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"Hounddog" unleashed

The box office demographic for the rest of 2008, usually dominated  by the male 12-24 year-old perpetual adolescent crowd, might be switching genders. So suggests Steve Mason writing in the “Hollywood Wiretap” website, where he speculates that the fourth quarter of 2008 will belong to the “below 25 female” audience. Among the upcoming films he sees as drawing big box office from this group are “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” and “Twilight.”

He might also have included “The Secret Life of Bees,” in which Dakota Fanning plays a lonely 14-year-old girl in the South who finds solace and wisdom with some local beekeepers.

But he probably would not have included another Dakota Fanning vehicle, Deborah Kampmeier’s “Hounddog,” in which Fanning plays another young Southern girl seeking solace. It will be opening nationwide on October 3 [which is when my review will be coming out]. First premiered at the Sundance Festival in 2007, it earned the moniker the “Dakota Fanning rape movie” from the outraged and the titillated. Critical response was universally disastrous, focusing as much on the hamhanded cliches as on the alleged exploitiveness. Which strikes me as odd since critics at the same festival largely adored “Black Snake Moan,” in which Cristina Ricci plays a nymphomaniac chained in her underwear to a radiator by a wise old bluesman played by Samuel L. Jackson.

I mean, isn’t that kind of clichéd and exploitive, too? In fact, having seen both films, I’d have to give the edge on odious racial and sexual stereotypes and solaciousness to “Moan.”

Maybe I’m alone in that opinion. Not to pick on Ebert-beater Lou Lumenick of the “New York Post,” but his reviews are a case in point. “Hounddog” he dismisses with one star and the phrase: “trailer trash of the worst kind.”

His three star review of “Moan,” however, opens with the lede:

“I could practically smell the sex and sweat while watching Craig Brewer's arty exploitation film, ‘Black Snake Moan,’ even as my jaw was dropping repeatedly to the floor.”

Maybe that’s what struck Ebert, and not the festival binder that Lumenick is said to have hit him with in the notorious Toronto Film Festival incident. That or something else. Anyway, it seems to me that perhaps he liked “Moan” more than “Hounddog” because Ricci is sexier looking in her underwear than Fanning.

And also older. The main reason “Hounddog” got panned, no doubt, was because it showed a prepubescent girl who displays sexual curiosity and is sexually assaulted. Nobody wants to think about these things happening. Certainly not the good people from the Concerned Women for America (CWA) of North Carolina, who are especially peeved because the film was shot in their state and with the approval of the North Carolina Film Office.

Donna Miller, “a CWA Prayer/Action Chapter Leader for the Fayetteville area and No More Child Porn Campaign Director” is leading the campaign to get citizens “to fight this graphic movie from being shown in their local theater.” Quoting disdainfully from the director’s statement in the film’s press kit, Miller says, “This movie is about a nine-year-old girl, not an adult woman. She should be outside skipping rope or riding her bike, not ‘celebrating the power and creative force of her sexuality.’”

Indeed she should, even though in the movie the character is more like eleven or twelve than nine, though the age is never specified. And if Miller had seen the film, she’d realize that the only thing “graphic” about it is David Morse’s (he plays the redneck father) bare butt. That, and Fanning impaling her hand on a nail during the assault. If anything, it’s the opposite of child porn -- an earnest attempt to depict the vulnerability of children and a cautionary tale for parents and children alike about the dangers of pedophiles. Not that that necessarily makes it a good movie.

Come to think of it, it’s not unlike the brouhaha disingenuously stirred up by the McCain campaign about the Illinois legislation Barack Obama supported for “age appropriate” sex education to teach children to avoid potential predators. Yes, there’s definitely something obscene going on here, but it’s not on the movie screen.

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