The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on October 16, 1996 · Page 31
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 31

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Salina, Kansas
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Wednesday, October 16, 1996
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Page 31
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THE SALINA JOURNAL APPLAUSE WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 1996 3 A CASE FOR ABORTION RIGHTS. NO APOLOGIES By CLAUDIA DREIFUS c. 1996N.Y. Times News Service LOS ANGELES — It is a damp March morning on a Los Angeles street and Cher — yes, Cher of "Moonstruck" and Sonny and Cher — is battling a string of disasters as she makes her directorial debut, filming a segment of "If These Walls Could Talk," a three-part HBO film about abortion. Intermittent rain is drenching the actors. A camerawoman has slipped in the mud and fallen. Flight patterns from nearby Los Angeles International Airport have unexpectedly shifted, and the roar of jets is overwhelming every shot. But Cher, in black suede overalls, much silver jewelry and no makeup, is cool. Patiently, she huddles with her performers and suggests that they do their scene in a 60-second gap between LAX takeoffs. "Let's go, guys, before we get an explosion, a riot, a fire and a mud slide,".she commands. With a clap of her hands, Cher positions Craig T. Nelson (from "Coach") in the front seat of a car and Anne Heche ("The Juror") on a bicycle beside it. Time slows down for an instant as Nelson, playing a married professor, tells Ms. Heche, who portrays a student the professor has impregnated, that she ought to get an abortion. With a look of guilty regret, Nelson presses an envelope with money into the woman's hand. She pedals off in tears. "O.K.!" Cher calls. "This one has some real surprising moments. And no airplane noise." Actually, all of "If These Walls Could Talk" is something of a surprise. The film, which will be shown on HBO Sunday night at 9, breaks many rules for made- for-television dramas, even movies created for cable, with its greater freedom to tackle risky topics. For starters, the teleplay confronts a difficult, highly controversial subject with unusual directness, In the past, when television has stepped onto the abortion landscape, it has mostly done so with a kind of please- everyone coyness. "On television, in general, abortion is portrayed as understandable-only in situations of absolute destitution," says Andrea Press, a communications sociologist at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and the author, with Elizabeth Cole, of a forthcoming study about television's treatment of abortion. "In no other case is it acceptable. The procedure is shown generally as evil, and the advocates for choice are shown as unwomanly." "A couple of TV movies have been less extreme," she adds, "but the procedure is always shown to be something that no middle-class person would do unless the situation was utterly dire, The fact that millions of ordinary women have legal procedures, find it a valid choice for their situation and don't suffer terrible consequences is never mentioned." The script for CBS's 1991 movie "Absolute Strangers," based on the true experience of a man who had to compete with the anti-abortion movement to become the legal guardian of his pregnant, comatose wife, was centered more on invasion-of- privacy issues than reproductive issues. | -And the writers for NBC's 1989 jjocudrama "Roe v. Wade" essentially sanitized history by painting the real-life plantiff in that landmark case as a populist heroine, the Norrna Rae of repro- *ductive rights. 1 :Of all the television films on abortion, only "A Private Matter," Joan Micklin Silver's 1992 drama based on the experiences of Sherri Finkbine, who fought to have an abortion after she dis- fcovered that a drug she had tak- 0n, thalidomide, caused birth defects, ;had much realism to it. That film was also shown on HBO. "HBO can do things the networks can't, because it doesn't sell advertising and therefore they are not afraid of advertisers," says Todd Gitlin, a professor of culture, journalism and sociology at New York University. "Moreover, they have a relatively upscale audience, which on issues like this is tolerant of social liberalism." As might be expected, "If These Walls Could Talk" was made by people who support abortion rights. What makes it unusual is its unapologetic tone. This is a docudrama