Fact-based story about the court proceedings that followed Cincinnati art museum director Dennis Barrie after his decision to display a controversial art exhibit by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The proceedings start with an inflamed County Sheriff who is determined to put Barrie in jail. A grand jury established to determine whether the sexually explicit photographs were obscene found seven of the pictures to possibly be obscene. The seven pictures depicted nude children, a man ramming his fist up another man's anus, and man with his finger in his penis. Other pictures in the exhibit did depict explicit nudity and sexual connotation. An obviously biased judge made derisive decisions throughout the trial. The strain of the trial also placed Barrie's marriage under duress, which ultimately led to his wife divorcing him, and led to Barrie's children being derided and physically attacked by their classmates. Written by
John Sacksteder <email@example.com>
Great food for thought with a little formula thrown in
Like most of the Showtime exclusive movies this one is very gutsy and makes no qualms about where it stands on the controversial issues it features.
The controversy in this case is art verses obscenity, and where or indeed if, censorship should fit in. It focuses mainly on the arrest of Dennis Barrie, the curator of Cincinnati's largest museum. He was arrested for booking a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit despite the fact that it had already stirred up controversy elsewhere.
The film has its negative points. It tries so hard to focus on the censorship issue that it overdoses on the morality of all of those who back the anti-censorship laws. There are endless scenes of Barrie's normal, happy home life just to show he's not a fan of "degenerate art" but an upstanding citizen who just believes in defending the constitution (although his constant argument is that art is the only thing he believes in). And there is the familiar melodrama with the wife who must decide whether she should stand by her man. But James Woods and Diana Scarwid are so natural and engaging that I kind of enjoyed hanging out with them anyway! Unfortunately the rest of the cast are extremely stereotyped, especially when the film gets into the courtroom.
The other negative points have to do with the way the fans of Mapplethorpe were depicted. Either as militant "degenerates" or as eggheaded art critics who spout artbabble on cue. All of the backers of the exhibition, including Barrie, and of course all of the jury members (as we know jury members are symbolically the voice of the country as a whole), show their disgust and indignation over Mapplethorpe's work. Thus the film is left with the point being that no matter how warped and disgusting and offensive "art" may be, it has a right to be exhibited. It is a valid point but it sort of underlines the Dan Quayle theory of the "cultural elite" (ie: that contemporary art forms belong to a specific few and it's not something the "average" person can understand or appreciate). As an "average" person myself who happens to admire Robert Mapplethorpe's work, I know that is not true and I somewhat resent the fact that people like myself were not represented in this film.
This film does has many positive points though. The main ones being the intercutting of comments by such pundits as Salmon Rushdie, Barney Frank, and Fran Liebowitz. They offer great food for thought that only they could articulate so fruitfully! It also intercuts scenes from the original events which had surrounded the trial and the attempted closing down of the museum.
And despite the formula outline, there's a lot of witty and profound dialogue that packs a powerhouse of emotional grit and gives us a great deal to think about. See it with a friend (or friends/family) and you'll end up discussing it well into the night!
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