Keep Your Powder Dry

The following article is under submission. Reproduction in computer file and data bases is permitted for informational purposes only. Copyright (c) 1995 by J. Neil Schulman. All other rights reserved.


by J. Neil Schulman

Boy, am I gonna get it this time.

It's not bad enough that I tick off the liberals by believing in God, the U.S. Constitution, and the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

It's not bad enough that I tick off everyone who's short on melanin in their skin by proclaiming my belief in O.J. Simpson's innocence and defend the jury that acquitted him.

It's not bad enough that I tick off everyone in Hollywood who I haven't already ticked off with my pro-gun stuff by proclaiming that I think Showgirls is an unsung masterpiece.

Uh-uh. That's not good enough for me. I haven't done enough damage yet. I'm not far enough out on a limb. I haven't yet managed to convince everyone that I should be in a padded room somewhere.

Now I have to go and declare that a convicted homosexual child molester has written and directed a truly great movie about love and transcendence ... and if that's not bad enough, the damn film even does its best to be anti-gun.

Okay, Neil. Take a deep breath and calm down. This is a fair and just country, and they always allow the condemned man to have a few last words before they string him up. Hell, if you can't convince them that you're not out of your friggin' mind, then you'd probably be a good sport and chip in for the rope.

So you've got a few minutes to save your life, Neil. See if you can tell as good a tale as Sheherazade did.

Today, I handed an inscribed copy of my new book SELF CONTROL Not Gun Control to Nathan Winters, now twenty years old, who at age eleven was enticed into oral sex by Powder's writer- director Victor Salva. Winters was in front of the Galaxy Theater on Hollywood Boulevard doing a protest of the movie opening, as well as doing some live radio with syndicated talk-show host Tom Leykis. My inscription read, "No more victims!" which is certainly a sentiment it's hard to disagree with, unless you happen to need them for your work.

I'd been listening to Tom Leykis for a couple of days, interviewing Winters, his mother, and experts on child molestation, milking this story for all its worth. And, why not? It has all the elements we've come to love so much now that the O.J. Simpson trial is over and we're all looking for a way to fill up those empty daytime hours. Ricki Lake gives us every variation on "someone backstage is secretly in love with you." Sally Jessy Raphael, Charles Perez, Gordon Elliot, Rolonda, Jenny Jones, and Maury Povich each try to outcompete the others with every variation on young women who are cheating on their own husbands with their sisters' spouse. So why shouldn't a radio talk show get some of the action?

Nathan Winters, despite his protests that he's forgiven Victor Salva, has an understandable beef against him. The young director Salva drew the much younger Winters, a child actor, into a homosexual relationship. Like Nixon, Salva made the mistake of allowing his sins to get onto tape, and it was his undoing: the videotapes Salva made proving his sexual relationship with the eleven-year-old Winters got Salva charged with eleven counts of sexual crimes, plea-bargained down to five offenses and fifteen months served in a California prison before a couple more years of parole. Time having tolled, Salva is a free man, and aside from having to tell the police where he's living, Salva can pretty much work where he pleases so long as he can convince someone to pay him for it.

Francis Ford Coppola, a Salva mentor, a producer on the Salva movie which Winters was starring in at the time of his molestation, and a consummate Hollywood insider, seems to have taken the side of Salva the director over Winters the child star. According to Winters' account on Leykis, Coppola's company not only offered Winters no aid and comfort when Salva was exposed, but circled the wagons and sued Winters and his mother for breach of contract when Winters' mom found out about the molestation and pulled little Nathan off the shooting set.

This treatment shouldn't be surprising to anyone familiar with how things work in Hollywood. Read Indecent Exposure by David McClintock (Dell, 1982), which tells how, when actor Cliff Robertson blew the whistle on Columbia Pictures chief David Begelman for forging Robertson's signature on checks, Begelman was embezzling, it was Cliff Robertson who was shut out of show business; Begelman was just given another deal elsewhere. If Hollywood has held anything sacred since the McCarthy era, it's that you don't tattle on someone "in the industry" -- no matter what. The Mafia or the LAPD has no more sacred code of silence.

So when Nathan Winters learned that Caravan/Hollywood Pictures/Buena Vista Distributing -- that is, Disney -- had financed and was now releasing Powder, a fantasy film written and directed by none other than Victor Salva, Winters decided that he had a job to do.

Winters didn't like the idea that director Salva would be in charge of movie sets where children might secretly be under his control again. He didn't like the idea that Disney, a company which is supposed to be a safe haven for children, had taken the man who had molested him to its corporate breast, and was going to make money with him and for him, as well as giving Salva a canvas on which to paint his homo-erotic impulses. And, when you get right down to it, Winters probably wasn't thrilled that the man who had molested him and ended his budding acting career was now making more movies instead of more license plates.

So Nathan Winters called a press conference, called Tom Leykis, and flew to Hollywood to try to stop the release of Powder -- to get the movie pulled from distribution. Supporters are urging a boycott both of Powder and of all Disney products. The calls coming in to the Leykis show, if Leykis's call screeners are being at all even-handed, are coming in strongly supportive of Winters and against Disney.