in which the writers — Stuart Kaplan (who died before the film was completed), Nancy Savoca, Marlene King and Susan Nanus — almost dare their viewers: "We have a position. Now please argue with us." The movie is constructed of three self-contained dramas set .in one California house over a 44-year period. Three women who live in the house — a widowed nurse hi 1952 (played by Demi Moore); a married, middle- aged mother in 1974 (Sissy Spacek), and the student hi 1996 (Ms. Heche) — all have to wrestle with unplanned pregnancy. The decisions they make are personal ones but influenced by the times they live in. That such a drama could get made and be shown on television, even given cable's relative freedom, is very much a function of the clout of the people who produced and created it. One executive producer is Ms. Moore, one of the most powerful actresses in Hollywood. Ms. Savoca, a much-praised movie director, was in charge of the first two segments, and Cher directed the third. Actresses like Diana Scar- wid and Lindsay Grouse have cameos. "I don't think people know what women used to go through," says Ms. Moore, who is 33. "They don't know about the amazing, bright, promising women who lost their lives." She decided to use her influence to tell their story. The project began about five years ago, when Stuart Kaplan approached her with the concept for the film. Kaplan, recalls Ms. Moore, "had been through something with a woman and an unplanned pregnancy, so he had personal experience in this area." Ms. Moore and her partner hi the company Moving Pictures Productions, Suzanne Todd, then started to develop the idea, interviewing women with a wide range of abortion experiences. As Ms. Moore and Ms. Todd did their research, they found respectable grandmothers who recited horror tales of life before abortion was legalized in 1973. "The idea was that if you looked at the 1950s, 1970s and 1990s, you may get the notion that in the 1990s things are much better," says Ms. Todd. "When you look at these three stories, you see how much things have changed and how much they've stayed the same." Once they had the concept outlined, Ms. Moore and Ms. Todd looked for a broadcaster. The first cable network they went to, which they won't name, was skittish. "They were very restrictive," Ms. Moore recalled, "and were dictating to us what we could or couldn't do because of their problems with sponsorship. Eventually, they let' 1 it go. Then, Suzanne and I took it to HBO." The HBO executives primarily responsible for supporting "If These Walls Could Talk" were Robert Cooper, who is now the president of Tri-Star Pictures, and Colin Callender, an Englishman who is now senior vice president of the film-production unit HBO-NYC. Callender had been hi charge of "A Private Matter," and in his new post he had a mandate to produce edgy material and, as he puts it, "to revive the tradition of the golden age of television." The topic of abortion did not frighten him. FLUSH COOLING SYSTEM jgr Recycle ¥ Antifreeze * Backfiushes cooling system to remove deposits, scale and corrosion. Recycled fluid provides superior corrosion protection for today's aluminum engines. Pressure tests entire cooling system. Eliminates disposal and pollution problems. Drains cooling system to facilitate repairs. 2259-A Centennial Road / Sallna / (913) 823-9732 "As soon as we read it, we wanted to develop this further," Callender says. "The notion that people are defined by the times they live in isn't common in American media. And the fact that the Demi Moore character goes through what she does gives it a special power." What the Demi Moore character, Claire Donnelly, goes through is an illegal abortion. First, she looks for information on abortion, but she can't find it. She looks for a legal option but can't find one. Then she tries to self-abort, fails and ends up in the hands of a back-room profiteer. Watching one especially explicit scene in this sequence recently at a press screening, virtually every woman in the audience put her hands to her gut, protectively; the men turned away. Why perform the scene so graphically? "I didn't really think very much about it," Ms. Moore replied. "I just was there and went with the pain. I identified with the true physicality of how much it must have hurt." Casting the film was easy. As soon as word got around that Ms. Moore was producing "an interesting project," many of Hollywood's finest performers offered their services. "I heard about the project through a