Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Free Speech, Tentacles and Newborn Pr0n...

Sorry guys, no review today. Just a personal editorial I have to get off my chest with news of A Serbian Film being released in these United States shorn of nearly two minutes of "controversial" content.

Let us begin with why the film was only released censored. This is fucking AMERICA, isn't it? Land of the free, forged under the First Amendment, and a country where the MPAA film ratings board is completely optional, right? Unlike those pansy Brits and those upside-down Aussies or those stuck-up Iranians or whatever, we can pretty much say, publish, and yes, do whatever the fuck we want up in this bitch without the need for some government official to look it up and down cross-ways and then slap an arbitrary rating on it... it's a pretty sweet gig, particularly if - like me - you're probably looking at shit like this all day:

Pictured Above: FREEDOM!
Her anus symbolizes the right to bear arms... I think.

So with all this fucking freedom at our disposal, it seems a little weird that we still have this ass-backwards thing called "Obscenity". In legal terms, the phrase almost always equates to material of a "salacious or morbid" nature, and the idea with creating obscenity laws was to put a damper on all of that freedom I was just talking about.

Y'see friends, virtually any material - be it photos, films, drawn images, or even just plain text - that a court rules as obscene is no longer defended by the First Amendment, and therefore can be barred from access to the general public. 20th Century America has had a long history in deciding what is and isn't obscene, in particular sexually explicit passages in novels like The Life and Misadventures of Fanny Hill and The Tropic of Cancer. The first mainstream pornographic film, Deep Throat, has a long and complicated history of the people behind it being charged with "Conspiring to Distribute Obscene Material", and while many of the convictions against guys like Harry Reems were eventually overturned, it literally took several years and a mind-numbingly epic legal war in which Reems especially was used as a lightning rod for public hate for that to happen. We wouldn't even have Ron Jeremy to make fun of today if it weren't for these cases, and so I can only thank Reems, even if he traded in his professional dicking for a life full of AA meetings and real estate. No, seriously.

Basically, for material to be proven obscene you have to fail the "Miller Test", defined in the case against a mail-order pornography peddler in the early 1970s.  It asks wither the so-called "average person" in the "contemporary community" the case is being held in would find it obscenely upsetting, wither it specifically describes or displays "explicit" sexual content, and wither or not the work - taken as a whole - possesses any identifiable "value" towards the arts, literature, science or politics. At face value it doesn't sound bad, right? So long as you aren't peddling midget donkey-shit porn, you should be in the clear, right? For a painfully broad example, Michaelangelo's David might well have his uncut schlong hangin' all out and in your face, but that's fucking ART, and thus would be classified as "erotica", which is considered a different classification altogether - it's explicit in that it has a dingle, but it's not offensive to society at large to the point where access should be denied. That's completely different from the grotesque Japanese dick-girl tentacle fuck scribbles I've posted above... right?

Above: Erotica, NOT Obscenity. (Legally speaking.)

Well... exactly what is and isn't considered "obscene" per the Miller Test was left, perhaps intentionally, quite vague. The jury isn't literally asked to assume that they find the material purient (ie: grossly sexual) personally, but rather if they think a theoretical average person in their community would. How the fuck could you even measure that sort of thing? Do you walk up to a hundred people on the street, flash some hardcore porn, and then ask them if they think it's normal or not?

Another factor is that of the lack of a definition toward the "community" itself - is that the whole country, just your state, or just the goddamn cul-de-sac where the poor sap was arrested? Typically the 'community' is interpreted as whatever state and/or county the charges were drawn up in, but that seems dicey when the material may or may not have been acquired from elsewhere - most smut is bought through mail order these days, and actually there's been porn available by delivery for well over a hundred years now. When the material in question is being uploaded to a website that's literally available to anyone with normal internet access, what "community" would that sensibly consist of? Do you go to 4chan and ask /b/ if it's obscene?

