We Spoke to a Psychologist About How Hollywood Portrays Mental Illness
Look at any classic horror film—Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Shining—and you’re likely to find mental illness. It’s a convenient, if inaccurate, explanation for the maniacal violence that makes up the backbone of these stories. But in most films portraying mental illness, especially violent and bloody horror films, real life pathology is willfully abandoned in favor of melodramatic storytellling. At best, it’s lazy; at worst, it publicly and repeatedly demonizes the people who need the most help. In a recent article I wrote about the mentally ill being killed in disproportionate numbers by police, many people commented along the lines of “Well, of course, they’re much more dangerous,” which anybody working in mental health can tell you is not only untrue, but is the direct result of the media’s focus on a fictitious link between mental illness and violence.
VICE: How do you think mental illness is generally represented in film? Dr. Danny Wedding: I mean, slasher films like Friday the 13th, films that portray people with mental illness as homicidal maniacs, those are pretty awful, and there are a lot of myths still being portrayed in films. But at the same time, there are many major films that do a surprisingly good job, and it’s becoming increasingly common for directors and producers to hire psychologists and psychiatrists as consultants.
What about the connection between violence and mental illness? Yeah, perhaps the most common myth is that people with mental illness are dangerous and violent, and the evidence is very clear that somebody with a disease like schizophrenia is far more likely to be the victim of violence than to be the perpetrator of violence. People with mental illness, homeless people who you see on the street typically, they are victims. They’re robbed, they’re raped, they’re murdered, but they’re not robbers, rapists, and murderers. Usually when violence occurs, it occurs with family members, it doesn’t involve strangers, and usually involves people who are mentally ill and abusing drugs or alcohol.
Do you think that people like yourself—psychologists—are also misrepresented? Yes, but it’s getting better. There are a number of recurring motifs. Sometimes mental health professionals are presented as being incompetent and buffoons… Did you see the movie What About Bob?
Actually I just watched that recently. With Bill Murray? Yeah, right. I think it’s a great movie, but Richard Dreyfuss plays a psychologist and he’s kind of bumbling and incompetent, and I think there’s a lot of humor, but often times therapists are portrayed as looking foolish, looking silly, and not having much to offer. Sometimes, in movies like Hitchcock’s Psycho, they are portrayed as omniscient, they can see into the deep, the dark, and dirty. They see things that no one else can see. Sometimes, in movies like Silence of the Lambs, they’re portrayed as murders—Hannibal the Cannibal was a psychiatrist. In a movie like The Prince of Tides, they’re portrayed as unethical. Frequently in films, psychiatrists and psychologists are shown sleeping with their patients, having affairs. There’s a movie called Tin Cup in which a therapist trades psychotherapy for golf lessons and winds up seducing the golf pro. That portray therapists as being unethical or ineffectual or having powers that they really don’t have, like a special ability to see inside somebody’s personality and to make predictions about behavior, and the fact is that psychologists and psychiatrists really aren’t much better than anybody else at predicting future behavior.
I have, at various times, loved LA and hated LA. Right now, I’m on an up-swing. I love the weirdos, the driving, the aggressively-enforced postive vibes, the endless space, and the ridiculous weather. And I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else.
Here are some photos of the higlights and lowlights of the city I call home:
I’ve loved Rivers since I first saw her on Kathy Griffin’s My Life on the D-List in 2007, the same year Britney Spears shaved her head and Lindsay Lohan posed for her first mugshot. Rivers lacked decorum, which is a fancy way to say she believed in cursing in public. For years, I’ve wanted to interview Rivers, and a few weeks ago, I learned I finally would speak to the grand dame herself. In between making fun of Fashion Week guests’ hideous outfits on Fashion Police, she would have sat down for an interview with me.
But then she stopped breathing during surgery on August 28 and died a week later on September 4 in New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. She was 81.
Joking about Rivers’s death may seem tacky, but that’s what Rivers would want us to do. Shortly after her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, killed himself, Rivers went to dinner with her daughter, Melissa, at Spago. Looking at the prices on the menu, Rivers reportedly said to Melissa, “If Daddy were here and saw these prices, he’d kill himself all over again.” They burst into laughter, and the other customers looked at them like they were insane.
But as one of the first ladies of comedy, Rivers understood that humans—especially outcasts like women and gay men—must laugh at unfortunate circumstances if they want to survive.
