11:48 PM

Most Controversial Film of All-Time

Posted by ram agentorange


Films always have the ability to anger us, divide us, shock us, disgust us, and more. Usually, films that inspire controversy, outright boycotting, picketing, banning, censorship, or protest have graphic sex, violence, homosexuality, religious, political or race-related themes and content. They usually push the envelope regarding what can be filmed and displayed on the screen, and are considered taboo, "immoral" or "obscene" due to language, drug use, violence and sensuality/nudity or other incendiary elements. Inevitably, controversy helps to publicize these films and fuel the box-office receipts.

Controversy-invoking films may be from almost any genre - documentaries, westerns, erotic-thrillers, dramas, horror, comedy, or animated, and more. Standards for what may be considered shocking, offensive or controversial have changed drastically over many decades.The voluntary ratings system of the Motion Picture Association of America can influence a film's public showing in a theatre -- an NC-17 rating or an unrated film may often close down a film's screening and lead to commercial failure.

The following illustrated list in the next few web pages, in unranked alphabetical order, presents a solid collection of the most controversial films in cinematic history. Entertainment Weekly's June 16, 2006 issue contained a listing of their top 25 "Most Controversial Movies of All-Time" - included here and indicated with the # numbers after the film title, in this more comprehensive list.

Note: The films that are marked with a yellow star are the films that "The Greatest Films" site has selected as the "100 Greatest Films".
For the many other milestone films with sexual scenes that were especially notorious, infamous, controversial, or scandalous,
see this site's special writeups on Sex in Cinema and the genre of Sexual/Erotic Films.

Aladdin (1992) # 25
D. Ron Clements and John Musker

This Walt Disney feature film animation engendered considerable controversy for its pro-Western portrayal of Aladdin and Jasmine (always unveiled), the fact that turbaned characters were bald, and all the villainous characters were Arab caricatures.

Another conflict arose, following protests from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), regarding the lyrics in one of the verses of the opening song "Arabian Nights." The original lyric about the film's Arabian setting ("Where they cut off your ears if they don't like your face/It's barbaric, but, hey, it's home") was censored/dubbed out and changed to "Where it's flat and immense and the heat is intense/It's barbaric, but, hey, it's home" for subsequent video releases in 1993 and for the re-released soundtrack.

Caligula (1979) # 24
D. Tinto Brass

This lavish Roman-Empire epic was written by Gore Vidal and co-financed by adult-oriented Penthouse magazine's producer Bob Guccione, though the script underwent several re-writes after the director and cast found Gore Vidal's interpretation unsatisfactory (Vidal later disowned it). It advertised itself as "the most controversial film of the 20th century" - and was the most expensive pornographic film ever made.

This was Hollywood's first big-budget ($15 million that later ballooned to $22 million), bizarre blockbuster sexploitation epic of 'classy' hardcore sex and gory violence - and it became both a critical and commercial disaster after a very limited theatrical release (due to fear of prosecution for obscenity). The objectionable film was originally intended to be high-art, with major stars (Malcolm McDowell as the infamous Roman emperor, John Gielgud, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole), but was described as a "moral holocaust" by Variety and reviewers considered it worthless fantasy trash.

The fim was notorious for its graphic and steamy sex scenes (including a large-scale orgy, masturbation, explicit sex acts, sexual depravity and decadence including a lesbian one between two Penthouse Pets Lori Wagner and Marjorie Thoreson as Anneka Di Lorenzo that was filmed later and inserted for prurient interest). Originally self-rated as X and shown as unrated in a 156-minute version, it was then severely edited for an R-rating down to about 105 minutes.

Kids (1995) # 23
D. Larry Clark

Director Larry Clark's much-criticized dark cinema verite independent film was a well-needed realistic tale about drugs, amorality, sex, obscene talk, and generally decadent behavior among teenaged youth. Clark's first feature film was one of the most truthful films about promiscuous, sexually-pleasurable and fulfilling but emotionless teenage (and pre-teen) sexuality - with lethal high-risk consequences. However, others criticized it as salacious, sleazy and bordering on child pornography with lots of raunchy talk and simulated sex - disguised as a cautionary documentary.

It followed a group of teenagers and preteens during 24 hours of a hot Manhattan summer, with a 17-year-old skateboarder named Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick) - a self-proclaimed "virgin surgeon" with HIV whose goal was to deflower as many girls as possible ("Virgins. I love 'em. No diseases, no loose as a goose pussy, no skank. No nothin'. Just pure pleasure"). Easily-seduced Girl # 1 (Sarah Henderson) was an easy target, as was Jenny (a young Chloe Sevigny), who became an HIV-positive-infected teen through sexual contact with Telly, as he went on a search for his next virginal victim at a skinny-dipping pool party, 13 year-old Darcy (Yakira Peguero). One of its more shocking scenes was the ending scene -- hung-over, post-partying Caspar (Justin Pierce), Telly's friend, took advantage of unconscious, stoned-out and helpless Jenny on a bed by raping her (and possibly infecting himself). When he woke up the next morning, he delivered the film’s final line: "Jesus Christ, what happened?"

It was released unrated to avoid the stigma of an NC-17 rating. As a buffer against the furor, Miramax (owned by Disney at the time) created a new entity, Shining Excalibur Films, to release the picture. It was also banned by Warner Bros from its cinemas throughout Britain upon release.

Clark's next controversial films, Bully (2001) and Ken Park (2002), followed similar white teens and authentically explored their sexuality.

Do The Right Thing (1989) # 22
D. Spike Lee

African-American writer/director Spike Lee's third (and breakout) feature film was this complex, angry and unapologetic social protest film about racism, racial pride, intolerance and oppression, class struggle and violence. This controversial and incendiary independent film, receiving a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award nomination for Lee, was about racial tensions that eventually erupted into a riot on a sweltering summer day in the multi-ethnic Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. It was told with vibrantly bright colors, realistic and goofily-named characters and dialogue, a supplementary "Greek chorus" of black men on the corner commenting on the day's events, and energetic editing and quasi-documentary, cocked camera angles.