Even dicier is wither or not the work in question has any merit. Can grotesque porn have scientific value, period? I'd hope so, but I honestly have no idea. Political? Dude, do you realize how much Sarah Palin porn there is on the internet? (Assuming Bayonetta porn counts toward the total...) Well, "purient" or not that all falls under the umbrella of Political Satire. At least that's what Larry Flint says, and I tend to trust a pornographer who's dead from the waist down on these matters.

"Literary" and "Artistic" is where it all goes to shit, sadly, because those are matters of personal opinion. Quick! Name a film that's "art". You're probably thinking Citizen Kane, or Sleeping Beauty, The Godfather, Casablanca, Metropolis, or some other stuffy bullshit that you were forced to watch your first year of college. Now, what about a film like White Chicks? Scary Movie 2? Spooky Buds? They're undeniably torturous piles of shit you should keep as far away from your soul at all times, but that doesn't inherently mean they lack any value whatsoever. There were screenwriters, set designers, assistant directors and everyone else involved from the ground on up through the test audiences who created these films to fill a perceived void in the marketplace for them. All Hollywood movies are commercial art, and while not all art is good that doesn't mean it doesn't have the right to exist and express itself freely. Even garbage has dedicated craftsmen behind it, and while I'd certainly not want to have to convince a jury that something like Blood Feast has anything resembling literary and/or artistic value behind it, that doesn't inherently mean that it doesn't possess some raison d'etre that goes beyond the basics one looks for in most "art" - like, you know, competency and common sense. Thankfully, violence is always safe in this country, so Blood Feast and its' admittedly trashy ilk isn't really the problem... but we'll loop back to that shortly, I promise.

Pictured: Art... I guess.

With all this in mind, are pornographers not artists? Does it not take skill to perform on cue when your anus is burning from the non-water based lube, and is the technical prowess of properly lighting a silicone enhanced tit really much different from lighting a dialog scene of a major motion picture? I'll grant that the standards are certainly much lower, but that doesn't mean the artistic integrity is completely non-existent. This is nowhere more apparent, in my eyes anyway, than the realm of 2D art in which underground professionals are paid - often per commission - to produce erotic art of an intensely personal and unique nature. Wither you think - let's say, Dmitrys' work - is little more than pathetic material for closet homosexuals to pleasure themselves to, his understanding of anatomy, color theory and staging puts plenty of artists working in the realms of "legitimate" commercial art to shame!

Don't believe me? Let's compare one of Dmitry's pieces to that of 90s stalwart comic artist Rob Liefield:

Good Porn.

Bad... Everything.

To the six person jury who found Jesus A. Castillo, a man who was tried and found guilty of obscenity for daring to sell a grown man a copy of Toshio MAEDA's Demon Beast Invasion manga, I ask this: Who the fuck are any of you to say that any man who created a piece of degenerate spank material is also incapable of producing "art" in the process? Much less when two separate expert witnesses agree that there's artistic and cultural merit in the work, only for their testimony to be completely ignored in their use of the Miller Test because FUCK THOSE ASSHOLES!, apparently?

This ridiculous, unfortunate outcome was for a man who sold comics and other assorted geeky sundries for a living, and was reportedly targeted by a local police officer in tandem with a new bill to tax the sale of magazines and similar publications. He was a fucking scape goat for local politics, and in the end he was put through two years of legal hell for selling a cartoon to an adult that was properly marked as being material for adults only. He only had one charge dropped (for Legend of the Overfiend, no less!) because the CBLDF threatened to expose exactly why the local authorities were taking such an interest in anime smut, but in the end the conviction for Demon Beast Resurrection stuck, and he was found guilty by a jury despite the fact that the defense found expert witnesses to testify towards the title's which, as I understand it, the jury has to accept as true without the defense finding their own experts to argue against it. They asked for an appeal based in part on this very fact, and were eventually denied. See? The System works... just, not for this guy.

It pains me ever so slightly that the UROTSUKIDOJI charge wasn't the one that stuck.
I mean I feel awful either way, this is no joke, but come on... Urotsukidoji deserved it more.