VICE and the Criterion Collection Presents: Martin Scorsese on the Films of Roberto Rossellini
In the late 40s, Ingrid Bergman was the coolest, hottest, and most talented lady around Hollywood. She saw some Italian neo-realist films by Roberto Rossellini, wrote him a letter, starred in a number of his movies, and proceeded to have a scandalous affair and marriage with him. In each film, Bergman experiences some sort of deep existential crises in the midst of political and social upheaval. Since every major player who worked on those films is dead, Martin Scorsese (who was heavily influenced by the films) gives us the 4-1-1 on the three movies in this short doc and it’s fucking fascinating.
Some Genius Is Kickstarting a ‘Breaking Bad’ Sequel Starring Val Kilmer and Slash
Did you recently waste money on an ironic Kickstarter campaign to make potato salad? Well, first, Paypal used the money you apparently can’t wait to get rid of. Secondly, fuck irony. There are people out there with actual, worthwhile goals that need help funding.
For instance, a Van Nuys–based producer’s bold project to make a Breaking Bad sequel series starring Val Kilmer and Slash as the cops who recovered Walter White’s body. No, he doesn’t have the rights to Breaking Bad, nor has he received a commitment from Kilmer or Slash. But when Lawrence Shepherd saw the series finale, in which two cops drag Walter White’s body away, he knew that he was the guy to tell those cops’ story. All the other pieces will fall into place.
It’s a pipe dream, sure. (Not least because only $143 of the $500,000 goal has been raised.) But, still! What’s the value of life without dreams? Who gives a shit about the second season of True Detective when there’s the (remote) possibility of Val Kilmer and Slash tracking down a not-dead Walter White?
We called up first-time producer Lawrence Shepherd to learn more about his Breaking Badspinoff, which he’s calling Anastasia.
VICE: The show has an intriguing premise, to say the least. Where’d the idea come from? Lawrence Shepherd: For the last six years or so, I was getting very critical of the writing on shows. Then I saw one of the last episodes of Breaking Bad—remember when Jesse came into Walter White’s house with the gasoline can and he was going to burn it down?
Yeah. There was a sequence when Jesse looks down the hallway, and the two doors were closed. I thought, Junior’s in there. Junior’s in there with the baby, he’s going to come out, wrestle with Jesse, and something’s going to happen. Junior’s the only one who hasn’t broke bad in the whole show. It didn’t happen, and I was a little disappointed.
I like the way Breaking Bad ended, but I think they could have done better. That’s when I just started writing.
Seems like you’d have to worry about copyright issues… Of course. You have to watch the uniqueness. Remember the last episode, the machine gun rotating back and forth in the Cadillac? Very unique. I can’t use it. The dead guy in the recliner chair going up and down? Very unique, couldn’t use it.
But other than that, nothing there is copyright or trademark available. A guy dead on the floor? My God, that’s been done a bazillion times. Police responding to an issue? It’s been done a bazillion times.
We’re not going to be confrontative with Sony and Vince Gilligan if they say no. We are filming the pilot independent of Breaking Bad, so if they do say no, we’re ready to go with our own show.
A Visit to the Little Shop Where Hollywood Buys Its Dead Bodies
On the face of it, Dapper Cadaver looks like any other windowless storefront underneath the landing pattern of Burbank Airport, just outside LA. Its sign advertises “Props Rentals, Sales, Halloween,” and something called “Casualty Simulation.” Google Maps helpfully tags it “Death Related,” and “Horror Movie,” in case that’s what you’re shopping for.
If it’s not Halloween, the people regularly shopping for “Casualty Simulation” are the prop masters of your favorite movies and TV shows. Sure, as a high-paid art director, you could make your own corpses from scratch, and many do. But when there’s a shop that offers medically realistic dead bodies, not just of humans, but of all creatures great and small, you may as well go retail.
Law and Order is a frequent shopper, as were Breaking Bad and Dexter. Think Game of Thrones' top shelf gore is too classy to be store-bought? Think again. The severed heads of certain major GOT characters were custom orders.