During the opening credits, Public Enemy performed the film's hard-edged anthem and title song, "Fight the Power" - foreshadowing the coming emergence of rap and hip-hop music into the mainstream culture. The multi-ethnic cast of the film provided three-dimensional characters and day-in-the-life stories, and featured the early career work of Samuel L. Jackson (as DJ Mister Senor Love Daddy) and Rosie Perez (as demanding single mother and girlfriend Tina). The tension began to escalate in this slice-of-life film because of a complaint by a militant activist neighborhood patron named Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito) that there were no pictures of 'brothers' on the "Wall of Fame" in a white-operated, Italian "Famous Pizzeria" restaurant owned by Sal (Oscar-nominated Danny Aiello), followed by his attempt to "boycott [Sal's] fat pasta ass". The film climaxed with the brutal choke-hold police murder of Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), the arrest of Buggin' Out, and pizza delivery boy Mookie's (Spike Lee) incitement of a fiery riot by hurling a trashcan through Sal's storefront window, causing further racial divide and police brutality.

Although it was feared by film critics that this would cause and incite similar responses from black urban-dwellers, this proved to be a misrepresentation of the facts by the film's detractors, that dubbed the film "irresponsible". Two contradictory quotations ended the film, one from Martin Luther King, Jr. advocating non-violence, and the other from Malcolm X advocating violent self-defense in response to oppression.

Bonnie And Clyde (1967) # 21
D. Arthur Penn

This innovative, revisionist Hollywood film redefined and romanticized the crime/gangster genre and the depiction of screen violence forever. The landmark film was ultimately a popular and commercial success, but it was first widely denounced and condemned by film reviewers for glamorizing the two Depression-era killers (Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker and Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow), and only had mediocre box-office results.

In the autumn of 1967, it opened and closed quite quickly - enough time for it to be indignantly criticized for its shocking violence, graphic bullet-ridden finale (with its slow-motion ballet of death) and for its blending of humorous farce with brutal killings. Then, after a period of reassessment, there were glowing reviews, critical acclaim, a Time Magazine cover story, and the film's re-release - and it was nominated for ten Academy Awards. The film was also remarkable and controversial for its honest depiction of the unique relationship between an impotent Clyde and the sexually-aggressive Bonnie.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) # 20
D. Ruggero Deodato

This extremely graphic, hotly-debated cult classic Italian film - the uncredited inspirational precursor of the faux-documentary The Blair Witch Project - was filled with violent, grisly, and disturbing images. The exploitation film was purportedly the story of a film crew, led by Alan Yates (Gabriel York), that disappeared while making a documentary (a feature entitled "The Green Inferno" about the last surviving tribes that still practiced cannibalism) in the wilds of South America's Amazon area. Masterful cinematic tricks and special effects created an unnerving view of the fate of the team - found in undeveloped film cans by a search and rescue team.

Grisly, realistic-looking scenes included a castration/dismemberment, some beatings with large hammers, guts-eating, a forced abortion, numerous animal slaughterings (including a horrible turtle murder), gang-rape and impalement of a woman on a pole.

For his work on the film, the director was arrested by Italian authorities on suspicion of murder charges and faced life in prison, following its 1980 Milan premiere. He endured a trial when Italian authorities were unconvinced that the footage was indeed staged. Deodato lost the original trial, and all prints were to be destroyed, but he managed to have the ruling overturned in the early '80s when the actors finally appeared on TV to prove otherwise. Some five years passed before the film saw release in Deodato’s home country. This movie was banned for twenty years in certain countries, including the UK.

Basic Instinct (1992) # 19
D. Paul Verhoeven

Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas created this exploitative, soft-porn, excessive, controversial film known for its negative portrayal of lesbianism, offensive violence, initial X-rating, and voyeuristic, sensational, gratuitous sex. Sharon Stone starred as bisexual authoress Catherine Trammel who became a murder suspect (known for using an ice pick). The opening scene of a naked couple engaged in rough sex in a mirrored boudoir ended with an ice-pick stabbing. Frank and raw dialogue, such as this much-quoted line ("How about we f--k like minks, raise rug rats, and live happily ever after"), was woven throughout.

The film was also criticized for its rough near-rape sex scene between detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) and his police psychologist 'girlfriend' Jeanne Tripplehorn when he ripped off her clothes and took her from behind. The R-rated film (initially rated NC-17) also gained notoriety for the film's interrogation scene in which Sharon Stone brazenly talked about sex, smoked (in a no-smoking area), and uncrossed and re-crossed her legs while wearing a short white mini-dress (without panties). Douglas also flashed his bare backside after being watched having rough-house, bondage-style sex with Stone, to her leather-clad lesbian consort Roxy (Leilani Sarelle).

Womens' groups called the film misogynistic, and gay-rights groups in San Francisco (including The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)) called it stereotypically-homophobic and gay-bashing. They charged that the main murderess suspect in the film was a denegrating portrayal since she was a mentally-unstable, psychotic lesbian and bi-sexual that was potentially homicidal. Activists groups such as Queer Nation and ACT-UP protested at multiple San Francisco shooting locations, chanting "Hollywood, you stink" and they attempted to disrupt filming.

I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967, Swe.) # 18
D. Vilgot Sjöman

This landmark, avante-garde, mock-documentary film (shot with mostly hand-held cameras) allegedly included 'offensive' sexual scenes that were claimed to be pornographic at the time - scenes of full frontal nudity of both sexes (at 38 minutes into the film), simulated intercourse, and the kissing of the male's flaccid penis (over a full hour into the film). By today's standards, it is considered tame, although it helped to open the floodgates toward hard-core pornography and films such as the X-rated Best Picture Midnight Cowboy (1969), the porno chic Deep Throat (1972), and Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (1972).