friend, read the script and wanted it," Sissy Spacek says. "The script was beautifully written, and I believe in what it was saying. I have two daughters, and it concerns me that a woman's right to choose is being threatened now." Ms. Spacek plays a police officer's wife who finds herself pregnant with a fifth child just after having returned to graduate school. "My film is about the way it should be when women can decide," she says. "Demi's film is the way it shouldn't be for anyone, ever. And Cher's film is about the climate we are feeling now, and it's scary." In the segment she directed, Cher portrays a gynecologist who performs abortions despite an embattled atmosphere created by protesters outside her .clinic. Georganne La Piere, Cher's sister, appears as a clinic worker. That the movie is a family affair makes sense. In Cher's family, as in many American families, pregnancies that ended hi abortion are a hidden branch on the matrilineal tree. "Our mother almost died from an illegal abortion when I was little," Cher says. "Our grandmother had a desperate coat- hanger abortion when she was young. I had four miscarriages before I got pregnant with my daughter. I had two abortions. Legal." - It was the weight of those experiences, partly, that drew her to this film. Cher was turning 50. She had grown weary of acting and was looking for something new at the moment that Ms. Moore and Ms. Todd offered her a part. I'll do it, Cher said, but only if you let me direct one of the segments. | On the set, despite the problems of weather and noise, Cher seems at ease as a director. "Over the years, I've worked with some directors I didn't respect and others who I learned a lot from," she says. "I didn't realize how much I'd watched." Since beginning the film, Cher has become more impassioned about the issues surrounding abortion. Lately, she has thought about trying to organize a general strike for abortion rights. "I thought we'd already won this battle, and now it turns out that we have to do it all over again," she says. "If men had babies, we wouldn't be having this conversation. It would be a done deal." Jennie's Place I FALL HOURS Monday-Sunday 3:00 pin- 2:00 am Entertainment W Menu W Monday Monday Night Football Free Appetizers £4.00 pitchers • 75 f draws \\<'(lnt'S(taii 8 Ball Tournament $2.00* 100% return "The Phaetons" A Hillbilly Bock & Blues Show Band From Kansas City \9pm-lam $8 pp ^$5 couple Serving. \ Mexican Food Moil. Siil. (i ain-2 pin Breakfast Specials Lunch Specials The Only Downtown Restaurant with.. 158 S. Santa Fe WMttler «*•• Wood Unfinished Products Furniture ON SALE NOW • Chairs • Stools • Book Shelves • Entertainment Center BOSTER LUMBER CO. 1210 W.Crawford Salina 827-3618 (2 AU Oil $|/| Change It includes 15 point inspection and up to 5 quarts of oil 913-823-6372 Bennett Autoplex, Inc. Service Department John Wood &Assoc. Specializing In Employee Benefits Waynes Custom 825-9369 PKE-CHRISTMAS SA1M 331/3% Off Christmas Merchandise! (Wreaths, Ornaments, Trees, Stuffed Animals, Etc.) 2450 South 9th • Mid-State Mall, Salina 651 S. Ohio Visit our new location! 833 E. Crawford, Salina 913-827-1100 Real People. Real Deals. 2 Bell Burgers Nachos Supreme Medium Drink NOTHING ORDINARY «pw|T Selling the SALE! We have lots of short rolls left from our Grand Opening Sale! Stop in and Check them out! RB44KK On Select Carpet. See Store For Details. EMfiflK Carpet Warehouse 833 E. Prescott • Saliiia • (913) 827-8755 Hours; Mon. & Tliurs. 9-7, Tiles., Fri. 9-5:30, Sat. 10-4 825-52OO • (8OO) 825-O206 RE-ELECT Deena HORST State Representative 69th District Political advertisement paid for by Deena Horst for State Representative Committee, Doug Mull, Treasurer. Vote November 5 Scott Torres for Sheriff Elect the Sheriff Who Will: * Be Tough on Criminals * * Stop the Growth of Crime * * Budget Wisely* * Stop the High Growth of Taxes for Law Enforcement * * Actively Work with Community Leaders for a Better, Safer County* * Educate Our Youth on the Dangers of Drug Abuse * if Kick Drug Dealers out of our County for Good * * Inspire Community Respect* if Bring Safety to all Residents of Ottawa County * * Bring Integrity to Ottawa County Law Enforcement * Elect the Sheriff who has a Vision for Ottawa County. Elect Scott Torres (Independent Party • November 5). Call me, I will answer your questions - 992-3417 Political advertisement paid for by the Committee to efrct Scott Torres, Sheriff. Don King Treasurer

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