Monday, February 4, 2008

John Landis commentary: Vic Morrow Died Edition

Portrait of an artist nonplussed by memories of mutilated Asians

I recently finished Outrageous Conduct, the story of director John Landis on trial for the accidental deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two Vietnamese children on the set of The Twilight Zone: The Movie. Here is a thorough, free and lengthy online piece detailing the incident.

Essentially, the prosecution got too cocky and made Landis & Co. look like sympathetic figures. The really damning evidence is the fact that Landis allowed the filming to happen without telling the parents that their kids would be around helicopters, AND that they shot in Florida to get around tougher safety restrictions in Cali. Coupled with testimony that Landis and the other producers were actually joking about the illegality of their actions, this should've been an open-and-shut manslaughter case.

You can't spell manslaughter without LAUGHTER, and John Landis has given us so many laughs over the's that for a segue? It's perfectly legitimate to venture that the celebrity factor saved him from the noose. The jury didn't know who he was, but if he's a director on the production of The Twilight Zone The Movie, the prestige is self-evident. I loved hearing the guy talk about horror movies in the great IFC documentary and all, but his jovial personality makes his negligence a lot easier to understand: high on the Brat Pack ethos that everything must be sacrificed for your film, damn the rules, you take more chances. He's probably lucky he didn't kill anyone during the many car crashes of The Blues Brothers, if he considered throwing heavy machinery around akin to throwing food around the set of Animal House.

There's nothing wrong with that ethos until you're literally endangering people's lives. Landis was giddy about being a bad boy of filmmaking, like so many directors, and he felt an immunity to the very idea that anything would go wrong during a life-threatening stunt. Afterwards, when the body parts were strewn about, he felt an immunity from responsibility - it was some technician who didn't push the right button at the right time. Well, who hired that guy? And was it this one lowly technician's decision to be illegally filming the scene in the first place?

The buck doesn't stop below the line, you piece of slime. One of the worst aspects of American culture is our unspoken assumption that anyone in entertainment is above the law, and though Landis' manslaughter isn't as despicable as when a celebrity drunkenly kills someone with their car instead of being driven home - if you're a fucking MOVIE STAR who can afford CHAUFFEURS, why drive yourself ANYWHERE? - the thought of a director being even the least bit reckless with the lives of people who've entrusted their safety to him is abhorrent.

John Landis deserves no one's sympathies for whatever problems his manslaughter brought his career. There is nothing more glib than the affectation that an entertainer's work justifies their exoneration from justice, an instant free pass for redemption. Michael Jackson lives off that shit. He breathes it like oxygen.

The logical conclusion of such reasoning is that entertainment is as important than life itself, or more. Let that callousness only be spouted by art students who think frivolousness ennobles them.


Steven Finch, Attorney At Law said...

You--the world, really--seem to be letting co-producer Steven Spielberg off the hook, who supposedly was on the scene at the time and left before the police arrived. It's a pretty shameful act in and of itself, but it's peculiar how people seem to overlook that he was co-producer, and as such is responsible, too, through negligence in not keeping a closer eye on his production, not putting his foot down when things were getting out of control--surely he should share some responsibility.

Landis--who directed the segment, hired the children, ordered the chopper to fly lower--is clearly the person mainly responsible, but he's certainly not solely responsible. But we all turn a blind eye when it comes to Spielberg for some reason. Maybe people just don't want to think that the person who brought us that lovable scamp E.T. could be responsible for something so hideous. Meanwhile, Landis directs horror and raunchy comedies, so it's okay to hate him; he must have something sick and depraved going on in his head.

Karen N. said...

Had he been charged with something lesser, Landis wouldn't have gone free. He should've been found guilty of at least something. And I'm a Landis fan.

But don't you worry. He'll be having nightmares forever.

jazzlers said...

i've always admired john landis.
i've found his movies to be funny, entertaining & highly watchable (apart from OSCAR).
it is blatantly obvious that he risked the lives of these three people for the sake of his perfect shot & an ego obsessed attempt to make a superior segment for a collaboratted movie.
this horrendous & awful tragedy is something he'll have to live with for the rest of his life.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody know if Vic had any thoughts about running for office?


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but in retrospect--though I was a kid at the time, I cannot understand how this douchebag got off. Oh, I get what happened, how, and so on. I don't get why we have been and continue to allow people to get over because we perceive that they are somehow above the law--exonerating them without any facts--while quickly condemning others to prison because we perceive them to be of no use to our society--again, without all the facts. This sort of thing makes me want to throw up on the shoes and robes of all the corrupt judges in America, symbolically if not literally.

Astrangeworld said...

I was 10 at the time, and remember where and when I heard the tragic news: it was a Saturday afternoon and I heard it on the car radio as my mother was driving us home from the local shopping mall. Although I was an avid television watcher and knew most actors, I had never even heard of Vic Morrow until the news story. This tragedy is one of the most depressing Hollywood accident stories not only because of three deaths, and the poor little children wrangled into this disaster and who wouldn't have had the slightest idea what was about to lead to their deaths. What makes it most depressing is that every photo I see of Landis is of him with this big shit-eating grin on his face. It's not my place to judge, although I feel the same way as anonymous on this one about what seems to be an injustice. Maybe Karen N is right and he is paying even though the snarky smirk seems to be a gentle middle finger to the justice system.