The radical, experimental film-within-a-film of sexual politics told the dull and pretentious story of liberated 22 year-old Lena (Lena Nyman), an aspiring sociologist who was curious about political issues in late 60s Sweden, with endless soul-searching, lengthy street interviews with common people about the class system, newsreel footage, scenes of protest regarding the Vietnam War, scribbled on-screen slogans, her cataloguing of information, etc. Sexual interludes between Lena and car salesman Börje Ahlstedt (mirrored in the film and real life by a tumultuous triangle with director Vilgot Sjöman) are shot frankly and realistically.

US Customs seized the film in 1968, and the courts (and the Supreme Court) originally determined that the movie was 'obscene', although this verdict was overturned after appeal. It became a benchmark film for free-speech advocates.

It soon became the highest-grossing foreign film (at $20 million) released in the US for decades (a record that stood until Il Postino broke the mark in the mid 1990's), although the film was picketed. Unused footage and alternate takes from the film were culled for a concurrent, parallel film I Am Curious (Blue) (1968, Swe.) - the choice of colors represented the two colors of the Swedish flag.

Freaks (1932) # 17
D. Tod Browning

This MGM horror production starred real-life circus side-show performers (a cornucopia of 'human oddities', including Siamese twins Daisy and Violet, Prince Randian - the "Living Torso", Johnny the 'half-boy', the armless girl, the bearded lady, and three 'pinheads' or microcephalics). It was an out-of-the-ordinary picture not easily forgotten, causing both revulsion and fascination.

In the film's terrorizing and shocking climax, strong man Hercules (Henry Victor) and aerialist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) were both pursued in parallel by the grotesque 'freaks' with knives during a stormy night, crawling through mud in vengeful pursuit of their victims. The film was released officially (five months after disastrous preview showings) and found to be exploitative, abhorrent and "loathsome" with "unwholesome shockery", although it also portrayed the 'abnormal and the unwanted' as resilient and adaptable human beings with complete compassion and understanding. Overall, it made audiences uncomfortable and engendered fright, uneasiness and animosity.

After initial preview screenings, MGM ordered Browning to remove the alarming film's most "offensive" segments (approximately 26 minutes), including the original closing scene of an emasculated Hercules singing falsetto (after castration) in "Tetrallini's Freaks and Music Hall". And a final epilogue was tacked on with a 'happy ending' to lessen the shock of the film's original ending -- the sight of Cleopatra ("the peacock of the air") turned into a legless human chicken with one eye blinded. However, the changes in the film did not improve the film's box-office business and it was a major financial failure. Tod Browning's career, which was booming after directing Dracula (1931), was destroyed.

MGM pulled the film from distribution a month after its release, and in 1947, exhibition rights were sold to exploitation filmmaker/distributor Dwain Esper for the next 25 years. It was toured for an adults-only roadshow with alternative titles (i.e., Forbidden Love, The Monster Show, and Nature's Mistakes), exploitative taglines, such as: "Do Siamese Twins Make Love?" and "Can a Full Grown Woman Truly Love a Midget?" The film was banned outright in England for 31 years (until the early 1960s).

United 93 (2006) # 16
D. Paul Greengrass

This R-rated chillingly-realistic, unflinching, emotionally-moving ultra-verite docu-drama by British writer/director Paul Greengrass told the courageous and tragic story of heroic crew members and passengers on United's Flight 93 (flying from Newark NJ to San Francisco), the fourth hijacked plane on September 11, 2001, who were able to thwart the terrorists and prevent the plane from reaching its intended target - but instead crashing into a field in western Pennsylvania. The film was made all the more real by including some of the actual FAA ground crew and military officers involved in the actual event as cast members, and by retelling the tale in real-time.

Necessarily containing intense and frightening sequences of terror and violence, the film (although precisely told and respectfully treating its subject matter without editorializing, theories, stereotypical human interest stories or personal dramas, or flag-waving politics) was criticized for its trailer, that made the film appear different than it actually was -- as a conventional thriller. Others wondered whether it was "too soon" after the event (on the 5th year anniversary) for US audiences to view - and varying opinions contributed to the emotional debate. Universal also received criticism that it was exploiting a national tragedy, although others felt it was important to help remember and be inspired by the shattering event.

Triumph Of The Will (1935, Ger.) # 15
D. Leni Riefenstahl

Nazi Fuhrer leader Adolf Hitler commissioned dancer/actress-turned filmmaker Leni Rienfenstahl to make this notorious documentary to record and celebrate the sixth Nazi Reich Party Congress held in September 1934 in Nuremberg. This spectacular propagandistic film glorified and praised the might of the unjust and evil Nazi regime and state with masterful images, rapid cuts, a Wagnerian score, and ingenious camera angles and compositions.

This infamous, extravagant two-hour film is still considered the most powerful propaganda film ever made, with grandiose opening shots of Messianic Hitler's arrival by plane, his heroic entrance and adulation by saluting ("Sieg Heil") multitudes and uniformed party members and soldiers (and Hitler Youth), and his charismatic exalted character during rousing speeches. Director Riefenstahl was imprisoned by the Allies for four years after the war, although she continued to protest by insisting that her work was purely historical and an example of cinema verite, rather than the repellent work which it was criticized and accused of being.

Protests greeted Riefenstahl at a 1974 Telluride Film Festival tribute, and the Anti-Defamation League decried a 1975 screening in Atlanta as ''morally insensitive.'' Riefenstahl herself never shook her Nazi-tainted past, and repeatedly claimed the film was more imagery than ideological.

