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February 22, 1980 - Image 4

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1980-02-22

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Pcge 4-Friday, February 22, 1980-The Michigan Daily
Does 'Cruising' push free speech to the limit?


In 1970, American movie houses were graced
by William Friedkin's The Boys in the Band, a
largely faithful screen transcription of Mart
Crowley's Tony-winning Broadway play. The
film, a Virginia Woolfish tableaux of a birthday
gathering of seven homosexuals (plus one
potential convert) all edging past the bloom of
youth, proved mildly successful both critically
and financially. It was accepted as a serious, if
somewhat stereotyped, examination of the
social traumas of upper-middle-class gayness,
and remained free at the time from any howls
of outrage from gay groups who then by and'
large regarded the play as a sympathetic
pipeline to co-existence with straights.
::Three years later the times and principles
a altered drastically. No longer was Boys in
e Band a benign, useful chronicle of
omosexuality-it was now a bigoted,
homophobic obscenity, a piece of defamation to
ie ~censured and, more ideally, censored
4henever and wherever it raised its ugly head.
Vien an Ann Arbor film group attempted to
show Band in 1973, it was met not only by
placards and demonstrations but by a shouting,
chanting gay sit-in in front of the Angell Hall
*movie screen-a tactic which noisily and ef-
fkeiently cancelled the scheduled show.
: IN THE VIEW of the protest's spokesman
( vho three years earlier had starred in a stage
pyoduction of Boys in the Band-how un-
c~itating are the pillars of morality!), the
screening of such a film went beyond the
iropriety of mere First Amendment con-
siderations: Band was in truth a work of libel
end slander which defamed an entire cultural
group and was thus entitled to no constitutional
This was hardly an original argument (I know
Wat's filth, Iknow what's dangerous), yet this
articular case was alarming in that it never
reached the sanction of the courts at all. Local
iy militants, realizing the de-fusing nature of
lengthy legal battle and also the near-
p possibility of convincing all potential,
4viegoers of the rightness of their crusade,
i stead went the simplest and most direct
rpute: Through a mixture of moral persuasion
and veiled threats, they swiftly succeeded in
udgeoning all local film co-ops into simply
iminating the film from all schedules present
' d future-effectively cutting off the ob-
s enity at its source. Thus was Boys in the
and briskly censored out of Ann Arbor. It has
t surfaced here since.
jI continue to resent the defacto exile. Though.
I. sJE lMidi
8 Ninety Years QJ
Vol. XC, No. 118


this middling, artistically routine movie might
well be my bottom choice in available film fare
for a given evening, I resent the ongoing fact
that my choice in the matter has been negated.
No one came and asked me to exercise my
moral judgement on Band's presumed heresies;
no one urged me to consider a boycott as a
useful ethical protest. The ultimate decision
was silently and imperiously made for me-and
for everyone else-with every bit the self-
righteous impunity of the Iowa book banners
who recently exorcised The Grapes of Wrath
from their local school's bookshelf. Must we
fear ideas and words to the point of officially
vaporizing them?
HOW NOBLE THE above sentiments sound!
They neatly capsulize the standand civil-
libertarian catechism in the ancient snare of
artistic freedom vs.artistic license-a legal and
moral quagmire which randomly jux-
taposes both the political Left and
Right, depending on whose ox is being tem-
porarily gored. It's a battle which will likely be
waged forever-its roots both pro and, con sim-
ply run too deep, its emotional branches are too
thorny to achieve any form of abiding
irationale. I like to think of myself as fervently

By Christopher Potter .
committed to Justice Douglas' principle that
the First Amendment literally bars all forms of
censorship. However ferociously our legion of
misguided, often messanic moral arbiters of
any socio-political stripe might condemn un-
bridaled freedom of expression, I've yet to en-
counter a book, play, or film which plainly
violated the "clear and present danger" prin-
ciple, or which was simply too risky to allow
people to exercise their own brainpower over.
Crude though Boys in the band may be, as an
incendiary polemic it clearly flunks the test.
Yet can it be said that such a principle always
outweighs the potential for disaster in a
seethingly contradictory society? What is one
now to make of Cruising, William Friedkin's
newest film ten years removed from the re-
lative innocence of Band, and a work so
sophisticatedly, brutally mischievous that it
shakes my cherished liberalism to its roots? It
was easy to dismiss the recent local campaigns
against Birth of a Nation and Misty Beethoven
as overzealous social protectionism; Cruising
is an entirely different animal-a seductive,
aesthetically overpowering malefactor which

