You wouldn’t think that a whacky Rogen/Franco comedy could cause much serious controversy or safety concerns, so the unexpected news on Wednesday that theaters are pulling The Interview and that Sony is cancelling its release came as quite a shock. Apparently some threats of large scale violence have been issued against theaters that show the film, causing all major exhibitors to drop the movie and Sony, in turn, to indefinitely delay release. The entire situation seems like something out of The Interview itself, the whole thing smacking of a strange irony and overblown reactions. It’s also a situation that sets a dangerous precedent for the suppression of art in the face of fear. I was going to write about The Hobbit, but here we are. Of course The Interview isn’t the only movie in history subject to overblown reactions due to content or outside criticism. So here are some controversial movies that elicited some strong feelings and crazy reactions upon their release.
6. Team America: World Police
This Matt Stone/Trey Parker (of South Park fame) penned puppet comedy-satire about an elite military team sent to save the world from a terrorist plot led by Kim Jong-il. Fitting, isn’t it? It’s no coincidence that the Alamo Drafthouse in Dallas, Texas has decided to screen Team America in place of the now defunct The Interview on Christmas Day. Before the film was initially released, Team America received some major criticism from political sources for mocking the war on terror. A “senior Bush administration official” – which turned out to be a “junior staffer” – strongly condemned the film, as did the conservative group Move America Forward.
5. Last Tango In Paris
This erotic drama, starring Marlon Brando and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, may have been the first X rated film to be nominated for an Academy Award, but that didn’t stop the controversy surrounding its explicit and unconventional sexual scenes. The film is about a recently widowed American (Brando) who carries on a violent and torrid affair with an anonymous woman. Not only did the actors claim trauma and humiliation after completing the film, but censors and critics had a field day with Tango’s content. Perhaps one of the most extreme consequences came from Bertolucci’s home country of Italy. There, not only was the film completely banned and all copies destroyed, but Bertolucci was convicted of obscenity and served a four month suspended prison sentence.
4. Deep Throat
This was the movie that brought pornography out into the open and popularized the “porno chic” genre of accessible pornographic films. Linda Lovelace plays an undersexed woman who can’t seem to achieve orgasm until it is discovered that her clitoris is located in her throat. The rest I think you can guess. Some consider it a landmark film in its positive depiction of female sexual pleasure. Of course, the film was incredibly controversial upon its release and banned in several locations, with the production company eventually tried on obscenity charges and conspiracy to distribute obscenity across state lines. While most of these initial convictions were overturned – partly with the help and support of notable Hollywood insiders – these legal troubles ultimately helped to make Deep Throat one of the most popular X rated movies ever made.
Caligula is a strange hodgepodge of a movie. On one hand you have the butchered remains of a script by Gore Vidal and an incredible cast featuring the likes of Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, and John Gielgud, but on the other you have the Penthouse producers adding gratuitous scenes of sex and violence. It’s not often a movie is so bad that nearly everyone involved disavows it – including writer Gore Vidal and director Tinto Brass. Despite internal conflict, budgeting issues, and legal troubles, Caligula was an international success, becoming the highest grossing independent pornographic film ever produced. The film is now a cult classic, with Helen Mirren calling it “an irresistible mix of art and genitals.”
2. Natural Born Killers
Any Tarantino script is going to have its share of criticisms and controversies, but perhaps none more than this Oliver Stone directed satire of violence and media. The film boasts some awesome star power, including Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr., Juliette Lewis, and Tommy Lee Jones in a rare wacky, non-deadpan role. The movie is a hugely violent, incredibly funny, scathing and manic look at how the media’s depiction of murderers and violence perpetuates our fascination with them. The film was blamed on a number of occasions for inspiring real life acts of violence, including the Columbine shootings, and was subject to censorship before its initial release. While I imagine Tarantino’s disenchantment with the film had little to do with the violence content, he didn’t like the final product and asked for his name to be removed from the credits. To this day, he vehemently hates Stone’s Natural Born Killers.
1. A Clockwork Orange
This is another movie that supposedly inspired copycat crimes and acts of violence. This film, about a youth named Alex and the acts of ultra-violence he goes about committing with his droogs, was pulled from British theaters by director Stanley Kubrick himself after reports of these copycat crimes. While the film has been readily available in the US in various versions, A Clockwork Orange remained effectively banned in the UK for twenty-seven years, until Kubrick’s death in 1999. Kubrick denied any connection between his film and these crimes, saying that even hypnosis can’t make someone do what is inherently against their nature, but stood by his decision to pull the film from exhibition.