Heads Up, Ears Down

This blog accurately identifies depictions of violence and cruelty toward animals in films. The purpose is to provide viewers with a reliable guide so that such depictions do not come as unwelcome surprises. Films will be accurately notated, providing a time cue for each incident along with a concise description of the scene and perhaps relevant context surrounding the incident. In order to serve as a useful reference tool, films having no depictions of violence to animals will be included, with an indication that there are no such scenes. This is confirmation that the films have been watched with the stated purpose in mind.


Note that the word depictions figures prominently in the objective. It is a travesty that discussions about cruelty in film usually are derailed by the largely unrelated assertion that no animals really were hurt (true only in some films, dependent upon many factors), and that all this concern is just over a simulation. Not the point, whether true or false. We do not smugly dismiss depictions of five-year-olds being raped because those scenes are only simulations. No, we are appalled that such images are even staged, and we are appropriately horrified that the notion now has been planted into the minds of the weak and cruel.


Depictions of violence or harm to animals are assessed in keeping with our dominant culture, with physical abuse, harmful neglect, and similar mistreatment serving as a base line. This blog does not address extended issues of animal welfare, and as such does not identify scenes of people eating meat or mules pulling plows. The goal is to itemize images that might cause a disturbance in a compassionate household.


These notes provide a heads-up but do not necessarily discourage watching a film because of depicted cruelty. Consuming a piece of art does not make you a supporter of the ideas presented. Your ethical self is created by your public rhetoric and your private actions, not by your willingness to sit through a filmed act of violence.

Padre Padrone

Padre Padrone (My Father My Master). Paolo & Vittorio Taviani, 1977.
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Edition screened: Included in the Cohen Blu-ray set The Taviani Brothers Collection, released 2016. Sardinian and Italian languages with English subtitles. Runtime approximately 117 minutes.

Summary: Torture and murder of animals.

Details:
1) A poisonous snake is sought out and killed, 19:30-19:40, then used as a whip through 19:57.
2) A sheep is physically mistreated 28:30-28:50 and again 29:50-30:30. 
3) Implication of a donkey being sexually abused, 31:00-31:13.
4) Vague depiction of chickens being sexually abused, more weird than graphic, 31:13-31:34.
5) A lamb’s throat is slit at 38:55, and dead lambs are seen through 39:45.
6) A lamb is clubbed to death, 47:55-48:15.

The Taviani brothers share Bertolucci’s excusatory misconception that brutality and indifference to brutality bring waves of warm nostalgia for those earlier, better days. 

Paranormal Activity 2

Paranormal Activity 2. Tod Williams, 2010.
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Edition screened: Included in Paramount’s Paranormal Activity: 3-Movie Collection Blu-ray set, released 2012. English language. Runtime approximately 91 minutes.


Summary: No depictions of violence or harm to animals.

Paranormal Activity 3

Paranormal Activity 3. Henry Joost and Christopher Landon, 2011.
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Edition screened: Included in Paramount’s Paranormal Activity: 3-Movie Collection Blu-ray set, released 2012. English language. Runtime approximately 83 minutes.


Summary: No depictions of violence or harm to animals.

People Apart

People Apart. Guy Brenton, 1957.
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Edition screened: Included in the BFI 4-DVD set Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-War Britain 1951-1977, released 2013. English language. Runtime approximately 36 minutes.

Summary: No depictions of violence or harm to animals.


An educational documentary about about epilepsy, especially its diverse manifestations and severities. 

People of the Mountains

People of the Mountains (Emberek a havason). István Szőts, 1942.
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Edition screened: Second Run DVD #110, released 2016. Hungarian language with English subtitles. Runtime approximately 88 minutes.

Summary: A horse is killed.

Details: Two horses hitched to a logging wagon are beaten, starting at 23:13. The wagon turns over onto the horses crushing and killing at least one of them. We see a final image of the dead horse under the wagon and its load at 23:53.

There are no special effects here, and this horrible incident is very real. It is one of several scenes showing that the horses are treated badly by the logging company. I presume this might have been a genuine accident during filming, and the atrocious consequents were kept as a detail in the film.

People, Productivity and Change

People, Productivity and Change. Peter Bradford, 1963.
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Edition screened: Included in the BFI 4-DVD set Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-War Britain 1951-1977, released 2013. English language. Runtime approximately 44 minutes.

Summary: No depictions of violence or harm to animals.


An intelligent if plodding look at the dynamic between productivity and worker relations.

A Perfect Child of Satan

A Perfect Child of Satan. Lucifer Valentine, 2012.
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Edition screened: Included in MVD/Unearthed Films 4-DVD set The Vomit Gore Trilogy, released 2012. English language. Runtime approximately 21 minutes.

Summary: No depictions of violence or harm to animals.

This fourth disc in the DVD set also includes several cast interviews and two short films featuring vocal performance by Ameara LaVey.


Peter Rabbit and the Crucifix

Peter Rabbit and the Crucifix. Anthony Dominici, 2001.

Edition screened: On-line video. English language. Runtime approximately 13 minutes.
Summary: A rabbit is kicked, injured, and euthanized.

Details:
1) At 0:45, a little boy kicks his white rabbit after an accidental bite. The camera does not show the actual impact, real or simulated.
2) Discussion of euthanasia, before and after the process.

