I had the opportunity to see this film at the SXSW film festival in Austin, TX. It is a wonderful tribute to a great and almost forgotten American, Barney Rosset, the publisher of Grove Press and the Evergreen Review. Despite its prominent place in the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the nature of free speech has long been contested within American society. Those of us under 40 often do not appreciate how much censorship used to exist in the U.S. until relatively recently, because this side of censorship has mostly disappeared. Free speech has not always been as free as it is today.
Obscene, the story of Barney Rosset, is both a biographical picture and the story of the struggle to open up American society to new ideas and concepts. This is the story of transition from the repressed America of the 1950s to the more open society that would emerge from the 1960s/1970s and would continue to today. Some would say that opening up to that much obscenity has not been a good thing, but its really the cost of freedom.
Barney Rosset, at great personal and financial cost, was one of those pioneers that spent his life tearing down rules that restricted the publication of books like Lady Chatterly's Lover, Naked Lunch, Tropic of Cancer and poems like Howl. He challenged the system to open up and confront topics that had once been taboo.
I hope the film makers will make an edited - PG-13 version - available for classroom use. Perhaps it would be ironic to censor such a film, but it seems like a necessary sacrifice to get the core message out to young people who need to learn both how precious legacy free speech is
especially today when free speech faces different sort of challenges.
The non-professional film makers have done a really first rate job including music and editing. The film is perhaps a little long at 97 minutes, but that is a minor flaw. I hope their film gets a wider distribution and that Barney Rosset is remembered for his important contributions to this country.
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