could very believably fuel and ignite the fur-
nace of mistrust and hate which inherently
exists between straight and gay.
Friedkin's film tells the dark tale of a New
York cop (Al Paclino) who descends into the S
& M subculture of the city's homosexual com-
munity in order to track down a psychotic killer
who preys on gays. Stylistically, Cruising is
brilliant-a visually stupefying trip into a
voluntary, orgasmic hell. Friedkin's leather-
boys undulate through nightmare waterfront
bars in an endless series of Fellini-lit vignettes
so horrifyingly, pulsatingly rhythmic that you
find yourself captivated into a state of
irresistible, appalled fascination. Cruising
allows one to palpably taste violent, forbidden
fruits of a counter-universe while all the while
secure in the dark anonymity of a movie house;
it is an experience at once terrifying and
exhilarating, traumatic and unforgettable..
YET IT IS the very genius of Cruising's
technical virtuosity that makes its thematic
content so profoundly disturbing. Friedkin's
storyline is frightfully, amorally ambivalent;
the film is a writhing mass of logical and
ethical loose ends which leave its traumatized
audience grasping at a leering, cackling void.
Like Primal Scream therapy, Cruising drags
you through the pitsh of Hades, then unsuppor-
tively, cravenly dumps you to work out your
acquired turbulations utterly on your own.
Just what is Friedkin trying to say, anyway?
Are his S & M tableaux meant to epitomize
mainstream gay - society? What alternatives
are presented to the unenlightened viewer? Is
homosexual life inherently fraught with violen-
ce and murder? Is the film's psycho killer a
dissaffected gay or a demoniacally-bent heter-
sexual? Is protagonist Pacino psychologically
metamorphosized into the community he has
infiltrated? Has he now become a sex-
murderer identical to tie maniac he just cap-
tured? Is anyone who turns gay susceptible to
the same sadistic flowering? Should straights
band together before it's too late?
Like an artfully-gilded sheet, Cruising im-
plicates everything and clarifies nothing.
Holding gratuitously forth at a post-premiere
press conference, Friedkin asserted almost
proudly that he has no answers to such
questions, that he chose to make the film solely
because of its "absolutely fascinating" subject
matter. Having effectively absolved himself as
a kind of blameless creative virgin, the direc-

tor added almost as an afterthought that he
certainly never meant to offend or defame
anyone-heavens, perish the thought. Thus was
a newly-orphaned cinenatic rough beast born
into a world that is already affected with
enough anti-minority venom to tear the fabric
of society apart if given enough incentive.
AND WHERE DOES it all leave me and my
principles? It would be so easy to reiterate the
litany that we need not fear words and ideas,
that we must leave the artist to pursue his own
truths, however arcane they might'be. Yet I'm
haunted by the words of an audience member
interviewed at The Briarwood Movies: "As
long as they (the characters in the movie) get
rid of the gay community, I'm for it." How
many viewers are registering comparable sen-
timents? Is cultural genocide an attractive
viable solution in the American psyche?
Such attitudes, both surface and subliminal,
lead me touthink thesunthinkable-that the
Clear and Present Danger standard has indeed
been breached by this film. So should r now
drop whatever I'm doing and join in the anti-
Cruising pickets at Briarwood? The very con-
cept of such action still bristles with know-
'not'hing myopia, of an incipient, rigid totalitar-
anism intolerable in a free society.
Yet can such pious liberal absolutism always
hold sway in a treacherously shades-of-gray
world? Cruising has surely sacrificed its claim
to artistic immunity: At best it is a -formless,
amoral piece of huckster exploitation; at its
worst it is a subtle, sinister call to arms to the
darkest, most bigoted recesses of the human
I hold nothing dearer in life than the quality
of freedom. Yet if the lifelines of freedom and
of love must occasionally, regrettably cross, I
would rather err on the side of love. We just
don't need a cunning malignancy like Cruising-
to teach us new ways to hate; if one can boycott -
Anita Bryant with a clear conscience, one can
also boycott Friedkin's film with a comparable
absence of guilt over hastening an oncoming
police state. If you're not of a mind to walk to
the local picket line, at least honor it. If doing
so insures a- more humane society, then this'
small sacrifice of entertainment will have been
well worth the price.
Christopher Potter is a Daily film critic
and frequent contributor to this page.

