Salva and the Media

CRITICS DWELL ON DIRECTOR’S CRIMINAL PAST

September 18, 2003

Arts & Entertainment Page: 1E

BY GLENN LOVELL

Mercury News

Many reviews of ”Jeepers Creepers 2,” the fright film by Victor Salva that’s been among this month’s top money-makers, went out of their way to remind readers that the 45-year-old director from Martinez is a ”convicted child molester,” triggering a debate as to whether it’s appropriate to mention an artist’s past in appraising his work.

Critics should review ”only what’s on screen,” insists one of the film’s executive producers. Salva’s criminal past is relevant, counter some members of the press, because his recent horror films deal with boys as young as 12 being systemically stalked and harvested.

”It’s a naked exploitation of Salva’s own inner disturbances,” argues critic Jami Bernard of the New York Daily News. ”He’s just rubbing our noses in the very crime he committed, and I find that offensive.”

Entertainment writers in Chicago, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and Sacramento also went out of their way to attribute ”Jeepers Creepers 2,” the $17 million sequel to the 2001 horror hit, to a ”convicted child molester.” Salva was arrested in 1988 for having sex with the 12-year-old Concord boy who starred in his first feature, ”Clownhouse.”

The tabloid nature of some of the ”Jeepers Creepers 2” reviews didn’t hurt the box office: The relatively low-budget film has grossed an impressive $37 million to date and stands to clean up when it returns on DVD and VHS.

In one of the toughest reviews, Bernard called the film ”a metaphor for child abuse.” The real horror of ‘Jeepers Creepers 2′,” she added, ”is that its familiar theme of savoring tender young flesh is serving as Salva’s post-prison therapy.”

Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel wrote that Salva, best known for ”Powder,” probably is too talented for exploitation horror — ”but this is all that Hollywood will let convicted child molesters do.”

Calling it exploitation

An anonymous column in the Chicago Tribute concluded: ”When there’s money to be made, you can bet Hollywood will be lining up the convicted child molesters to give it a whirl.”

Valid criticism? Or cheap shots that encroach upon Salva’s civil liberties? After all, the director has, in his own words, ”done my time . . . paid restitution” by serving 19 months of a three-year sentence. (He was released from Soledad Prison in 1989.) Hasn’t he earned the right to practice his craft without being hounded by the media?

Three years ago, in an interview with this reporter, Salva acknowledged, ”It’s something I have to deal with for the rest of my life, unless the press says, ‘Hey, we did that. It’s old news’ . . . It’s just my cross to bear.”

Francis Ford Coppola and Bobby Rock, the film’s executive producers, remain staunch supporters of Salva. Still, they were resigned to critics dredging up the filmmaker’s past, says Rock. ”Unfortunately, it’s something that stays with you. . . . The film did very well at the box office — that’s all that matters to us.”

”It’s very clear,” says Bernard, ”that Salva identifies with his demon,” a winged gargoyle called the Creeper, ”who singles out pretty boys for particular body parts. Salva is finding a way to be with young boys, to be near them. He can’t hang around the school yard, but he can cast them in his movies. I hope their mothers are on the set.”

If a rapist made a salacious movie about rape, Bernard argues, critics would be on the attack — ”and for good reason.”

Salva is a talented filmmaker, she adds, but, because of the genre he has staked out, he is bringing much of the negative press on himself. ”I’m not saying he shouldn’t work in movies. But I do find it offensive that these films are true metaphors for what he served prison time for.”

Rock grimaced when he read Bernard’s review. ”She didn’t really review the movie,” he says.

He adds that he ”doesn’t want to get religious,” but that he can’t help but remember Jesus’ advice to ”those who are without sin.” ”We all have demons; we all have something to hide,” he says. ”I suppose Jami has no demons in her closet.”

Media responsibilities

And where do media watchdogs stand on the issue? Bob Steele, co-author of ”Doing Ethics in Journalism” and a teacher at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., says coverage hinges on relevancy: Is there a direct connection between the person’s criminal history and the issue at hand?

”If the product, in this case a movie, has any connection to the director’s criminal background, then there is a possibility of relevancy,” he says. ”It’s problematic, however, if we merely drop in ‘convicted child molester’ as part of an identification and leave it at that. If we believe it’s relevant, we have an obligation to help the reader understand the relevancy.”

Salva was contacted but opted to ”remain silent” on the issue.

”I can’t speak for Victor, but he hasn’t expressed anger to me about the reviews,” says Rock. ”I can tell you that he’s very open about his past. He meets his demons head-on.”

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