OBSCENE: A PORTRAIT OF BARNEY AND GROVE PRESS: (2007) 97 MINUTES D: DANIEL O’CONNOR AND NEIL ORTENBERG DOCUMENTARY PLAYS: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 21ST TO WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 26TH AT 7 AND 9PM.
Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Naked Lunch and Tropic of Cancer might never have published, or had to wait decades to be published, if it weren’t for Barney Rossett and Grove Press. I Am Curious Yellow, one of the first mainstream sex films, would not have created the category of mainstream sex films, if it wasn’t for Barney Rossett and Grove Press. But this generation of independent readers/film goers who have witnessed the rise of Homeland Security (and the subsequent fall of our Civil Rights in many areas), as well as the growth of the religious right and the censorship issues that have resulted from it, simply MUST see this film. Both to appreciate sacrifices others have made for them, and to be inspired to commit themselves to struggle for their own freedoms. The list of books and films he (and his associates) fought for is insane–I can’t even begin to list them all. (OK, I should mention just a few of the writers, anyway, there are plenty more interviewed in the film–Samuel Beckett, Allen Ginsberg, John Sayles, John Waters, Jack Kerouac, Alain Robbe–Grillet and Harold Pinter.) (I once slept with Mr. Pinter, but it’s a short, silly story. Not that I’m implying that Mr. Pinter was……oh, never mind!) Fortunately the Evergreen Review (the magazine Barney founded that started it all) has a website, with a link to a blog written by the man himself.
What’s especially refreshing about this documentary is that it’s a creation of 2 publishing professionals who are passionately committed to continuing the fight for the freedom of our literary rights, and who worked closely with Barney Rossett to try and restore him to his prior position when Grove Press was sold to less than reputable buyers. The other refreshing thing is that it doesn’t try to paint Barney as a saint. It’s difficult for any of us to relate to a documentary that’s sanitized and presents it’s subject as someone who never had the need to take a shower, as it were. Which makes it all the easier to be inspired by this one. What this man has done, with all the sacrifices he made to do it (4 wives, to start with! one he used to humiliate over the P.A. system(?!!)) is a real testament to one of the finest qualities of Americans everywhere, the bloody-minded refusal to give up. EVER. It is hugely entertaining while being a testament to the history of freedom of the press, and the unlikely people who end up being it’s heroes.
(I would also recommend another film that shares much in common with OBSCENE, PAPERBACK DREAMS, ((2008) Directed/Produced by Alex Beckstead, funded partially by PBS) that tells the story of San Francisco’s Beat Bookstores, KEPLER‘S and CODY‘S, who were also involved in lawsuits (HOWL, anyone?) in the 60’s and 70’s over censorship issues. (It can be purchased on their website, couldn’t find it for rent on Netflix or at Scarecrow.)
(Hardcore and Obscene–I’m on a roll!)