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New York Times

August 5, 1973


Has the Supreme Court Saved Us From Obscenity?

NY Times Archives link to full article

In its recent anti-obscenity rulings [of June 21, 1973], the Supreme Court gave the individual states the right to pass laws banning publications, films or plays that "appeal to the prurient interest in sex which portray sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and which, taken as a whole, do not have serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value."

The determination of what is "prurient," "patently offensive," and "serious" is to be made locally, on the basis of how "the average person, applying contemporary community standards," would react.

Do these rulings represent progress or a step backward? What will be their impact on movies and the movie industry? On the independent filmmaker? How can moviemakers meet the new "community" standards?

The Times has asked a number of prominent people--covering a wide political spectrum--for their opinions of the rulings. The overwhelming majority of those who replied opposed the decision. Following are the replies.


Editor's Note: Joan's is the 2nd of 15 opinion pieces included in this article. The order of author appearance:

Jules Puffer, Joan, William F. Buckley, Melvin Van Peebles, Chris Chase, Paul Mazursky, Jack Valenti, Shelley Winters, Gerard Damiano, Penelope Gilliatt, Harry Raven Jr., Malcolm Boyd, Henry Miller, Ephraim London, David V. Picker


'I Deplore Going Back'

By JOAN CRAWFORD, actress.

ALLEN McKEE said it succinctly in these pages when he wrote, "We have gone too far forward toward that freedom to relinquish the progress."

Indeed, we have gone forward and deplore going back--way, way back to the censor boards and regulatory bodies that would piously and unilaterally proclaim what we should read and what we should see. With a single stroke of their repressive pens, the majority opinion (by one vote only) of the Supreme Court has told us that community standards would provide the final answer to all of our problems with prurience. What a blow to all of our talented and creative people who will no longer be able to tell a cinematic story with honesty and forthrightness. The local censor will be looking over the shoulder of our directors, into the camera of our cinematographers, impugning the integrity of our writers, and inhibiting the work of our actors.

How can moviemakers meet the new "community" standards? Will they make "covering shots" for Memphis, or Omaha? Perhaps St. Louis or Binghamton, New York, needs a special handling of a unique scene. Are we going to codify our prints hot, cool, or cold, or mild, medium, or the TRUTH?

That's it--that's what we'll be missing ultimately--the truth, and without it we will sink back into the unrealities and banalities of the past. To preserve our true liberties, we must read and see whatever we please. Boredom will pronounce its own death sentence on repetitive pornography.

Having just come of age, must the movies now retreat into obscurity, the victim of overzealous arbiters intent upon destroying the freedom of the creative arts? If, as alleged, one picture is worth a thousand words, then surely it is a thousand times more important to restore that freedom that is inviolate as provided in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.


Below: A 1973 Rona Barrett article in unknown magazine with a loose take on Joan's actual words in the Times. With bonus Liberace article.




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