Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The vermin won: The short life and excruciating death of The Interview

Seth Rogen and James Franco star in The Interview.

The vermin won. There is not much more to say than that. If you have followed entertainment news or just the news really over the last few weeks, you are probably aware of the Sony hacking scandal: thousands of emails leaked, private documents compromised, and privacy lost. Two things happened tonight. Bowing to pressure from the organization behind the hack, Sony Pictures pulled the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy The Interview from release. The U.S. government declared North Korea the perpetrator of the attacks.

More than pressure, though, the group behind this threatened to blow up theaters that showed the film. While the U.S. said there was no credibility to the threats – and the Feds would know – theater chains decided to error on the side of caution, which in this case, happens to be the side of cowardice. Here is Sony’s statement in full (via

“In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.

“Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

A lot to digest here. First and foremost, though, let’s look at the ending: “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression …”

Allow me to congratulate Sony on being able to heap that much bull shit into half a sentence. Standing by their filmmakers and their right to free expression is actually the one thing Sony has failed to do in this case. It would be more accurate to say the company stepped aside as the steamroller of cyber-terrorism and threatened domestic terrorism ran right over filmmakers and free expression.

I am not na├»ve. People’s lives are more important than one film, but the idea here is dangerous. In theory, this group of hackers now controls Hollywood. That is hyperbole, but it is also simple extrapolation. They did not like what this movie had to say. They killed it – or perhaps, we should say fear and ignorance killed The Interview. What about the next movie they do not like? What about the next movie any powerful group does not like? Precedent means something here.

In 1988, Universal Pictures released Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. It was called blasphemous. It was picketed. A theater was blown up, but the film continued to screen. It is a masterpiece. It is probably unfair to compare a Scorsese picture with a buddy comedy from co-directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg. As cinema, the two are unlikely to compare, but we all have the right to see them and judge for ourselves.

Last Cinema Standing was founded on the idea that movie-going is as much a right as a ritual. Films shine on the big screen, and the cinema is where the art of movies lives. When something attacks that – in this case the hackers and Sony are nearly equally culpable – the culture at large is being attacked. It is hard to say where we should go from here. What is likely to happen is all of this will die down, and in a couple of months, we will get our DVDs of the film if we so choose, and all will be mostly forgotten. But, where we should go is another matter. All that is known right now is: We are lost.

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