The Warriors (1979) # 14
D. Walter Hill

This urban fantasy cult movie (a modern retelling inspired by the Greek tale Anabasis by Xenophon) was director/writer Walter Hill's third feature film. It was a surprise hit although it had a large cast of unknown actors from the New York theater area, and it presented a cartoonish-like display of violence (without blood) and an unrealistic view of NY street gangs (with their flamboyant costumes and face paint).

However, the film's original poster, which stated the film's tagline: "These are the armies of the night" and this additional phrase: "They are 100,000 strong. They outnumber the cops five to one. They could run New York City", outraged and scared many people - and some of the film's early showings incited lethal violence (in Palm Springs and Oxnard, California) and caused gang outbreaks.

Due to these reports of criminal violence in a few locations, the film was temporarily pulled out of circulation in over half a dozen theaters by its nervous Paramount Studios despite being a box office success. One theater in Washington hired full time security until the end of the film's run. Paramount also attempted to modify the film's advertising campaign by pulling its print and TV advertising, but then was compelled to remove the film from release entirely. The film later gained a cult following when the cable TV and the VCR revolution occurred, and through midnight showings.

This controversial film told the story of The Warriors gang (from Coney Island) who attended a truce meeting of gang members in Van Cortland Park in the Bronx, where charismatic gangleader Cyrus (Roger Hill) was shot dead by anarchistic Luther (David Patrick Kelly) of the Rogues gang after a speech, with the Warriors falsely accused of the crime by the Gramercy Riffs. The Warriors gang, led by reluctant hero Swan (Michael Beck) and joined by tough-talking would-be girlfriend Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) from the Orphans, had to flee back to their home turf without weapons and with every rival gang in pursuit through the dark night of NYC. Lynne Thigpen's role was as a melodic-voiced, omniscient radio DJ who communicated God-like through coded-message broadcasts, providing a running commentary about the progress of all the rival gangs and the movements and location of the Warriors - she was represented only by her full, sensual fire-red lipsticked lips.

The gangs they encountered along each stop of their subway ride across town included the Turnball ACs (multi-racial skinheads riding in old green schoolbuses, with chains and planks of wood for weapons), the Orphans (low-class hoodlums with razor blades), the infamous Baseball Furies (represented the Furies - with baseball bats as weapons), the seductive Lizzies (a female gang representing the Sirens), the Punks (dungaree clad who fight the Warriors in the men's room of the Bowery station, in one of the film's best scenes), the Rogues (led by Luther who memorably taunted with empty clinking beer bottles: "Warriors, come out to playyy"), the (Gramercy) Riffs (the largest and most powerful gang - now vengeful and led by Masai after Cyrus' death) -- and many more -- and finally, the New York City police.
The Da Vinci Code (2006) # 13
D. Ron Howard

Director Ron Howard's much-anticipated, big-screen religious conspiracy thriller with the tagline "Seek the Truth" was faithfully based upon Dan Brown's best-selling fictional book. It told about an investigation by symbologist and Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) after the discovery of the murder of the Louvre Museum's elderly curator Jacques Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle).

The man's naked body was found with symbols and an enigmatic encrypted code written in blood, a scrambled numerical sequence, and a revealing pose. [He was murdered by self-flagellating albino monk Silas (Paul Bettany) in the employ of devious Bishop Aringarosa (Alfred Molina).] This information led the wrongly-accused murder suspect Langdon and Sophie through a byzantine trail of clues -- to a millenarian secret sect called The Priory of Sion (with heretical theories about the marriage of a mortal Jesus Christ with Mary Magdalene and fathering a child - the real Holy Grail!) and crippled Grail scholar Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen). The search also led them to knowledge of the Priory's centuries-old battle with the clandestine Catholic sect Opus Dei regarding a 2,000 year old conspiracy to hush information, new findings about the Holy Grail, to Da Vinci's master work The Last Supper, London's mythical Church Temple (where a group of Templars Knights were believed to be buried), and Sir Isaac Newton's tomb at Westminster Abbey.

Several Catholic and Opus Dei groups, as well as conservative Christian groups, called for a boycott, mostly during the making of the film, accusing it of blasphemy. Even albinos were offended by the film, and lobbied for changes to the way the film portrayed them. Yet the tedious film was received lukewarmly as a convoluted, flat and stultified bore.

The Deer Hunter (1978) # 12
D. Michael Cimino

Storywriter/producer/director Michael Cimino's epic about war and friendship was a powerful, disturbing and compelling look at the Vietnam War through the lives of three blue-collar, Russian-American friends in a small Pennsylvania steel-mill town before, during, and after their service in the war.

Although a Best Picture Oscar-winner, the meandering, sometimes shrill, raw film was extremely controversial on many accounts - political, historical and emotional. The flawed, extravagantly-expensive film was often pretentious, ambiguous, overwrought and excessive, and loosely edited, with under-developed character portrayals and unsophisticated, careless film techniques. Critics argued that the film grossly distorted historical fact.

The most talked about sequences were the contrived, theatrical, and fictional Russian Roulette tortures, imposed twice in the narrative - on the American POW's during wartime, and played as a game in a Vietnamese gambling den. [However, there were no documented cases or historical reports of the deadly game in actuality.] Historically inaccurate or not, the fabricated scene of a Vietcong atrocity metaphorically depicted the brutal absurdity of the war. Director Cimino was also criticized as distortedly and one-sidedly portraying all the Asian characters in the film as despicable, sadistic racists and killers. He countered by arguing that his film was not political, polemical, literally accurate, or posturing for any particular point of view.