I am writing you, dear reader, from a dark place. A cavernous hole. A nightmarish hellscape. I write you having just watched a tape of last night’s Guy’s Choice Awards. I woke up at 8 AM in order to do so, which means I started the day operating at a loss. And it only got worse. I fear the horrors I witnessed during the jail sentence-esque two-hour broadcast have caused me to permanently lose sentience. I now know, however, that I don’t require sentience. Because I have tits.
This summer’s fiction issue is themed around movies—”Hollywood,” Clancy Martin says. We shared an intuition that a lot of the most interesting writing being done today is being done for movies and TV. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that we watch a lot of movies. So we made a long list of our favorite movies and looked up the writers who worked on them, and we harassed them and their agents and their publicists for months. We started with a really long pitch letter, but we learned that in LA it’s proper etiquette to write three-word-long emails. We tried to romance them by inviting them to dinner at the Chateau Marmont. An interesting thing about the writers in this issue—David Mamet, Michel Gondry, Louis Mellis, Alec Sokolow, John Romano, Merrill Markoe, Kevin McEnroe—is that none of them gave a damn about what we could pay. In fact not one of them even brought it up. So maybe one lesson of this issue is, if you want to be a writer and not have to scramble for every dollar, the old maxim holds true: Go to LA.
But back to movies. Here’s what we like about movies: They have stories. They are entertaining. The dialogue is simple. We were watching Searching for Bobby Fisher last night at the hotel in Chennai. William H. Macy says, “It’s just a game.” He’s the father of a seven-year-old chess player talking to another father, and we know that what he means is, “I’d like to rip your head off and s**t down your throat.” Similarly, just a few nights ago we were watching The Shining, and the actor who plays the manager of the Overlook Hotel describes the murders to Jack Nicholson during the job interview. He says, “I can’t believe it happened here, but it did,” and all three of the men in the room somehow already understand that it’s going to happen again. Because of the genius of actors and directors, there’s so much you can do—as a writer—with a line of dialogue that you just can’t do in other forms of writing. But all this is covered in an interview with Robert McKee—Alec Sokolow (Toy Story) makes McKee work through his theories, and Tony Camin, possibly stoned, asks McKee the tough questions, e.g., “Wasn’t Who Framed Roger Rabbit the third in the trilogy ofChinatown?” There are also a few pages of Nabokov’s screenplay version of Lolita with notes in his hand, masterfully introduced by Blake Bailey, and a story by Thomas Gebremedhin that evokes Santa Monica like no other fiction we’ve read (and ought to be a movie).
Pick up a free copy of our fiction issue anywhere VICE is distributed, but those go quickly, so subscribe to make sure you get a copy every month. You can do that here. If you’ve got yourself an iPad, download our free app for even more pictures, extended video footage, and special extras.
Rewatching Nicolas Cage’s Windtalkers Is a Terrible Way to Memorialize the Last Navajo Code Talker
On June 4, former Marine Chester Nez, the last of the Navajo radio operators of World War II, died at 93. The announcement came from Judith Schiess Avila, his biographer, who worked on Nez’s book, Code Talker. Despite coming at a sad time, I hope the PR she got in the past few days boosted sales of what I hear is a pretty good book (I haven’t read it), because the only piece of media we journalists have had any interest in now that the last code talker is dead, is Windtalkers, a 2002 box office flop featuring Nicolas Cage.
No, Cage doesn’t play one of the Navajos. That would be racist. Instead, he plays one of those white protagonists in a movie about a minority group at war. Like Matthew Broderick in Glory, or Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, Cage’s white face theoretically makes the whole thing much more palatable than one of the actual Navajo faces, like this one, which belongs to Nez.
Press coverage considers the film one of Nez’s accolades. The Washington Post puts it in a paragraph with his military honors, saying Nez “was honored a generation later, receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in 2001. ‘Windtalkers,’ a 2002 film starring Nicolas Cage, was based on the code talkers’ story.”
My suspicion is that they, like most of America, gave Windtalkers a miss. It was not a hit, so it’s weird that it’s our reference point for this moment in American History. It’s like memorializing the author Edgar Rice Burroughs by talking about John Carter.
The entertainment and media industries don’t consider a Native American story to be a smart move if you want to make money. Some anonymous people I know who represent talent confided in me that when something having to do with Native Americans gets submitted, they’re vary wary, or they just skip it outright. No one wants to spend their entertainment dollar on anything having to do with Native Americans. Apparently Dances with Wolves was a fluke.