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Film, Street Violence Has Brits Talking : Culture: Three recent killings left the country in shock. Now many Britons see a connection between violence and the brutality in some movies, TV and videos.


LONDON — Blame it on the movies.

That's a summary of the mood currently dominating Britain, in relation to a spate of violent crimes.

Three recent incidents intensified it:

* Two-year-old Jamie Bulger was killed after allegedly being abducted from a mall while he shopped with his mother in a butcher's shop. Two boys are charged with Jamie's murder.

* A man gunned down in a London street and robbed of the equivalent of 40 cents.

* The murder of a partially sighted woman of 70 allegedly by two teen-age girls high on drugs and alcohol.

About 3 million people here are unemployed, homelessness is on the increase and education and health systems are under-funded. Yet the major topic of discussion here in the last week has been whether there's a link between the upsurge in violent crime and the brutality of some movies, TV and videos.

Prime Minister John Major has warned of the effects on young people of "a relentless diet" of screen violence. A Times of London editorial claims there is "growing unanimity about the dangers of a popular culture steeped in sadism." Actor Michael Caine reportedly agreed that screen violence is "definitely related" to a perceived increase in crime, and suggested video stores should be licensed. Anthony Hopkins professed concern that children of 12 have watched "Silence of the Lambs," and even aroused speculation that he might not reprise his Hannibal Lecter role in the film's planned sequel.

(Jeremy Conway, Anthony Hopkins' agent, said last week his client's comments had been "blown out of all proportion. . . . While 'Silence of the Lambs' was creepy, there was no violence in it," he said. "The book of the sequel has not even been written, and I doubt if the film would be made before 1995. But if the sequel is of some quality, (Hopkins) will probably do the film.")


With perfect timing, the broadsheet London Sunday Times, the Times of London's sister newspaper, has serialized extracts from "Hollywood vs. America," the book by American film critic Michael Medved that argues that Hollywood makes a preponderance of violent movies against the public's wishes. Extracts from Medved's book have run in the Sunday Times for the last five weeks, starting before the alarming crime wave.

Medved's work has become a vital text for those who would blame Britain's ills on movies. The debate reached fever pitch last week when he arrived in Britain to promote the book.

The Sunday Times commandeered a West End theater for an evening to stage a "film forum" on the topic. Eighteen-hundred people showed up at the Dominion to hear Medved; so many wanted to get in that lines formed on the sidewalk outside, and the evening started half-an-hour late.

Medved was warmly applauded by a majority of the audience as he hailed what he called "the four lies" used by Hollywood to defend its movie and TV output--"It's just entertainment," "We just reflect society," "We give the public what it wants" and "If you don't like it, turn it off."

"I'm opposed to censorship, but we need a more responsible motion-picture mix," he said.

He was rebutted by a panel including Michael Winner, director of three vigilante-themed "Death Wish" films; BBC-TV's Barry Norman, Britain's best-known film critic; Josephine Hart, author of the novel "Damage," recently adapted as a movie; and David Puttnam, the British independent producer and former head of Columbia Pictures.

Winner, who was booed and heckled by some audience members, said Medved belonged to "the Dan Quayle school of media analysis"--his thesis was "comparable to blaming the L.A. riots on 'Murphy Brown.' " Norman disagreed with Medved, but urged filmmakers to employ self-restraint. Citing a scene from last year's "Cape Fear," in which Robert De Niro bit a lump out of a woman's cheek, Norman asked: "Was that really necessary?" He called Anthony Hopkins "naive" for being surprised that 12-year-olds had been watching the video "Silence of the Lambs."


Hart agreed that "the pornography of violence is aesthetically revolting," but that violence was a staple of drama going back to Greek tragedy. Of Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus," she said: "It makes 'Silence of the Lambs' look tame." Puttnam thought the debate was about the media as a whole; when it came to lurid topics, he said, there was "nothing Hollywood can teach the British tabloid press."

Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil, who moderated the forum, said the next day that the link between popular culture and crime had become "the issue of the day."

"I can't remember a series of articles more quoted, referred to, or which inspired such a debate," he added. Four pages of the broadsheet paper this weekend were devoted to readers' letters on the topic, the majority siding with Medved.

Neil agreed that the serialization of Medved's book "couldn't have come at a better time, what with this outbreak of crime in Britain. As a result, Michael's book is having a far bigger impact than it did in the United States."

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