The Message (1976, 1977) (aka Mohammed, Messenger of God) # 11
D. Moustapha Akkad

Taglined as "The Story of Islam," this epic-length 178 minute dramatic biopic was the debut feature film of Islamic, Syrian-born producer/director Moustapha Akkad (who later produced John Carpenter's successful horror film Halloween (1978)). It starred Mexican-born actor Anthony Quinn (Abdallah Geith in the 198 minute Arabic version) - following his success in the desert epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962) -- as Mohammed's desert-dwelling warrior uncle Hamza. It was set in 7th century Mecca and documented the beginnings of Islam and the life and teachings of the prophet. The film's script - written by Irishman H.A.L. (Harry) Craig - took two years of research and writing before its readiness for filming, due in part to the restriction that Muslim authorities had to approve the finished screenplay before filming could commence.

Problems began almost immediately when it was unfoundly rumored that Peter O'Toole, and then American star Charlton Heston, would star in the lead role, causing two days of bloody riots in Karachi, Pakistan. This caused a stir because it was feared that the film would violate the strict Muslim belief (forbidden by Shari'a, Islamic holy law formed after Mohammed's death) that any representation of the Diety Allah or His Prophet Mohammed (and his immediate family including wives, daughters, and sons-in-law) could not be depicted on screen nor could his voice be heard. However, the politically-correct film represented him either off-screen, as the camera's point-of-view, or with occasional symbolic appearances (i.e., his camel-riding stick, his tent, and his holy camel). Nonetheless, endless protests, riots and death threats (by telephone) accompanied the film's production and making (totaling seven years).

In its troubled production history, the film was forced to move from Saudi Arabia to Morocco for filming, where Akkad promised that he would construct a $100 million film production studio, as well as recreate the city of Mecca (and a model of the town's sacred holy shrine, the Kaaba, at a cost of $400,000), and hire thousands of extras. [The film was originally backed for up to $60 million by Saudi monarch King Faisal, until he pulled out of the project while disallowing filming on location in Mecca and Medina. Later, Faisal denounced the infidel filmmakers in Morocco and caused the dismantlement of the whole film operation, resulting in relocation costs of more than $2 million.] Akkad was forced to move and find financial backing and sponsorship from terrorist-friendly Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi. Ultimately, The Message was shot in two versions with different cast members, a Western version in English and a special Arabic version (entitled Al-Ris-Alah), adding to the costs.

The film faced a dilemma regarding its marketing for US audiences, for its emphasis on a non-Western religious leader who didn't even appear in the film. Eventually, it was decided to use the tagline: "In four decades only four... "The Robe" "The Ten Commandments" "Ben-Hur" and now... For the first time...the vast, spectacular drama that changed the world!" Difficulties with the film's title forced it to be changed to The Message for its world premiere in London in late July, 1976. Various religious groups called the film 'sacrilegious' and 'an insult to Islam' and it was banned from showings in much of the Arab world. Without all the surrounding controversies whirling about, the film was still viewed as a bland, compromising film that was overlong.

There was further controversy when the film was scheduled to premiere in the U.S. in Washington, DC, in March, 1977. The Hanafi Black Muslim extremist group led by Hamas Abdul Khaalis staged a heavily-armed siege against the local Jewish chapter of the B'nai B'rith (its national headquarters) under the mistaken belief (without having seen the film) that Anthony Quinn played Mohammed in the film. During the two-day crisis, they took nearly 150 people hostage, and threatened to blow up the building while demanding the film opening's cancellation. Future DC mayor Marion Barry was shot when the terrorists overran the District Building, and many others were injured. The hostage situation was eventually defused by the FBI and Muslim ambassadors, and the theater chain that had booked the film cancelled the showing. This disastrous opening unfortunately ruined US box-office for the controversial film, as various moviehouses were forced to cancel their showings due to political pressures and further fears of violence.

Ironically, in late 2005, Akkad died from injuries sustained during terrorist attacks in Jordan.

Baby Doll (1956) # 10
D. Elia Kazan

Elia Kazan's film (based on Tennessee Williams' play) told about a thumb-sucking, white-trash, 19 year-old virginal 'baby doll' child bride (Carroll Baker) who was married (but unconsummated) to Mississippi cotton gin operator Archie Lee Meighan (Karl Malden), and seduced by a competing vengeful Sicilian cotton-gin owner Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach in his film debut). In the opening scenes, Baby Doll was crib-bound in nursery furniture, spied upon through a wall by her 'peeping tom' husband, and given no privacy while taking a bath.

The defiant film was a pot-boiling, condemned, and censored drama (by the Catholic Legion of Decency) - it was viciously condemned for, among other things, a notorious, highly-sexual seduction scene on a swing, of the young 'baby doll' nymphet by Vacarro to get her to sign a letter about Archie's guilt, their game of hide-and-seek in the upstairs (and attic), and later their kissing scene under a turned-off bare bulb in an adjoining room while Baby Doll's sexually-frustrated husband Archie was speaking on the phone nearby.

The Oscar-nominated film (with four nominations, but no wins, including Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay) was called notorious, salacious, revolting, dirty, steamy, lewd, suggestive, morally repellent and provocative. Time Magazine was noted as stating: "Just possibly the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited..." New York's Cardinal Spellman declared the film "evil in concept... certain to exert an immoral and corrupting influence on those who see it." The stark, controversial, black and white film was so viciously denounced by the Legion of Decency upon its release with a "C" (or condemned) rating that many theaters were forced to cancel their showings, but it still did moderately well at the box office despite the uproar.

Last Tango In Paris (1972, It./Fr.) # 9
D. Bernardo Bertolucci

Bertolucci's film was a landmark, controversial erotic film with raw (yet simulated) sexual scenes and primitive force - critics and audiences alike asked - was it erotic art or pornography? In the film's story, a distraught, confused, grieving widower and middle-aged, overweight American exile Paul (Marlon Brando) plunged into a sado-masochistic, physical (yet impersonal and basically anonymous) relationship with young, big-breasted 20 year-old Parisienne ingenue Jeanne (Maria Schneider). Paul's gutter-language and set of 'no questions asked' rules was notable for the time: "We are going to forget everything we knew - everything" - and their relationship became increasingly more vile, slavish, empty, humiliating, and unromantic (i.e., "You know in 15 years, you're going to be playing soccer with your tits. What do you think of that?").

