Star Jodie Foster‘s statement strikes right to the core ofwhy Jonathan Kaplan’s The Accused is this year's most widely-discussed movie controversy: ‘What we're trying to do is make people aware of the consequences of rape. We want them to ask themselves the question whether there can ever be such a thing as a woman deserving to be raped.‘
Opening with the sight ofa dishevelled and distraught young woman ﬂeeing stricken from a local bar. The Accused follows the efforts ofvictim Sarah Tobias (Jodie Foster) and female attorney Katheryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis) to bring to justice both the attackers and then the bystanders who egged them on. In the course ofan extended courtroom passage come 1989s‘ most contentious screen moments to date. as the leading male witness Kenneth Joyce (Bernie Coulson) reconstructs the initial harrowing and repellent incident. when the drunken Sarah flirts provocatively with one of the bar-room‘s male denizens and is subsequently pinned down on top of a pinball machine and raped by four men in succession while a crowd of bystanders cheers encouragement.
Many have questioned whether the graphic depiction of such events is entirely necessary. and whether such a scene by its very nature offers a vicarious thrill or even an incitement to sexual violence itself. However. while it is difficult to answer both concerns with the most definite of negatives. in the film‘s favour it must be said that its attempts to bring home the full horror and longterm ramifications of the crime and so shake the audience from its voyeuristic complacency. are both responsibly executed and (largely thanks to Foster’s heartrending performance) suffused with the most affecting kind ofemotional credibility.
The actress herself maintains that the entirely sympathetic intentions ofTom Topor‘s well-argued screenplay always outweighed any possible hesitation over its explicit content. and she declares herself happy with director Kaplan's final edit ofthe sequence in question: ‘We shot five days‘ worth of footage to get as much coverage as possible. and that scene is cut with an attention to the minutest ofdetail in a way that I feel is very unexploitative and untitillating. It was obviously very difficult to do. but rewarding because we all knew it was such a good picture. No matter how painful the subject latter seemed. or how bruised or
uncomfortable you were getting while we were shooting -- and I include the crew in that because they suffered terribly too -- we all knew that we were doing something that was important socially.‘
To underline her point. the film closes with a couple of alarming statistics. In the United States of America a rape occurs every six minutes. One out ofevery four of those attacks involves two or more
After last year‘s much discussed Fara/Attraction. the same producers have just released a controversial film about rape. criticised in some quarters for its explicit content. But The Accused‘s star Jodie Foster firmly supports the film's uncompromising and provocative treatment ofan unpalatable issue.
Trevor Johnston reports.
Coming from producers Sherry Lansing and Stanley R. Jaffe who were also responsible for last year‘s FatalAttraction. a film that was the focus of much criticism for its portrayal of a single. sexually active career woman as a psychotic threat
development of the industry‘s treatment of female characters. and the progress of Jodie Foster's career is surely a case in point. A Hollywood veteran ofover twenty movies at only 26. her Seventies roles as child chanteuse in Allan Parker's Bugsy Malone and as a
to both the nuclear family and a husband's freedom to commit adultery. The Accused is
pubescent prostitute in Martin Scorsese‘s Taxi Driver (where her attempts to open Robert De Niro‘s ﬂies so she can fellate him undoubtedly provided one of the decade‘s most disturbing screen moments) aroused misgivings at the depiction ofa sexual allure in one so young.
These misgivings were partially confirmed when in 1980 a disturbed young neo-Nazi named John Hinckley shot President Reagan. citing his ‘love‘ for Jodie and an obsession with the Scorsese movie behind his Travis Bickle-inspired actions. Foster managed to survive the traumatic press furore that followed. and continued her degree studies at Yale. specialising in
thematically something of a welcome contrast in that it categorically affords the single woman the right to enjoy her own sexuality without automatically signalling the
Not an excuse for rape
surrender of her body to the nearest set ofmale genitalia. A wink and a low-cut dress. contrary to the opinion ofmembers ofthe British judiciary. does not under any circumstances invite or provide an excuse for rape.
Yet the fact that the same production team can release two movies in succession of radically differing sexual politics. is indicative of the somewhat stuttering
literary theory and successfully gained her BA. Yet fora young woman of such obvious intelligence and professional experience. there have latterly been some strange career choices. Like Mary Lambert‘s disastrous Spanish farrago Siesta. where she was curiously cast as a dissolute. sozzled English upper class airhead. Like Tony Bill's very weird Five ('orners. where she unaccountany spends much of her time being carried around in the arms of John 'I‘urturro's crazed ex-con. the man who preiously had been sent down for raping her.
Foster says that her criteria for selecting parts is that ‘I only pick films I want to see‘. but she still seems to retain a distinct penchant for the world-weary loser or downtrodden victim. the kind of contained female roles that are all too commonplace in our cultural iconography.
What‘s impressive about The Accused however. is that it goes all out to overturn our deep-rooted preconceptions about the value system behind such sexual and indeed social processes of pejorative definition/containment. As Sarah. working as a waitress. fond of a drink and an illicit smoke. cries to her educated. somewhat stuffy attorney: ‘You‘re not going to defend me because I‘m some lower class bimbo. right'." But. as Foster herselfis keen to point out. the film offers a sense of purpose and dignity to a character who might so easily go unregarded: ‘There's a lot more to Sarah Tobias than the fact that she happens to have been raped. This is in some ways a movie about judgement. We‘re all guilty. both men and women. ofcategorising the other. saying that this is valuable and this is not. Sarah is the type ofperson disvalued by our society. and marginalised by our culture. but she‘s instinctual and has real guts so she does have something to offer.‘
With a remarkable range that suggests the deepest reservoirs of determination. yet which also elicits our most profound sympathy (notably in her devastating courtroom testimony). Foster‘s remarkable performance has gained her a well-deserved Oscar nomination as Best Actress. Yet splendid acting included. the film as a whole attests to the familiar skill of Hollywood's highly developed narrative craftsmanship - its capacity for unobtrusively but effectively involving the head and the heart in the exposition of the most uncomfortable issues. ‘I really think that a political element in movies works best when it's the story.‘ Jodie observes. ‘not when it‘s big hammers over people‘s heads goingyou should think this. The thing that works is the fact that you care about people and you understand them.‘ The Accused opens at the Cannon, .S'atu'hiehall Street in Glasgo w. and the Edinburgh (.‘annon on February .34. See the film section for a full review and complete programme details.
10 The List 24 February —- 9 March