Why This US Film Is Keeping Its Cinema Shoot-Up Scene

16 August 2012 | 1:36 pm | Anthony Carew

"The people who are re-shooting [Gangster Squad] should be ashamed of themselves. Like, they thought showing people getting shot in a cinema was okay, but then something like that actually happened so it wasn’t?"

In Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America, a modern-day Bonnie & Clyde —a laid-off forty-something salaryman (Joel Murray, AKA Bill's brother) and a vicious teenage vamp (Disney/Nickelodeon child-star survivor Tara Lynne Barr)— go on a killing spree across America, gunning down all that they see as evil. Reality TV stars, Westboro-styled hate preachers, neo-con TV talking heads, people who use 'party' as a verb. It's hysterical, comic cry of rage from those who dismay the toilet bowl of 21st century culture in America, that suddenly becomes far less funny in one scene.

In it, the pair, on the lam and guns in hand, grow tired of the loudmouthed blowhards in the cinema behind them, wielding their rudeness like a weapon. So, they turn around and gun them down. It's a kind of meta-joke for those in the crowd —who could be suffering through rude audience-members as they watch God Bless America— and in keeping with the provocative, profane, prurient nature of the film's fantasy fulfilment. But watched mere weeks after the very-real massacre of Dark Knight Rises viewers at a midnight screening in Colorado, it's impossible not to feel confronted by this weird phenomenon, of real-life tragedy imitating fictional comedy.

“You can't take healthy people and turn them into killers through a motion-picture,” says Goldthwait, the 50-year-old comedian-turned-filmmaker, when asked about his cultural culpability, and how recent events have changed how the world should view his film.

“The current events —all the things that happened before and after this movie— would've happened anyway, regardless of whether or not I made this movie. I don't believe I've influenced the world in a violent way,” Goldthwait offers. “The event with the Batman thing was so crazy that the media actually didn't do their usual routine: they didn't point the finger at video games and Marilyn Manson. People were just scratching their heads; it was just so hard to believe. I'm in full agreement with Obama: I don't think anyone with a history of mental illness should be able to purchase automatic weapons. But I am a gun owner, too. The gun folks are so hyper-sensitive about anything, though, so there's never a sensible dialogue in America. [God Bless America] has been accused by them as liberal Hollywood's attempt to take away everyone's guns, which is pretty funny to me.”

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Did he feel some kind of responsibility —or pressure— to retroactively change his movie? Like the producers of the depression-era gangster epic Gangster Squad, who've gone in for much publicised reshoots to remove a scene where guns are turned on a cinema audience? “I think it's far more irresponsible to make films in which violence is made safe in these fantasy worlds that don't reflect the current state of contemporary America,” Goldthwait retorts, on the attack. “The people who are re-shooting that movie should be ashamed of themselves. Like, they thought showing people getting shot in a cinema was okay, but then something like that actually happened so it wasn't? They're just a bunch of cowards. They're just worried about taking a hit at the box office. They're not people that have anything to say, cinematically; they're just a bunch of pussies trying to make a lot of money, and real life just happened to get in their way.”


Goldthwait was inspired to make God Bless America when in London, on a publicity tour with his 2009 film World's Greatest Dad. It was the follow-up to 2006's Sleeping Dogs Lie, the film that marked Goldthwait's 'rebirth'; the career comic stooge —“I got on Letterman when I was 20, and after that I started making Police Academy movies. After that, I was in the system. I just got caught up in doing things for money; I stopped listening to that voice inside of me, and ended up doing all these things that made me profoundly unhappy”— reinventing himself as provocative, independent filmmaker, with a satirical eye for our times.

Sleeping Dogs Lie was a black comedy in which an instant of misguided, youthful bestiality is a symbol of the modern-day digital reputation, in which infamy is enshrined online. World's Greatest Dad got even blacker, with Robin Williams the dad who reinvents his son's postmortem reputation from a misanthropic masturbator to heroic teenage loner. And it took him to London, where Goldthwait watched —in horror— an all-day marathon of the reality-TV landfill My Super Sweet 16, and its parade of hideously entitled cuntesses and abhorrent privilege. “I was so repulsed that I was struck with the thought: these people deserve to die,” he laughs, in recollection. “Well, at least in my fantasies.”

Changing the channel, Goldthwait came upon Arthur Penn's 1967 take on Bonnie And Clyde, in which the glamorous bandits were turned into counter-cultural rebels, gunning down The Man to the delight of the era's hippies. Thus, the two thoughts came together, and he typed up the screenplay for God Bless America as a Christmas present for his wife. “I'm a very romantic guy. And cheap.”

And so his film parodies the worst elements of American culture; especially obsessive about sports-talk radio and reality TV. “We never actually parodied it, we just replicated it,” Goldthwait corrects, laughing. It's comedy clearly seeing televised schadenfreude as a sign of an empire on the decline; humanity disappearing into oblivion.

“If this is where we're at in 2012, what will we be watching in five, ten years?” Goldthwait asks, rhetorically. “Which direction are we going: Ass: The Movie, or The Hunger Games? I'm horrified to find out. Because I don't consider myself a high-brow person at all; I am, in so many ways, completely lowbrow. Yet I'm so saddened by this shift in culture, the complete death of decency and shame.

“There's this huge, over-indulgent sense of entitlement amongst the current generation in the United States,” Goldthwait continues. “A buddy of mine teaches high-school in Colorado, and when he asked his students who their modern-day heroes were, all the girls wanted to be a Kardashian, and all the boys wanted to be a cast member of the Jersey Shore. There wasn't a smart kid or an apple-polisher who said anything different, it was all across the board. When he asked the kids why, they said: 'because they don't have to work'.”

Yet, God Bless America is no safe satire, but instead part of that hideous culture. It's impossible not to notice the film's 'anti-heroes' answer an All-American problem with that standard All-American solution: if you don't like someone —be they your high-school classmates or a foreign dictator— then shoot them. Their targets may be a liberal fantasy, but their actions carry conservative belligerence.

“My conservative friends have had far less of a problem with it than my liberal friends, because that's how they understand the world,” Goldthwait offers, of the film's political credentials. 'You don't like someone, you get a gun!' But liberal audiences are troubled by that violence, and that's what I wanted. If I wanted to just preach to the choir, I easily could've written the same kind of film just without all the guns.”

And what of the guns? How has a nation beholden to its Second Amendment reacted to a film filled with so much shooting? “There's people who are disappointed that their isn't more shooting!” Goldthwait cackles. “People really seem to be sad that the film isn't just 90 minutes of gunning down these awful human-beings who we can agree are just this disgusting part of modern American culture. I wasn't interested in making that movie; I wanted to make it all fall apart, so the responsibility for this fantasy fell back on the viewer, and people had to ask: am I part of this problem?”

Though maybe that sense of responsibility hasn't always been felt by the audience; most of whom seem to be in support of its cinematic bloodshed. “I read this comment on the web that genuinely shocked me,” Goldthwait offers. “Someone said 'I was 100% behind these two people until they called President Bush a hillbilly'. I love that that was the thing that lost them! I mean, you're 100% behind these [characters]? The feds should find that person and lock them up. People shouldn't be blindly on the side of these two when they're watching this movie, they should be horrified!'”