It was noted for Paul's scatological monologues, its bathtub washing scene and the disturbing and explicit 'butter' scene during anal intercourse, in which she passively acquiesced to rape and forced sodomy (with an application of butter: "Get the butter") in an empty, rented apartment, as he forced her to repeat phrases such as: "the will is broken by repression". Later, Paul reciprocated by letting Jeanne penetrate him anally with her fingers - part of his objective to "look death right in the face...go right up into the ass of death... till you find the womb of fear." By film's end, she had shot him with her father's gun, and confessed to police: "I don't know who he is" and "I don't know his name".

It was noteworthy as the first "mainstream" film to carry the dreaded "X" rating. In 1974, it became the first film to be prosecuted under Britain's Obscene Publications Act - and the sodomy scene was ordered deleted. In the director's own country, the film was seized and banned, and charged for its "obscene content offensive to public decency". In the mid-70s, it was permanently banned in Italy (with all prints seized), its stars and director were condemned, and Bertolucci was given a 4-month suspended prison sentence.

Natural Born Killers (1994) # 8
D. Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone's film (from a Quentin Tarantino original script), a modern update and remake similar in theme to Terrence Malick's Badlands (1973), was a visually-riveting (with an eclectic style mix, including MTV-style), controversial, anarchic and brutal film about media sensationalism and obsession, in its story of two serial killer-lovers and white-trash outlaws: abused Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis) and psychotic Mickey (Woody Harrelson) - inspired by real-life spree killer Charles Starkweather, who went on a violent, cross-country (Route 666) Southwestern random killing joyride. TV tabloid show host/reporter Wayne Gale (Robert Downey, Jr.) made them famous celebrities for his sensationalist "American Maniacs" show. In the shocking ending, the two outlaws shot Gale - broadcast live on camera in a rural setting.

The extremely violent film was lambasted as "evil" and "loathsome" for its hypocritical violence-soaked satire on screen violence. It was subjected to numerous edits and cuts (reportedly 150) by the MPAA at the time of release (now restored in Stone's longer 'Director's Cut' version, that was licensed to a third party) to achieve an R-rating from its original NC-17 rating. Its public screening in the UK was delayed, because the film had instigated or 'inspired' murderous copycat shooting sprees in the US (including the Columbine High School Massacre) by those who viewed the protagonists as glamorous and romantic folk heroes -- similar to what happened after the release of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971).

In a failed civil suit, lawyer/novelist John Grisham accused Stone's film of being a 'faulty' or 'defective' product and that there was a 'causal link' between the film and various murders - he argued that Stone was legally accountable for inspiring real-life murders. The parents of paralyzed Patsy Byers, a 1995 victim of teen lovers (Ben Darras and Sarah Edmondson) in Louisiana, took expensive legal action against Stone and Warners, but the case was ultimately dismissed in 2001.

The Birth Of A Nation (1915) # 7
D. D. W. Griffith

This groundbreaking, landmark American film masterpiece about two families during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods was also extremely controversial and explicitly racist. It was based on former North Carolina Baptist minister Rev. Thomas Dixon Jr.'s anti-black, 1905 bigoted play, The Clansman, the second volume in a trilogy.

Its release set up a major censorship battle over its extremist depiction of African Americans, although Griffith naively claimed that he wasn't racist at the time. Unbelievably, the film is still used today as a recruitment piece for Klan membership - and in fact, the organization experienced a revival and membership peak in the decade immediately following its initial release. And the film stirred new controversy when it was voted into the National Film Registry in 1993, and when it was voted one of the "Top 100 American Films" (at # 44) by the American Film Institute in 1998.

The subject matter of the film caused immediate criticism by the newly-created National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for its racist and "vicious" portrayal of blacks, its proclamation of miscegenation, its pro-Klan stance, and its endorsement of enslavement. As a result, two scenes were cut (a love scene between Reconstructionist Senator and his mulatto mistress, and a fight scene).

In the scenes that remained, one recreated the first historic session of the legislature during Reconstruction, in which freed negro legislators were luridly and angrily portrayed as mocking the ideals of the Old South and shown as power-crazy, shiftless, lazy, idiotic, sitting shoeless (sprawled with bare feet upon their desks) and drinking in their legislature seats. In another, mulatto leader Silas Lynch (George Siegmann), lusting for power and miscegenation, attempted to force marriage upon Elsie Stoneman (Lillian Gish) - by force if necessary. During the most famous sequence in the film, excitement was heightened by shots of the Klan alternating with shots of the endangered Elsie - the film exhibited masterful parallel editing. Along a country road, the Klansman rode to their appointed mission - to first rescue Elsie, and then to rescue the entire Cameron family along with one of the Stoneman boys. In a diagonally-angled shot, a long line of KKK riders came into view from the distance.

The film was thoroughly renounced as "the meanest vilification of the Negro race" and for its depiction of blacks as childlike, conniving, and sexually animalistic. Riots broke out in major cities (Boston, Philadelphia, among others), and it was denied release in many other places (Chicago, Ohio, Denver, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Minneapolis, eight states in total). Subsequent lawsuits and picketing tailed the film for years when it was re-released (in 1924, 1931, and 1938). Ironically, although the film was advertised as authentic and accurate, the film's major black roles in the film -- including the Senator's mulatto mistress, the mulatto politican brought to power in the South, and faithful freed slaves -- were stereotypically played and filled by white actors - in blackface. [The real blacks in the film only played in minor roles.]

