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.

Primitive London

Primitive London. Arnold L. Miller, 1965.
Edition screened: BFI Flipside Blu-ray #003, released 2009. English language. Runtime approximately 87 minutes.

Summary: Real footage from a chicken processing plant.

Details: The entire killing, cleaning, and packaging process is shown 1:07:25-1:11:12.

Immediately before the chicken processing sequence is a scene in a veterinary operating room where a goldfish has a very small section of bacterial growth cut from a fin (1:05:52-1:07:06). The fish is given anesthesia prior to the 1-second procedure, and other steps focused on the fish’s safety and comfort are demonstrated and explained. 

This segues to the chicken processing sequence, with workers in the plant neither intentionally cruel nor compassionate as the young chickens are removed from crates, placed on the conveyor chain, killed, plucked, and packaged for retail. The voice-over narration is unemotional but provides factual commentary that would be considered suspiciously compassionate, possibly un-American and terroristic, by today’s standards. The chickens “have never been out of their cramped cages, never felt the earth beneath their feet,” and the housewife seen buying the birds in a market is exposed as a “common predatory animal” rendered ineffectual and reduced to paying others to kill on her behalf.

The chicken processing sequence concludes with the commentary that while other foods have doubled in price, the cost of chicken has been cut in half due to modern methods. The message is unstated but clear: Those with excessive money can buy surgery for a 10-cent pet fish. Those with little money still can afford to eat chicken since the birds themselves compensate for low pricing with their short and terrible lives.

The BFI release of Primitive London also includes John Irvin’s then-controversial Carousella (1965) which dramatizes the lives of three young strippers, and we also get three interviews by Bernard Braden with participants in London’s strip club scene: club owner Al Burnett (1967, 18 minutes), club owner Stuart McCabe (1968, 16 minutes) and performer Shirley (1968, 6 minutes).

Primitive London is Arnold Miller’s follow-up to London in the Raw (1964), and is somewhat “less” in most ways, sometimes to its advantage. Less seedy, less diverse, and less oomph in general, but also less excruciating musical entertainment, and less time loitering pointlessly in restaurants.