One-sentence summaries say that Peter Rabbit and the Crucifix is about a young child dealing with guilt. Indeed, he kicked the family’s pet rabbit, caused its death, and did not fess up when the rabbit mysteriously became unwell and needed to be euthanized. But there is much more to discuss.

An overt lesson is that animals are extremely delicate and cannot serve as targets for outbursts of aggression. All the children in the film are essentially good kids who loved their rabbit. The youngest one lashed out impulsively, the consequences were lethal, and he feels appropriately terrible.

Films made with socially didactic points are notoriously horrible, usually no better than Patch the Pony. While not as aesthetically inspiring as Ramin Bahrani’s short film Plastic Bag (2009, strongly recommended), Peter Rabbit and the Crucifix addresses and corrects numerous social hurdles surrounding animal welfare. Some of these, without ruining the story:

Financial prioritization: While not destitute, the family is short on money and nervous about their financial stability. Even a small purchase at a yard sale requires careful consideration. None the less, the pet’s medical needs are a top priority and the rabbit is rushed to the veterinarian as soon as it is noticed that something is wrong. This stands in sharp contrast to many real pet owners who prioritize beer-and-cigarette money over their pet’s health. Companion animals are allowed to die horrible deaths with no intervention and no pain management while their owners stand around drinking expensive coffee from paper cups and explaining on their cell phones that they don’t have any money.

Hierarchy of concern: The pet in this film is a rabbit, one of the most typically neglected domestic animals. Our culture values companion animals based on purchase price and physical size, rather than on the fact that they all are living entities that feel pain and have emotions. There is wide-spread public outrage if a horse is murdered. There is extreme grief and anger if a dog is killed intentionally or accidentally. It is hard to find genuine concern if a cat is maimed or killed. Pet rabbits and other rodents are commonly turned outside with the false assertion that “it’ll be ok, it eats grass” when in fact it will die in a few days. Reptiles and amphibians suffer unspeakable neglect. It is important that we see a rabbit’s health treated seriously. We expect a film to create a big fuss over a Labrador Retriever with a broken leg, and viewer empathy is immediate. But baseline care to a rabbit brings a much-needed slap in the face to most viewers.

Integration with religion: The family is very religious. Not in the creepy way so often presented in film, but in a warm, intelligent way that reminds us that Christianity can and should help us to be better people. Part of the good ethical conduct that constitutes our spiritual lives is taking care of things outside of our jobs and hobbies, such as caring for domesticated creatures unable to care for themselves who have entrusted their lives to a human family. Peter Rabbit and the Crucifix is filled with intelligent, contemplative religious imagery, including a surprise at the end that manages to bring some secular humor about religion without sacrilege. 

This video is available here


Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil's Son-In-Law

Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil's Son-In-Law. Cliff Roquemore, 1977.
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Edition screened: Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray, released 2016. English language. Runtime approximately 99 minutes.

Summary: No depictions of violence or harm to animals.


This was less horrible than The Human Tornado.

The Phantom of Liberty

The Phantom of Liberty (Le Fantôme de la liberté). Luis Buñuel, 1974.
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Edition screened: Criterion DVD #290, released 2005. French language with English subtitles. Runtime approximately 104 minutes.

Summary: Shooting of a bird.

Details: The Celebrity Sniper shoots random people and also apparently a pigeon that falls from the sky at 1:17:36. A woman retrieves the bird, through 1:17:46. Not graphic.

The Phantom of the Opera (Fisher)

The Phantom of the Opera. Terence Fisher, 1962.
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Edition screened: Included in Universal Blu-ray set Hammer Horror: 8-Film Collection, released 2016. English language. Runtime approximately 85 minutes.

Summary: No particular depictions of violence or harm to animals.

Phoenix

Phoenix. Christian Petzold, 2014.
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Edition screened: Criterion Blu-ray #809, released 2016. English and German language with English subtitles. Runtime approximately 98 minutes.


Summary: No depictions of violence or harm to animals.

Physical Attraction/Classical Romance

Physical Attraction/Classical Romance. Richard Mailer, 1984.
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Edition screened: Vinegar Syndrome DVD Peekarama: Physical Attraction/Classical Romance, released 2016. English language. Cumulative runtime approximately 173 minutes.

Summary: No depictions of violence or harm to animals in either feature.

Physical Attraction, 1984, approximately 87 minutes.
 — Turns out, a physical attraction is a pretty dull experience and not as terrifying as the cover image.

Classical Romance, 1984, approximately 86 minutes.
 — Turns out, a classical romance is a pretty dull affair and not as hilarious as the cover image.

Picnic (Harrington)

Picnic. Curtis Harrington, 1948.
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Edition screened: Included on Flicker Alley Blu-ray The Curtis Harrington Short Film Collection, released 2013. Scored with no dialogue track. Runtime approximately 22 minutes.


Summary: No depictions of violence or harm to animals.

Picture to Post

Picture to Post. Sarah Erulkar, 1969.
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Edition screened: Included in the BFI 4-DVD set Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-War Britain 1951-1977, released 2013. English language. Runtime approximately 23 minutes.

Summary: No depictions of violence or harm to animals.


A study of three artists as they prepare original artwork for postal stamps.