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Bijou Board: UI wrong in shutting down porn movie

BY GUEST OPINION | MARCH 01, 2010 7:30 AM

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The following is a version of the open letter sent to Tom Rocklin, University of Iowa vice president for Student Services.

Dear Mr. Rocklin:

We, as members of the Bijou Theater Board of Directors, have a few concerns we would like to bring to your attention. Last month, a series of events led to the cancellation of our planned midnight screenings of Disco Dolls in Hot Skin, a 1977 3-D pornographic film, or, as our advertisements put it, “an erotic camp classic.” This cancellation occurred on Feb. 9, when you were informed that the Bijou would show Disco Dolls. Without the opportunity to respond to your concerns or defend our choice of film, we were forced to cancel the two midnight screenings planned for Feb. 12 and 13.

Your office then issued a public statement that, we feel, needlessly inflamed a situation that had already begun to operate counter to the spirit of open and honest inquiry that is central to the university’s educational mission. We were particularly disheartened by one remark from your press release: “If showing the film were essential to an educational objective, the situation would be different. The intent in this case was to provide entertainment.” To what degree does deciding the merits of individual films to be played at the Bijou fall under your purview? It is our understanding that this board alone is responsible for those decisions.

We believe that it would have been more constructive for you to bring your concerns to us in a manner that would have allowed us the opportunity to analyze your reservations and respond in a suitable fashion. We ask that you bring any future concerns to us in a timely manner for that purpose. Had you done so in this case, you would have found that we had good reasons for choosing to schedule Disco Dolls, as we do with all films that we exhibit. Pornographic films in the 1970s brought in people from all walks of life — from celebrities, to homemakers, to college students. Deep Throat, for example, played a role in the shaping of our culture during that era, while also becoming immensely profitable. In fact, the Bijou screened Deep Throat to an audience of more than 5,000 during the film’s initial release.

Likewise, stereoscopic filmmaking was another minor-but-fascinating aspect of mid-20th century popular cinema — one that is currently seeing a resurgence after years of dormancy. Disco Dolls marks a rare intersection between these two alternative practices, making it a strange and interesting cultural artifact.

The Bijou’s constitution states, “The Bijou is committed to programming independent, art-house, foreign, and classic film-related events not normally available in the Iowa City area.” Because of its peculiar pedigree, we believe we followed that mission statement by selecting Disco Dolls for screening. Your statement makes an assertion that there is no educational merit to showing such films. We believe this flies in the face of university practices.

In addition, classes across several disciplines — including film, communications, and art — regularly show and discuss pornography as part of their coursework. It is also our opinion that the age and kitsch level of the film would have left spectators no choice but to analyze and engage with the film on a critical level and to see it for the artifact it is.

For that reason, it is the board’s position that these screenings would not have drawn some seedy, trench-coat crowd in search of titillation; rather, they would have brought in intelligent students and community members to see and discuss the strange spectacle of 1970s 3-D pornography in a safe, alcohol-free space. In the coming weeks, the Bijou will screen Inside Deep Throat, a documentary that explores the history of pornography and its place in American culture and the cinema canon.

We would like to invite you, or a representative from your office, to join a panel discussion after the film, so that you can add your thoughts to the debate over this complex issue.

Thank you very much for your time.


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