Actually, the original post inaccurately describes how the tragic scene was filmed in Florida to skirt the child labor laws. Landis wasn't even THAT concerned about dotting "i' s and crossing 't' - the scene was filmed in California, and Landis well knew that using the children after hours and paid under the table was illegal. I understand that the reason why Landis and cohorts were not charged with violating labor laws was that these were misdemeanor charges that would warrant a few days in jail, and the prosecution did not want the jury to have the option of a light charge with a miniscule sentence.

As awful as it was for Vic Morrow, at least he was more aware of the consequences and risks after having worked on Combat! All I can think of is those two innocent little children. From what I read, they were excited about the opportunity of appearing in the movie, and the little boy sang in a children's choir. Landis and company sought them out; they weren't seeking fame. Landis' part should have been cut entirely. I was amazed years later that this segment is included in the film. The smirk on Landis' face makes me think that his only regret is that the camera did not capture crushed body, and the decaptitations.

Eyewitness reports from the memorials was that Landis crashed all three, and gave an incoherent plug for his film at Morrow's funeral, trying to put on a spin on the tragedy that Vic Morrow had died for a valiant cause; considering that Morrow is supposed to have thought that the film was no good, it's fortunate for Landis that Morrow was dead and could not contradict his callous disregard.

How ironic that Landis scripted the line “I’ll keep you safe, kids. I promise. Nothing will hurt you, I swear to God.” (it's been a few years since I have seen it so I do not know if it is included in the finished picture)

But as far as Spielberg is concerned, I think his ability to evade the pressure was that from what I have read, it is not conclusive that he was at the scene after the accident but before the authorities arrived.

R.I.P. Vic Morrow, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen.

Zía Marie said...

Woahhh.. I agree with the Landis hate - but WHY did you have to throw Michael Jackson in there!?

It seems you have not quite gotten a glimpse behind the media curtain..

There's a huge difference between those two - wich you'd know if you'd have examined the last decades of news & gossip history and how it works.

Landis, like Spielberg was a Popstar of a filmmaker - almost all of their movies were huge guaranteed successes. So the Hollywood Mafia got him off - I can guarantee you that, and I too wished they'd have gotten them on lesser charges.. Simply because Landis is f*ckin batsHit crayzay - I don't know if he got in a mental downward spiral after that.. but from observation - I think he was already gone before, and also didn't just become a sociopath AFTER the fact ... I think that because he showed like it was said before - no signs of remorse, responsibility or toned his ego down..

Eddie Murphy gave a rolling stone interview that did not shock me one bit.. It told of altercations with Landis & that he thought the world owed him.

Though it was Eddie putting his reputation on the line for having Landis hired. And I still don't know if Michael hiring Landis for Thriller was just a coincidence but he owes them both .. BIG TIME.

In exonerating Landis they let a guy go who is crazy on every fucking level and I'm GLAD he never again got the chance to film risky stuff.

If I was to count the lies John Landis is spreading in countless interviews for movie sites no one has ever heard of & when he's invited to speak at film schools .. its so outrageous - I'd be here all day listing this shit.

So if anybody reads this.. Google the Interview where Eddie Murphy talks about Landis.

My favourite anecdote was Landis reassuring Eddie:
" You can't tell me shit. . I told MJ to f*ck himself"

And to make it clear:

What goes for America at large also goes for Hollywood. .. If you're white/jewish they try to give you a pass.. If you're black, they're gonna be extra suspicious of you ...

FYI - MJ was accused of a 'molestation' he wasn't even in his house for when it happened.

When they first wanted to extort him in 1993, the father of the boy was recorded by the step father saying " everything is going according to a plan, that isn't just mine "

One TV channel showed that... ONCE .

See - but that's how it goes.
For the sake of the machinery.. certain truths are sweaped under the carpet.. Some people have to bleed for them.. Some people need to remain their status..

If you're lucky - they let you off the hook.
If you have a soul.. The pain, shame anger .. of what you did is enough punishment -

Sean Penn tied up Madonna and beat the shit out of her way before Chris Brown. John Lennon was a wife beater too. Rebecca Gayheart killed a kid with her car. Some 80ies hairband rocker even said the fact that he got away with DUI was f*cked up ...

I mean there are some people who's work I like..
so this is not gratification. . its supposed to make one think.

And apart from Landis & Polanski. ..

Most have learned their lesson.

I hope.

Tham said...

These murderers, including Spielberg, got away scott-free because
the two kids were Asian.

Imagine the bombshell and about-turn of the verdict if they had been white.

NKent805 said...

Yes, I agree with that summation. Can you imagine if it was Drew Barrymore and the boy who played Elliott on E.T? I doubt he would of even Attempted putting them in that level of Danger.

Unknown said...

There are so many mistakes, misguided assumptions and just plain wrong information in the original blog and the responses. Spielberg was NOT at the scene of the accident. The scene was NOT shot in Florida. This thread shows just how misinformed people can be yet express opinions without responsibility.

For the record, I do believe the Landis should have been liable for the accident, but if you really wanted to know what happened, read (actually READ) OUTRAGEOUS CONDUCT and SPECIAL EFFECTS.