Monday, June 4, 2012
Top Ten Controversial Films (US) and Its Controversy
1 THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST DIRECTED BY MEL GIBSON (2004) THE PLOT You know the part in the Bible where Jesus gets betrayed, tortured, and crucified? That's it. That's all of it. THE CONTROVERSY : Gibson's intention — born of his deep Catholic faith — was to produce an unflinching depiction of Christ's suffering on behalf of mankind. What he succeeded at best, however, was igniting a culture-war firestorm unrivaled in Hollywood history. For months prior to its release, The Passion was both denounced and defended sight unseen amid reports that the film wasn't just brutal, but compromised by dubious biblical interpretation and anti-Semitic sentiment. Gibson refused to let concerned parties view and vet his self-financed film, even as he was giving Passion previews to Christians as part of an unprecedented church-targeting promo push. Ultimately, moviegoers pretty much got the experience they were expecting, while Gibson got a $370 million gross — plus a provocative new reputation.
2 A CLOCKWORK ORANGE DIRECTED BY STANLEY KUBRICK (1971) THE PLOT Teen troublemaker/gang rapist Alex (Malcolm McDowell) gets brainwashed by a futuristic English government so that he becomes deathly ill every time he encounters violence. THE CONTROVERSY : You mean besides its irreverent use of Gene Kelly's ''Singin' in the Rain''? That the movie first landed an X rating and was deemed pornographic across the U.S. was nothing compared with its reception in the U.K.: Social uproar and reports of copycat crimes led Kubrick to withdraw Clockwork from distribution in his adopted country. It wasn't officially available there again — in theaters or on video — until 2000, a year after his death.
3 FAHRENHEIT 9/11 DIRECTED BY MICHAEL MOORE (2004) THE PLOT Dubya's multitude of (alleged) sins, including the alliance between the Bush clan and Saudi Arabia and botched chances to prevent 9/11. THE CONTROVERSY : The documentary lit the fuse of right-wing America, detonating protests and hate campaigns to ban it (no dice). Moore was the first to break the post-9/11 moratorium on Bush bashing and set off a season of brutal smack-downs among the Bill O'Reillys and Keith Olbermanns of the world.
4 DEEP THROAT DIRECTED BY GERARD DAMIANO (1972) THE PLOT Distraught over her inability to enjoy sex, a young woman (Linda Lovelace) goes to a doctor (Harry Reems), who tells her the condition can only be treated, um, orally. THE CONTROVERSY : Intellectuals championed the film for striking a blow for First Amendment rights, while conservative leaders got it banned in many places and put Reems on trial for obscenity charges. Lovelace herself later denounced the film, claiming that while filming ''there was a gun to my head.''
5 JFK DIRECTED BY OLIVER STONE (1991) THE PLOT The true story of how New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) investigated conspiracy theories about President Kennedy's assassination. THE CONTROVERSY : Some saw Stone's documentary-on-steroids-like interpretation of those theories as lending them a certain patina of truth — raising fears that moviegoers would construe it as bona fide history. One result: a 1992 congressional act to release classified documents (which revealed nothing).
6 THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST DIRECTED BY MARTIN SCORSESE (1988) THE PLOT Jesus (Willem Dafoe) pursues his calling but, in a Satan-induced hallucination, dreams of a normal life that includes sex with Mary Magdalene. THE CONTROVERSY : Religious fundamentalists picketed and threatened boycotts weeks before its release. One group offered to buy the $6.5 million film from Universal to destroy it; some theaters, and later Blockbuster, refused to carry it. Oh, and the French rioted.
7 THE BIRTH OF A NATION DIRECTED BY D.W. GRIFFITH (1915) THE PLOT Griffith's epic follows the travails of two families during the Civil War and Reconstruction. THE CONTROVERSY : The film's depiction of African Americans as childlike, conniving, or rabid sex fiends, and the Ku Klux Klan as heroic saviors, sparked nationwide protests by the nascent NAACP. (It also became a KKK recruiting tool.) Censorship debates and protests have dogged the film in subsequent rereleases and when it was added to the National Film Registry in 1993.
8 NATURAL BORN KILLERS DIRECTED BY OLIVER STONE (1994) THE PLOT Homicidal lovers (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) cut a blood-soaked swath through America. THE CONTROVERSY : Though intended as a satire on the media, the film actually inspired several copycat killers to seek their own 15 minutes of fame, some even using imagery and dialogue from the film. Over 12 murders in the U.S. and abroad have been linked to Killers. One victim's family tried to sue Stone and Warner Bros.
9 LAST TANGO IN PARIS DIRECTED BY BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI (1972) THE PLOT A disaffected American (Marlon Brando) travels to Paris, where he throws himself into an affair with a young Frenchwoman (Maria Schneider). THE CONTROVERSY: Critics and audiences were sharply divided over this X-rated erotic psychodrama. The film's stark (as in naked) depiction of loveless, animalistic carnality horrified some — and landed its director and stars in an Italian court on obscenity charges.
10 BABY DOLL DIRECTED BY ELIA KAZAN (1956) THE PLOT A Mississippi cotton-gin owner (Eli Wallach) humiliates a competitor (Karl Malden) by attempting to seduce the man's still-virgin wife (Carroll Baker). THE CONTROVERSY: Written by Tennessee Williams, the film struck Catholic leaders as lewd. (A similar flap greeted 1943's The Outlaw over Jane Russell's bust.) New York's Cardinal Spellman forbade the faithful to see it ''under pain of sin.'' Some theaters pulled it, but it eventually earned four Oscar nominations.