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So while sitting on several half-finished blog entries, I somehow can’t can’t bother myself to complete any of them. I keep trying to work this in, which just doesn’t fit, but I’ll try to fit it under the general category of “what’s inspiring me now”, so bear with me.

Last weekend I watched The Intruder. A Roger Corman film, it takes place in a small southern town just as it’s about to go through desegregation. It stars a very young Bill Shatner (it’s black and white, if that gives you any idea of how young – it was made in 1962). Shatner plays Adam Cramer, who comes into town to argue against government ordered desegregation, and encourage the townspeople to fight against it. 

As Cramer goes about his business, thanks to his charisma (and Shatner does a great job of conveying why a such a despicable character has such sway with people), the white townspeople turn to violence and things quickly get out of Cramer’s control. While made for reasonably small $$$ (about $80k), the movie took an incredibly timely look at an issue tearing the country up.

Corman is often hailed as the king of indie film. He lists this film in particular as being one of his favorites, because it looked at issues that were deeply affecting society. As Corman notes in an interview on the DVD, even if not discussed as widely, these issues are still problems today (upon researching some of the links for the post, I even came across this bit about modern schools having again become as segregated as they were in the late 60’s).

To make the film as true to life (and to cut costs as well), they filmed in a small southern town and used a lot of the townsfolk as actors. The character of Joey Greene (played by Charles Barnes), one of the black students integrated into the white school, was from the area and had actually gone through integration a year before. Corman directed him not to act, but just to go back to his own experiences.

There’s one scene where Cramer gives a incredibly racist speech to the town. Corman actually had filmed crowd reactions first, over Shatner’s shoulder, while he gesticulated without talking – supposedly because his voice was hoarse. After the crowd left, they then filmed Shatner’s speech. Thoughout the making the film, Corman was afraid of actual violence breaking out, even go so far as to circulate a toned down script to the town to get approval for filming there.

In another even more potent scene, the white townspeople drive in a parade to the black church, some dressed in Klan robes. They bring a cross that they plant in front of the church, and Shatner lights it. The violent imagery is a part of how the film conveys the way most of the town gets swept up in the violence. There’s a certain uncommon honesty in the treatment of the otherwise non-violent white townsfolk reaching the point of attacking black families and even a white supporter of desegregation, leading to a final confrontation over Greene being accused of having raped a white girl.

The entire film, not just the scene with cross, is almost unpleasant to watch in its honesty – but completely gripping nonetheless. I don’t know, maybe I’m weird, that this is the sort of topic for a movie I find entertaining. And I often wonder what it will take for indie games to reach a point where creators are comfortable taking such risks (in case of the film’s cast & crew, even the risk of actual physical harm). 

Meanwhile… Clive Thompson thinks indie games are exploding (via GSW). Chris Dahlen of Save the Robot comments further, saying he’d like to see indie games that become mainstream successes. But he asserts that gamers don’t want “edgy” content, and non-gamers are appalled by it (the latter may be true, but the former only arguably).

As Corman found out, discussing an issue like this doesn’t necessarily rake in the cash. While the film one several awards, it fell just short of making money, coming close to breaking even. In fact, he often said it was the only movie of his that didn’t make money, almost as a point of pride. (Interestingly, after being released on video 40 years later, it did finally break even and then some – how’s that for a long tail?)

Still though, does all that mean it’s not worth doing? You know, people are not going to set out to try understand any work of art that tries to tell you some that you may not like about yourself, or society. And therefore people may not pay for it. Doesn’t make it any less valuable. Doesn’t mean you can’t try to frame it a convincing manner, either – although breaking even isn’t such a horrible fate for something like this, but even that takes ingenuity in production.

As a corollary, I suppose we may see more of this when there’s a developer who is capable of Corman’s vastly repeatable  financial successes (although perhaps not vast individually), having made over 400 films. Also, turns out I’m not the only one that thinks Corman is an interesting model for an indie game maker.

2 Responses to Burning Crosses (in indie games?)

  • Suzie says:

    I think it’s always been an issue in art – the people who push boundaries, or make ‘uncomfortable’ products are often not rewarded commercially. Hence the ‘starving artist’. Of course, in history people had sponsors – nowadays artists can apply for grants. But it’s not an easy position to be in, and there’s no guarantees. Indie developers face that same problem, though with the advent of the internet it is at least easier to get work noticed outside your own town or country.

  • Borut says:

    Certainly – but, like with Corman, is there some sort of balance to be had (as a developer making games & trying to make a statement at the same time), between making some projects that are more explotative (say, Death Race 2000), and ones that have something more meaningful to say (The Intruder, Wild Angels, The Trip)?