Synopsis by Nathan Southern
To countless avant-garde novelists, filmmakers, and playwrights, publisher Barney Rosset -- proprietor of the legendary Grove Press -- qualifies as an undisputed hero. Via scores of in-court legal battles, Rosset fought aggressively and valiantly to defend the release of works as varied as William S. Burroughs' novel Naked Lunch, Henry Miller's novel Tropic of Cancer, and Vilgot Sjöman's classic arthouse film I Am Curious (Yellow). As co-directed by Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O'Connor, the documentary Obscene builds a case not only for the idea that Rosset was utterly indispensable in the battle for freedom of speech that descended on America in the late '60s and early '70s, but that he deserves hearty praise for championing works that pushed accepted moral standards into theretofore unacceptable territory. Via a combination of extensive archival footage and interviews, Obscene traces Rosset's professional and personal life, beginning with his early years at the Parker School and Swarthmore through his involvement in the armed forces and his presence in the Manhattan avant-garde with wife Joan Mitchell during the late '40s and early '50s. The film places heaviest emphasis on (and devotes most of its screen time to) Rosset's censorship battles for various works during the mid- to late '60s, before moving into an exploration of his troubled subsequent years that were marked by financial difficulty, violent attacks from disapproving groups, government surveillance, and a host of other complications. Interviewees include Rosset, Al Goldstein, John Waters, Gore Vidal, John Sayles, and Ray Manzarek.
avant-garde, censorship, court-battle, freedom-of-speech, obscenity, publisher