The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988) # 6
D. Martin Scorsese

This controversial, profound, and challenging adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis's 1955 best-selling novel (due to controversy) of the same name was Best Director-nominated by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The author was almost ex-communicated from the Greek Orthodox Church as a result of writing the book, and his work was frequently found on lists of banned books. The film was denounced as pornographic (for a non-explicit scene of Jesus procreating with his wife) even before its release, although the film stated in a pre-credits disclaimer: "This film is not based on the Gospels, but is a fictional exploration of the eternal spiritual conflict."

The major controversy concerned the 'last temptation' visionary/hallucinatory sequence in which a very human and suffering Jesus (Willem Dafoe) was tempted by Satan as he hung during crucifixion on the cross (while uttering: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?") - with a dream of an earthly existence with tattooed prostitute Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey). The vision included the blasphemous idea of a sexual relationship with her, including marriage and children, thereby implying that Jesus' choice to marry revealed him to be a flawed, frail, questioning, tormented and self-doubting man who was uncertain of the path he should follow. In the non-exploitative sequence, Jesus was naked in Mary's arms and they made tender, physical love. By film's end, however, the temptation was ultimately rejected by Jesus, and he returned to the cross with his triumphant dying words: "It is accomplished."

During one early screening in a Parisian movie theatre, a protesting fundamentalist French Catholic group threw a molotov cocktail at the screen and injured a number of people. Religious fundamentalists vehemently criticized, protested, boycotted, and picketed the film, with signs reading: "Don't Crucify Christ Again," "Stop This Attack on Christianity," and "Scripture Not Scripts." City leaders in Savannah, Georgia banned the film, and sent a signed petition to Universal requesting a widespread ban. The Blockbuster Video chain refused to carry the title, and one group suggested offering to buy the $7 million film from Universal in order to destroy it. Joseph Reilly of Morality in Media described the film as "an intentional attack on Christianity," and James Dobson of Focus on the Family warned ominously: "God is not mocked."
JFK (1991) # 5
D. Oliver Stone

Director/co-writer Oliver Stone's complex, provocative docu-film thriller was a controversial, speculatively revisionistic, historical epic surrounding one-time New Orleans DA Jim Garrison's (Kevin Costner) investigation of the John F. Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963. Its intriguing interpretation was based on the well-publicized and alleged conspiracy theories of the obsessed attorney about the mystery of the death, and on the testimony of a number of unreliable witnesses.

The film masterfully assembled and merged, like a jigsaw puzzle, various sources of material (newsreels, photos, black and white, color, 8 mm, 16 mm, etc., minature models, and re-enactments) into one film to create a semblance of truth, but not necessarily real history. However, Stone was attacked and dismissed by the American media, CBS, The New York Times, Time, Newsweek and The Washington Post, for deliberately combining factual and historical footage with hypothetical footage to make it appear to be one seamless, objective and truthful record of events. In response, Stone released the screenplay, annotated with its factual sources.

The courtroom trial scene in the last half of the film featured three very memorable segments to disprove the idea that assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman) acted alone:

(1) a detailed analysis of the famous Zapruder film (shot near the grassy knoll) that was subpoened by Garrison's office, but unseen by the American public ("a picture speaks a thousand words, doesn't it?"); the film disproved the Warren Commission's open and shut case of "three bullets, one assassin" - "the time frame of 5.6 seconds established by the Zapruder film left no possibility of a fourth shot"; Garrison called junior counselor Arlen Spector's theoretical assertion of the 'Magic Bullet Theory' -- "one of the grossest lies ever forced on the American people"

(2) the scornful rejection of the Magic Bullet theory (the 'official' Warren Commission version of events) which Garrison declared unlikely or impossible with a walk-through, a scale model, and diagrams of the bullet's zig-zag path presented for evidence - "this single bullet explanation is the foundation of the Warren Commission's claim of a lone assassin and once you conclude that the magic bullet could not create all seven of those wounds, you have to conclude that there was a fourth shot and a second rifle, and if there was a second rifle, then by definition there had to be a conspiracy"

and (3) Garrison's impassioned, patriotic closing argument - his final summing up of the case with his damnation of the entire US military-industrial complex and the possibility of a massive conspiracy and coverup (allegedly aided by Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones)), finishing with Garrison staring directly into the camera and addressing the jury (and viewing) audience: "It's up to you"

Deep Throat (1972) # 4
D. Gerard Damiano

Unintended for mainstream audiences, this notorious X-rated porn flick from writer/director Gerard Damiano became one of the decade's top-grossing films, and the most influential and successful (and profitable) of all films of its kind. Deep Throat was filmed in 6 days for $25,000 and was subsequently banned in 23 US states.

It was an 'event' film - a hard-core stag film that was OK to see on a date or in mixed company, yet it was banned in many localities as obscene. It inaugurated a period known as "Porno Chic" - it was the first cross-over adults-only film that became a hit. After its initial period of release, it became a cultural phenomenon and it was fashionable to talk about the film (and its educationally feminist theme of female sexual gratification) or make references to it (such as Watergate's 'Deep Throat').

This hour-long, revolutionary X-rated film (shot in about a week's time, with graphic enactments of oral, vaginal and anal sex, group sex, and masturbation in a dozen and a half sex scenes) told a simplistic plot (with some comic elements) about a sexually frustrated woman (Linda Lovelace, born Linda Susan Boreman) who wanted to "hear bells" during sex. Her doctor, Dr. Young (Harry Reems, born Herbert Streicher) discovered that her clitoris was located in her throat, and that she would have to experiment with various clients before experiencing orgasm -- this ultimately led to her sexual fulfillment accompanied by fireworks, rockets blasting and ringing bells.

Years after the film was screened, Lovelace denounced the film, claiming that she was drugged, coerced and raped during filming and that "there was a gun to my head the entire time". In the mid-70s, actor Reems was prosecuted by the federal government (under the Nixon administration) on obscenity charges - a first - although later overturned, and the film was championed by Hollywood and other intellectuals for its liberated defense of First Amendment rights.

