`Bleep' exposes a censorship debate

Documentary looks at `sanitized' films, industry opposition

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April 26, 2005|By Noel Holston | Noel Holston,NEWSDAY

Little reported outside of show-biz trade publications and the Los Angeles Times, Hollywood's hometown newspaper, the U.S. Senate on Feb. 1 passed legislation that includes the Family Movie Act of 2005. It permits the manufacture, sale and home use of certain technology that enables a viewer to skip or mute objectionable portions - nudity, for instance, or graphic violence - of a movie on DVD.

It made executives at ClearPlay Inc., which makes precisely that sort of content-screening device, very happy. It did not resolve a legal battle between some notable filmmakers and several companies that purchase, "sanitize" and resell DVDs by mail or through video-rental outlets. Pro and con arguments about the latter make up the bulk of Bleep! Censoring Hollywood, a thought-provoking documentary produced for AMC by ABC News Productions.

Opposing interests

On one side are entrepreneurs from companies with names such as CleanFlicks and Family Flix. They say they're serving a movie-loving but sensitive audience that would be more excited about seeing, for instance, Troy, if it didn't show Brad Pitt graphically thrusting a sword into the chest of a battlefield opponent or stripping naked. And their attitude, essentially, is, "Hey, we paid for the DVDs. We can do what we gosh-darn well please with them."

On the other side are producers and directors who say, "No, not with our copyrighted material you can't," and who also raise the issue of artistic integrity. "It's patently wrong," says director Taylor Hackford (Ray, An Officer and a Gentleman).

The more devilish readers may question why anyone would want to rent a Brad Pitt movie - or Angelina Jolie film, to be gender-balanced - in which the clothes stay on. But we don't need the ABC News poll quoted in Bleep to tell us a significant number of people believe movies, particularly in the past decade, often go farther than they need to.

Much to the credit of the producers of Bleep, they don't hang the DVD cleansers out to dry by emphasizing crude, glaring edits.

One before-and-after example they include - a scene from The Bourne Supremacy - may remind older movie fans (and young viewers who've seen a few older movies) of how Hollywood once used discrete cutaways to "suggest" something sexy or horrible without showing it. The documentary suggests that the DVD purifiers aren't necessarily the ham-fisted butchers that directors such as Hackford and Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) say they are.

Then again, whose vision is it anyway? If a director wants to linger long on a breast or a blow to the head or to use language corrosive enough to strip paint, it's his or her work and his or her choice. Producer Marshall Herskovitz (The Last Samurai) no doubt speaks for every filmmaker, artistes and hacks alike, when he says, "I decide what's essential and integral to my work."

The consensus of legal experts consulted in Bleep, including Columbia University's June Besek, is that copyright law ultimately will favor the movie-DVD copyright holders and that the people at CleanFlicks and CleanFilms and Family Flix will have to cease and desist. But the lawsuits and countersuits may take years to resolve.

Books can be crude, too

Meantime, I wish the producers of Bleep would have spent a few minutes exploring the difference in the way we look at DVDs as opposed to books. If I bought a case of Elmore Leonard's novel Freaky Deaky, lined through all the violent scenes and cuss words with a black marking pen and advertised revised tomes on eBay, would the author or the publisher make a fuss?

I didn't ask whether anyone would buy a copy.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.


What: Bleep! Censoring Hollywood

Where: AMC cable network

When: 10 tonight

In brief: ABC News documentary explores the controversy surrounding companies that are marketing digitally "sanitized" DVDs of Hollywood films.@SUBHED


The major movie-"sanitizing" companies



Cost: $19.95 per month to rent up to two DVDs at once; purchase prices are generally $14.50 if you already own the original DVD, $29.95 otherwise.

Edited out: Profanity (including nonreligious references to deities, a standard true of all the companies), graphic violence, nudity, sexual content.



Cost: $19.95 per month for unlimited rentals; prices to buy vary but are comparable to regular DVDs.

Edited out: Nudity, sexual situations, offensive language, graphic violence.

Family Flix


Cost: To have the company edit movies you already own, it's $6.95 for VHS and $13.95 for DVD. To buy a new edited DVD, prices range from $24.95 to $35.95.

Edited out: Sex/nudity, inappropriate dress, gratuitous violence, innuendoes/crude humor, profanity and "non-traditional family values," described as "homosexuality, perversions, cohabitation."



Cost: $7.95 per month or $79 per year for access to all filters. If you don't already own the required ClearPlay-enabled DVD player, you can buy one for $149, including a year's subscription to the filter service.

Edited out: It's up to you to select what content you want skipped over or muted.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper

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