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AL MARTINEZ

Between Jonesboro and Springfield

June 02, 1998|AL MARTINEZ | Al Martinez's column appears Tuesday and Fridays

I saw an amazing movie the other day called "Paulie" about a parrot that is smart, funny and philosophical.

What's amazing about it is not that the parrot is cool and articulate but that not once during the movie does he cut anyone's throat, smash anyone's head in or blast anyone's face away with a 9-millimeter Baretta.

It's a kid's movie the way "Babe" was a kid's movie, a classy little fantasy that got me thinking about what Sy Gomberg and Lloyd Bochner told me a few days earlier, that it's possible to be good without being violent.

They do not say it quietly or kindly but with anger and passion, shouting out a window that they're madder than hell and not going to take it anymore, like Peter Finch in "Network."

What they're shouting about is what has happened to our kids in schools from Jonesboro, Ark., to Springfield, Ore.

They're shouting about 11 children and two teachers murdered since October and about 50 others who've been wounded.

They're shouting about the violence permeating a society that has become armed and dangerous. And in the sense that they're in an industry they hold partly responsible for the violence, they're blaming themselves.

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Gomberg is a writer and Bochner an actor with a total between them of about a century in show biz, including stage, screen and television.

I met with them after seeing an ad they produced in Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and the Writer's Guild publication "Written By." The ad asks: "How Responsible Are We?"

Its centerpiece illustration is a child in a coffin. The wording begins with a reference to the Jonesboro slaughter and goes on to say, "We who create entertainment must honestly acknowledge and urgently address the responsibility we all have to eliminate excessive or gratuitous or unpunished violence in films and television."

When I saw it I sang hosannas.

At last come a couple of guys within The Industry who have had it up to their kazoos with kids killing kids and adults killing kids and kids killing adults and adults killing each other, and any combination thereof.

Others in the business share their concerns. The ad lists the names of 180 writers, actors, producers and directors who sign themselves The Committee to End Violence.

It began with Bochner, a man in his 70s who has been in show biz since the age of 10. You'd recognize him from 2 1/2 years on the old "Dynasty" TV series and dozens of other movies and television shows.

Traumatized by the schoolyard killings and by an escalation of violence as "entertainment," he called upon Gomberg and writer Allan Manings to join him in creating the committee.

"Kids see shoot 'em or knock 'em down as solutions to problems," he said the other day. "Films and television increasingly have their plot resolutions in violence. By the time a child is 7 he can watch the worst kind of killings on TV and sit there eating potato chips. By 7 he's desensitized."

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Members of the film industry wrote in support of the ad, "As a mom, I am horrified. As an executive in the industry, I am just as horrified." "Bravo and overdue! Sign us up." "I am in complete agreement." "I blame Hollywood . . . for glorifying and immortalizing violence in every which way."

Bochner hastens to point out that their efforts are intended to avoid censorship rather than create it. "What we want is self-discipline and discretion, a recognition of individual responsibility within the industry."

He adds: "It's more and more a situation of, 'If that movie had three killings and made X amount of dollars, I'll make one with four killings and make more money!"'

They're in the process of putting together a forum of voices from both sides of the argument for and against industry self-discipline. Whether or not the attempt to "put the genie back in the bottle," as Gomberg says, is successful, I applaud the effort.

In "Paulie," the parrot observes the death of an old lady he loves by saying simply and sadly, "The cat got her." If the fires of violence aren't damped by an industry that celebrates gore, the cat's going to get us all.

Al Martinez's column appears Tuesday and Fridays. He can be reached online at al.martinez@latimes.com

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