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The stars of 'The General's Daughter' defend their film's violence

John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe, and James Woods debate Hollywood’s depiction of evil deeds

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Madeleine Stowe
Richard Foreman/SMPSP

”The General’s Daughter” may have landed a primo post-”Phantom Menace” release date, but to some industry pundits the film’s timing couldn’t be worse. With Hollywood being targeted as one of the villains in the teen-violence debate, the movie’s grim portrayal of a rape and murder has a few of the ”General’s” stars squirming in their seats. ”I feel very conflicted by the violence in movies,” admits Madeleine Stowe, who plays John Travolta’s former flame in the film. ”But I can’t say I would never do another violent movie, so I have to wonder how pure I am about that.”

Even director Simon West confesses to having had, from the start, some worries about tackling the potentially explosive story. ”It’s a really hard line to cross, because you never want to traumatize the audience, but you do want them to go through a little of what it must be like to be raped so they can appreciate how horrible it must be,” he explains. ”The message is that rape is not sex, it’s violence, so it has to be violent to show people that.”

That theme is what Leslie Stefanson, the actress who suffered through several scenes naked and bound hand and foot, tried to remember during the traumatic shoot. ”It was horrible for me, but there was no way to avoid it,” the actress explains. ”I don’t want to necessarily ever do it again, but an important message could be brought up by it.”

For James Woods, the message is a personal one. ”Somebody I was close to when I was young was raped at a time when women weren’t protected in the courts, and the system of jurisprudence was more of a rape than the actual event,” says the 53-year-old star. ”So I’m proud that we’re addressing it, because this movie explores the penultimate violence that can be perpetrated against another human being, and we should be ever vigilant in being aware of it.”

Travolta believes ”it’s a matter of taste when you portray violence.” The ”Pulp Fiction” star also thinks the finger of blame should be pointed away from Hollywood when it comes to real-life crime. ”I personally think psychiatric drugs and street drugs have more to do with these violent crimes than any movie ever did.”