Can anyone on the street with high school education which included basic art classes create it? Can someone with no formal training pick up a guitar and play a song? Can someone who has no concept of color theory paint with oil based media? Can any of these "average persons" in this theoretical community put their pencil to paper or point a camera out their window and come up with the same exact material that's become so goddamn controversial?

No? Then it's fucking art, and I refuse to hear any arguments otherwise. This is probably the second most upsetting part of the whole thing - this underlying concept that by default, pornography, horror films, video games and pop music isn't 'art' in its own right. That it's some lower form of primitive, worthless experimentation that neither a cultural, political, or even - gasp! - artistic impact on the whole of the society that created is, as if only a miniscule sampling of "real art" is worthy of that status.

Look, I may want to shove fucking chopsticks into my ear drums every time I hear I Gotta Feeling, but that doesn't mean it's not a valid part of the bullshit culture it was cultivated in... does that make sense? The fact that I don't LIKE something doesn't mean it should be made unavailable, it just means I don't have to fucking listen to it... and thank fuck for that. Freedom is a powerful thing, and you are free to ignore the shit out of whatever is is you don't have a boner for. Don't get me wrong, you can still certainly argue wither or not it's good art. There's a huge difference between a Picasso painting and a street gang's ornate tag on a subway car, but that doesn't mean both don't have some inert value.

To flatly say that anything you can't just scribble in five seconds, or point a camera at and wind up with by default doesn't take the creative and professional impulses of an artist is a bullshit trap created by pretentious assholes who decided that their concept of what makes art "good" needed differentiating from what the common man considered "good". Look, I'm not saying that fucking Caligula is "better" than The Godfather, but I am saying that in the end they're both works of commercial art, and both deserve some basic level of respect by dint of the process they went through to even exist. Coppola's doubtlessly a better artist than Brass, but so fucking what? Short of it breaking blatant laws - you know, those fucking snuff movies and child porn videos we'll never associate ourselves with - it simply doesn't deserve to be kept away from the general public just because it's offensive. Almost as if to prove my exact point, the following quote was made in June by Justice Scalia based on a Supreme Court decision not to further regulate the sale of "M" rated video games to minors, in a decision that decided such a ruling would be unconstitutional:  “Disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression.”

Amen, sister... It's really too bad she has to be a bitch about it and keep talking about how this is specifically in regards to depictions of violence - not sexuality.

One of many titles in the Chris Handley case.

Obscenity laws protect no-one because obscene material, by and large, is material one has to seek out to begin with... or literally stumble across by accident. When Christopher Handley was arrested and eventually plead guilty for owning a stack of imported pornographic comics, he wasn't even selling them! He was getting a package of goodies shipped over from Japan, the box broke in transit, and postal workers were aghast over the contents. They sent them to the police, the man's home was raided, and the PROTECT act - a recent law with no minimum sentencing for obscene material - was used (some have argued erroneously!) to get a plea bargain out of a man who otherwise could be facing a lifetime in jail for comic books. He wasn't a sexual predator or a menace to his community, he was just an art collector with eclectic tastes who hit a brick-house of bad luck. I'm still disappointed he didn't fight for his rights, but when you factor in that each and every panel of "obscene" material could be a separate charge, it's hard to blame the poor schmuck for buckling under pressure and figuring that six months in the joint was better than the potential of... life. Horrifying thought, isn't it? Living out your days in a state prison over drawings?

I bring up the above examples not only because I'm all too familiar with them, but because these are clearly examples of fantasy being prosecuted in the United States - and successfully, at that. They're drawings, exaggerated and stylized two-dimensional pieces of hand-drawn artwork that clearly involve no "real" images of sexuality and pose no obvious threat to anyone, and yet according to a stuck-up jury or a sadistic plea-bargain, they are illegal in the Land of the Free.