The film industry has battened down the hatches and is being as quiet as they can be. They see witch hunts from the witch's point of view. With Bob Dole, Janet Reno, and William Bennett breathing down their necks, no wonder. They remember the Hayes Board, and rules which prevented divorce from being portrayed in movies, or married couples sharing the same bed, for that matter. Of course, perhaps things have just gone too far ever to go back and they have nothing to worry about. On October 22, 1995, CBS's 60 Minutes -- in the holy Sunday seven o'clock family prime-time hour -- showed America Julie Andrews' bare tits in a clip from the movie S.O.B. What other barrier is there to cross unless Barbara Walters is planning on interviewing Linda Lovelace after an uncensored clip from Deep Throat?

So we find ourselves in an arena which we in America are becoming quite used to. We have decadent, liberal, Godless, and gay Hollywood in one corner, and decent, conservative, God-fearing, and puritan middle-America in the other corner.

And, tossed into the ring for us to fight over, like Eris's golden apple thrown "to the most beautiful of you," is a new movie, titled Powder, which I saw tonight.

Sorry, my friends. I had to see it. I'm a fantasy writer. I'm a screenwriter. I'm a journalist and opinion writer. And even if I wasn't, there's something ornery and contrary about me that says that the minute someone doesn't want me to see something, I'm going to be first in line to see it. I was first in line to see The Last Temptation of Christ, Showgirls, and now Powder. And I have to tell you that each of them was, in their own way, richly rewarding.

I don't usually give away plot points. But that would make it impossible for me to tell you why I think Powder is a great film. I think I can discuss it in general terms without ruining it for you, even though I may have to give away a scene or two.

Powder is about a young man with superhuman psychic powers, a superhuman intellect, and an angelic empathy for the human condition. This is a character those of us who have read Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land have met before: Powder is the latest incarnation of Heinlein's angelic Man from Mars, Valentine Michael Smith.

Powder is better than you or me. He feels your pain -- literally. He can read your memory so he knows what bad things were done to you. He can also make you feel another's pain. He makes a hunter feel, from the inside, the death throes of the deer he just shot, and understandably, the hunter not only doesn't want to hunt anymore, he can't even touch a gun after that. (Cynically, this might be Salva's sour grapes; as a felon he can't own a gun, either. But I'll give Salva the benefit of the doubt, that he really does dislike guns.)

Like all those angels, enlightened masters, E.T.'s, or other Saviors who have come to teach us how depraved we are, Powder is only with us a short while. He is here to be better than us, different from us, and to be despised for being both. We are to revile him for telling us truths about ourselves that we'd rather not hear.

And, you know, in telling us about Powder, Victor Salva is telling us about himself. What Powder does physically by connecting the hunter to the dying deer, Salva does with his ability as a storyteller to connect us to his own pain. He wants us to understand the beauty he sees in young men -- and presumably young boys, although that's not shown in the film. He wants us to understand the tragedy of not being touched lovingly, and what a caress from an older man to a younger man can mean.

I get that. We heterosexual men, both in the movie and in the audience, must believe that Powder is a faggot because he sees the beauty in the male as well as female forms. But God is the creator of both male and female and if you ask me, you'd have to be blind not to admire the Lord's handiwork. Mr. Salva, I can admire a beautiful male body without wanting to have sex with it.

None of this is religiously unorthodox, even to Christians. Ironically, the sex offender Victor Salva has put no message in this movie that should be at all discomfiting to the family values of Middle America. True, Victor Salva has managed to infuse Powder with those angelic traits which are most acceptable to those Hollywood New Age acolytes who never could get along with fire-and-brimstone Christianity -- but then, the Presbyterian and United Methodist Churches -- which favor gun control and teach us that even child molesters are our brothers in Christ -- probably wouldn't care much for the sorts of militarized angels that Jesus told Peter He could call down at a moment's notice.

Victor Salva's eschatology leads us to an afterworld of love with understanding of all and with conflict between none. It is hardly the heaven of Saint John the Divine's Revelation, a battlefield in our race's future where both humans and angels fight a battle between good and evil ... but David Koresh made the Book of Revelation politically incorrect, anyway.

I can understand the pain of a dying deer ... but can Victor Salva understand the human need to kill when necessary? Last Thanksgiving I feasted on venison shot by a friend. We didn't need to eat killed deer to survive; we just as easily could get our protein from tofu and our vitamin B-12 from pills. But if we give up being hunter-killers -- if we remove ourselves from that predatory hierarchy that a previous Disney movie called "the circle of life" -- what if we need to hunt and kill again for good cause? From where does Victor Salva and his Hollywood compatriots get their confidence that our destiny has no possibility of a necessity to fight? Do they get it from the ashes of Auschwitz or the cinders of Sarajevo?

Powder may, in fact, be Victor Salva's attempt at paying for his crime against Nathan Winters. It may be his apology. It may be his explanation of why he did what he did. It may well be Victor Salva's penance.

Nathan Winters has already done his job. I doubt any movie insurance company will be willing to take the risk of allowing Victor Salva anywhere near children on his shooting set. And if Nathan Winters convinces enough people to stay away from Powder, then no matter how good the film is, if it loses money, Victor Salva won't be given many more chances to direct. But I doubt that Victor Salva will have permanent problems finding work in the film industry again. I mean, he's just a convicted child molester. It's not like he's done anything really scandalous ... like joining the NRA.

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