An R-rated documentary film titled Inside Deep Throat (2005) examined the film's production history and impact on American culture, including interviews with both the director and male star Harry Reems.

Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) # 3
D. Michael Moore

Michael Moore's controversial 'documentary' film was a critical expose and scathing indictment of the George W. Bush presidency and administration for its handling of the terrorist crisis and his alleged connections to Al-Qaeda leader Bin Laden's family. It was accused of being propagandistic - especially in an election year - and that it contained half-truths and distortions of facts, and some conservative groups called for theaters to not screen it.

The documentary film was included among the Cannes Film Festival's main competition (only the second time in 48 years for a documentary) - and won the top prize called the Palme D'or - the first for a documentary in nearly 50 years. It also broke the record for highest opening-weekend earnings in the US for a documentary, and established a significant precedent for a political documentary (eventually earning $119 million) as the highest-grossing, non-concert, non-IMAX documentary film of all time.

The controversial film had earlier gained further publicity and notoriety when Disney opted not to distribute the film through its Miramax subsidiary unit, and Moore accused the company of censorship. Disney's refusal to let Miramax release it, because it would risk causing a partisan battle and alienate customers, actually contributed to the film's great success. [Supposedly, Disney also feared the film might endanger tax breaks Disney received in Florida where its theme parks were located, and where the president's brother, Jeb Bush, was governor at the time.] Although the film was rated R, under protest from filmmaker Moore, some theaters defied the rating and allowed teenagers (without guardians) to attend.

Memorable images include Bush's continued reading of the children's book "My Pet Goat" in a Florida elementary school after the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center (filmmaker Michael Moore narrated: "When informed of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, where terrorists had struck just eight years prior, Mr. Bush decided to go ahead with his photo opportunity..."), the many self-incriminating Bush clips (such as when he demonstrated his golf swing - "Now watch this drive!" - immediately after calling on nations to stop terrorist killers, his stumbling through speeches and delivering such damning lines as: "What an impressive crowd: the haves, and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base"); the documentarian's questioning of Democratic and Republican politicians about enrolling their sons for military duty; the mall scenes in which Marine recruiters targeted minority teenagers for enrollment, and Bush's inept handling of the terrorist crisis and his agenda (after 9/11) to illegitimately launch a pre-emptive war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A Clockwork Orange (1971, UK) # 2
D. Stanley Kubrick

At the time, Stanley Kubrick's randomly ultra-violent, over-indulgent, graphically-stylized film of the near future - and most controversial film - was one of only two movies rated X on its original release (the other was Midnight Cowboy (1969)) that was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. The film was hotly debated when it was released - both highly praised and objectionable for its bleak outlook, and for its pairing of comedy with violence.

The dystopic film about fascist social conditioning and free will was heavily criticized and opposed by religious groups for its sexual and violent content. Feminists were outraged with some of the misogynistic images - such as the obscene female poses of the supine furniture in the Korova bar, the prolonged rape of a big-breasted woman, a gigantic penis sculpture being used as a murder weapon on the Cat Lady, and a view of the protagonist's snake gliding toward a woman's vagina.

The most infamous was the rape scene of Mrs. Alexander (Adrienne Corri) in her opulent house, Alex's (Malcolm McDowell) gang of droogs (Pete, Georgie, and Dim) who were wearing masks with comical noses. After cutting away her skin-tight red jumpsuit Alex delivered horribly vicious blows of his boots to Mr. Alexander's (Patrick Magee) mid-section -- timed rhythmically to his singing of Gene Kelly's tune "Singin' in the Rain". In a later scene, Alex was subjected to corrective treatment -- experimental aversion therapy imposed by the state in which he was behavioristically conditioned (with his eyes clamped wide-open in order to view scenes of violence in films while drugged to induce nausea and forced to listen to his beloved Beethoven) to suppress his violent and sexual drives - and in the process gave up his own individual and personal rights.

Because of the copy-cat violence (some gangs dressed as droogs sang "Singin' in the Rain" as they carried on violently) that the film was blamed for by the media and courts, Kubrick withdrew it from circulation in Britain about a year after its release. Some believed it was because it was rumored that Kubrick and his family had received death threats. It wasn't officially available there again - in theaters or on video - until 2000, a year after his death.

The Passion Of The Christ (2004) # 1
D. Mel Gibson

Co-producer, co-writer, and director Mel Gibson's R-rated, self-financed, independent smash-hit film, a brutal depiction of Jesus' last 12 hours on Earth, stirred up considerable controversy. It was filmed with dialogue in three languages (Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin) with subtitles, and although Gibson claimed that the account was authentic and 'truthful' - it would be nearly impossible to derive a strict and true historical account of the events from the Gospels. The scourging (a 10-minute sequence) and crucifixion scenes in particular were overpoweringly graphic, bloody, torturous and vicious. Even Gibson admitted that the film was deliberately "shocking" and "extreme" in order to depict Jesus' enormous sacrifice.

Even before it was released and viewed, religious leaders were indignant over its Catholic-tinged interpretation of the Bible, its use of extra-Biblical sources, and its poetic license, and Jews protested the film as anti-Semitic - believing that the "obscene" film would blame Jews for the death of Jesus. Even Gibson had difficulty securing a distributor for his film.

The film went on to be one of the most successful R-rated films ever, with $370 million US box-office receipts, mostly due to its embracing by evangelical church groups. It became the highest-grossing independent film of all time. An unrated, re-edited re-release of the film (still R-rated), named The Passion Recut (2005), with Gibson's own edits (removal of about 5 minutes of graphic violence) was shown in theatres for a short time a year later.

SOURCE: http://www.filmsite.org/scenes.html


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