This all becomes exceptionally relevant when we talk about the two minutes missing from A Serbian Film, a film that - while also a work of deranged fantasy - involves realistic prosthetics and digitally manipulated images to put actors who are minors in the same scenes as graphic depictions of rape and child abuse. Forgive me for spoiling a movie I've talked at length about in the past - I'll gray out the relevant bits so you have to highlight them to read it- but simply put, the film involved one scene of a man forcing his penis into a (realistic) rubber newborn baby, and another lengthy scene in which a grown man forces his penis into the anus of a pre-school aged boy, whom we briefly see graphically bleeding out his rectum during said coitus. Despite any frontal nudity in these sequences being obscured, and the fact these scenes are meant to demonize (NOT glorify) these actions, if a fucking Science-Fantasy manga like Demon Beast Invasion can be found guilty of lacking artistic and social merit despite expert opinion to the contrary, I don't know what "That Gross European Kiddy-Porn Horror Movie" has to differentiate it when at least half of the critics who have seen it are more than willing to write it off as pretentious, shock value driven cinematic garbage.

Also sodomy, skull crushing, skull fucking, waxing poetic about goat sperm...

Right from the start, I was wary of Invincible Pictures having purchased the US rights to A Serbian Film and then saying they intended to submit it to the MPAA. There was exactly one devil-may-care US distributor I could have imagined taking the rights to it and releasing it uncut in an expensive and extremely limited edition, but sadly that's not what came to pass. Right from the start Invincible Pictures realized they had a monster on their hands, and they went about exploring every avenue they could think of to not lose the money they had put into purchasing the film that blew their minds at a festival premier... unfortunately for us, they took heed of the examples above of innocent, normal folks who happen to like "extreme" entertainment getting fucked by the American legal system, and decided to play it safe. Let's not forget that it's the distribution of obscene material that's a legal matter, and as the publishers of this feature film they are just as likely to get reamed in the process as either a shop selling it for them, or just some poor schmuck who just wants a copy sitting on his shelf.

A Serbian Film has entered a certain no-man's land in its frank and vile depictions of child abuse, and that's exactly why Invincible Pictures purchased the US rights in the first place - because it defined anything resembling safe, expected cinematic convention. Naturally, once they learned why even independent exploitation movies don't simulate this sort of thing they promptly pussied out. If it were on the same level as something recognizable released with little to no controversy - Thriller: A Cruel Picture, the August Underground videos, or even Aftermath - they would have released the film uncut, I'd have bought it, told you all to do it, and then warned you not to touch it until you were dead sure your very soul couldn't get any more jaded. But the material in this film, at least the way it's presented, is bold new territory that makes even projects like Mysterious Skin and Anatomy of Hell cringe in shock.

With the above information fresh in your mind, you guys tell me. What should Invincible Pictures have done? Should they have passed on the rights, and let whatever meager profits a cut version of this impressive and confrontational work of cinematic terrorism might create go to another distributor who would have done the same thing? Should they have released it uncensored and merely prayed that it wouldn't run afoul of this country's insanely vague and unfairly stacked Obscenity laws? Should they have walked away from the film entirely? There's countless "potentially" obscene films available in these United States that have slipped under the radar without any issue, so it's entirely possible that A Serbian Film would have coasted in the fringe of the home video market, just as films like Aftermath and August Underground have before... but if you were a part of a company that just realized you had a title that could get you jail time if some court arbitrarily decides you're guilty of selling "obscene" material, what would you do? Put your balls on the line and say "Fuck you, I'll go into debt for 20 years on legal fees and fight it to the bone?" Or would you take the plea bargain that promises just a year's worth of jail time? Perhaps you'd bow out, say you're no longer interested in selling the film. Would you get your license back? Could you sell it to a second distro and cut some of your losses, knowing they'd have the same troubles with it you do?

I'm not saying Invincible Pictures was right or wrong in their decision - it's really not my call to make. I obviously don't like that they compromised the local release of what might be the most controversial and confrontational film of the decade, but I like the reason they felt they had to even less. Obscenity laws are bullshit, and I'm still praying that someone outside the usual rung of pornographers have the balls to stand up against it someday... but man, I doubt I'll envy whoever it is that has to stand up in court and say that they don't feel they should have to go to jail for selling, or even just owning, "a movie that shows a baby getting fucked to death".

We'll now return to Kentai's usual video-related musings, already in progress.


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