
“The fact is, these films are mindlessly violent and show violence with no consequences. That’s what he should be criticizing but he doesn’t. And the only reason he doesn’t lambaste a film like ‘True Lies’ is because Schwarzenegger is a Republican.”