Has Michael Medved single-handedly shamed Hollywood into cleaning up its act?
So one might conclude from the cover of last weekend's supplement carried by more than 400 newspapers, which showed a beaming Medved seated beneath posters for "Sleepless in Seattle," "Schindler's List" and "The Age of Innocence."
"On the eve of Monday's Oscars," the USA Weekend cover line proclaimed, "the critic who took on the movie industry says: 'Hollywood Got the Message'."
Medved, who reviews films for public television and the New York Post, contended in the article that filmmakers have "started to make a serious effort to reconnect with the values of ordinary Americans" in part because of the overwhelming public response to published excerpts from his controversial 1992 book, "Hollywood vs. America."
The book--widely criticized within the industry as simplistic and moralistic--attacked the notion that sex and violence sell tickets and accused the movie industry of engaging in self-destructive behavior by steadily increasing the percentage of R-rated releases.
As evidence that Hollywood is now buying his argument, Medved cites such 1993 PG-13-rated releases as "Jurassic Park" and "The Fugitive" and the PG-rated "The Age of Innocence." Praising "The Fugitive" for its restraint, he speculated that had the Oscar-nominated thriller "appeared a few years ago, it might well have been an R-rated bloodbath full of dismemberment and crude macho language."
Not so, according to Arnold Kopelson, the producer of "The Fugitive," which, like Medved's other examples, was in development years before "Hollywood vs. America" was published. " 'The Fugitive,' as it appeared on screen this past year, is precisely the film that we always intended it to be," Kopelson said through a spokeswoman.
He refrained from attacking Medved directly, but others did not. "I have never met a film critic who would so shamelessly suggest that his or her opinions influenced the direction of the film industry," said John Powers, who reviews movies for New York magazine. "The only film critic who thinks he has any power is Michael Medved."
Said Newsweek's David Ansen: "He's patting himself on the back and taking credit for something that I'm not sure has even occurred." Medved himself notes that in 1993, 61.2% of all rated films got an R--a 3% increase over 1991.
Both critics acknowledged that Hollywood is showing new interest in family films, but they said this trend was inspired more by studio executives' experiences raising children than by outside pressure. "They've wised up to the fact that there's an audience for these films," Ansen said.
In a telephone interview, Medved described himself as "one participant among many in the ongoing debate which has begun to shift the industry."
"The (headline) says 'Hollywood Got the Message.' It doesn't say, 'Hollywood Got My Message,' " he said. "I don't think there's any suggestion that I single-handedly changed things. I was just one of many voices raised in this cause over a long period of time."