Controversy Over Short Film Revisited

Several weeks ago I wrote a blog about a police raid during the early days of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and I said that the film may have been the Swedish film, I Am Curious (Yellow). I have been informed that although I Am Curious did cause quite a controversy, and was even banned in the state of Massachusetts, the actual film that was shut down was Jack Smith‰غھs short film Flaming Creatures (1963), and it was actually shown by the Cinema Guild (CG), the oldest student film society on U of M‰غھs campus.

It was January 1967, and according to an interview in the Fall 2008 Department of Screen Arts & Cultures newsletter (see pages 10-11) with film professor and Cinema Guild Faculty Advisor, Hugh Cohen, he was contacted by an Ann Arbor Sheriff and told not to show Flaming Creatures, only after CG showed another controversial film, Jean Genet‰غھs Un Chant D‰غھAmour (1950) two weeks before.

As can be imagined if a film running for a packed auditorium of students is stopped short, uproar was caused with the police seizure. Not only was the reel confiscated though, a few CG board members were also arrested after disobeying police orders not to show the film. On January 20, 1967 The New York Times reported that about 100 students demonstrated outside the police station afterwards. It wasn‰غھt until over a year later that the CG members who had been taken to court for misdemeanors were dropped of the charges. Ironically, after the charges had been dropped, the State of Michigan published a report saying that the members shouldn‰غھt have been arrested and that the film was much too dull to be considered pornographic.

What I found most interesting about the information brought to me is the number of controversial films that were being shown underground during the 60s and 70s. I watched Flaming Creatures to see if the film was as provocative as had originally been described, and although it may have been considered to push boundaries in the mid-to-late 60s, it would be considered amateur by today‰غھs standards. I was actually bored watching the film, and its filming was rather choppy and dizzying. It‰غھs amazing how far we have come today in being able to exercise artistic freedom. It‰غھs also incredible how desensitized people have become over nudity and violence. The quick flashes of breasts and intertwined legs in Flaming Creatures that was deemed too sexual a few decades ago would be seen as trite today.

It‰غھs fascinating how much of the history embedded in the clubs and organizations on U of M‰غھs campus are concomitant with the changing views and practices of the general public during those times. It just goes to show that Michigan has always been on the forefront when it comes to taking an active role in the issues about which they feel strongly. Even when negatively deemed rebellious, and sometimes even faced with more serious consequences (like jail), those involved with U of M do not back down from voicing their opinions. It seems that Michigan students are often a step ahead in movements of change, and that is something to be proud of.