AL PACINO (LEFT) and Richard Cox in a scene from "Cruising," a recently-released film that
has met with much protest from the gay community. Many believe the movie raises difficult
questions about free speech and artistic license.


rigan iBailQ
f Editurial Fr eIdonm
News Phone: 764-0552

Bill would curtail civil


Edited and managed by students at the University of Mighigan

GENDAS ARE made to be broken,
or so some Regents would seem to
b ylieve. Last Friday, in a move which
s rprised spectators and even one
R pgent, the Board voted to grant a
local developer the option to buy a very
c ntroversial piece of land.
the developer, John Stegeman,
h pes to build a 32-story apartment-
cqndominium-office structure at the
corner of Washtenaw and South Forest
A enues. The University land, which
Stegeman now has an option to
prchase, is adjacent to the building
shre and would. provide space for a
connected parking structure.
Despite the fact that the Regents did
nit even second a motion on
Sfegeman's proposal in December;
d spite the City's almost certain
o position to the proposed building;
a d despite a Board precedent for
d laying controversial matters until
a 1 Regents are present, the Regents
v ted 3-2 to grant Stegeman the option
tc buy the land.

uch a boter
The motion to approve the purchase
option was introduced by Regent
Thomas Roach;, it was not on the
agenda. Innocent as Roach's motives
might have been, the circumstances
surrounding the vote are certainly
curious. Two Regents-Paul Brown
and David Laro-were not present at
the meeting when the vote was called.
A third-Deane Baker-who is a long-
time opponent of the Stegeman
project, was out of the room when the
matter was brought to vote.
Atrepresentative of a neighborhood
group, a city councilwoman, at least
two professors, and several
students-all of whom watched
helplessly as the land agreement was
approved-have assailed the
apparently railroaded vote.
The merits of the proposal are not
even the issue at hand, although there
appear to be ample reasons for
opposing it. What is to be condemned is
the hasty, unscheduled vote taken
without any public warning.

The federal criminal code
defines the activities for which
people are subject to prosecution
by the U.S. government. As
Criminal Code Revision Bill S.
1722 nears a final vote in the U.S.
Senate, PIRGIM has escalated
its commitment to sound reform
of our criminal laws. PIRGIM
opposes S. -1722 because the bill
would needlessly curtail civil
The death of legendary Justice
William O. Douglas represents a
grave loss to all who share his
wish to live in peace and
freedom. The threat of repressive
government, which Douglas ex-
posed so oftep during his thirty-
six year judicial tenure, will now
challenge the resolve of his allies.
Perhaps the most significant
theme of Justice Douglas' career
concerned the danger of op-
pressive criminal law. His
eloquent rejection of a state's at-
tempt to prosecute users of con-
traceptives, for instance, has
provoked fundamental recon-
sideration of the degree to which
government may restrict per-
sonal autonomy.
Another legal expert who has
long advocated vigorous defenses
of individual rights is Zolton
Ferency, a professor of criminal
justice at Michigan State Univer-
sity. Ferency recently warned
that the authors of S. 1722 hope to
exploit a defeat which Douglas
suffered while on the Court.
S. 1722 proposes that a person
who possesses documents that
incriminate someone else be
required to deliver them to
police. According to Douglas and
Ferency, however, the Con-
stitution protects us from coer-
cive acquisition of "mere eviden-
ce." They contend that gover..
nment may seize only those items
which an individual has no right
to hold.
. Seizable goods, they argue,
should include the fruits and in-
struments of crime, contraband,
sawed-off shotguns, rabid dogs,
etc. Police should not be allowed
'to search a person or his home
solely to assist in a criminal
prosecution, except with the con-
ceonff-te cnihnrt _med1

the act of "obstructing a gover-
nment function by fraud" has
perplexed even the most studious
observers, but it appears to allow
criminal prosecution for deed
such as "giving a postman the
wrong directions." Professor
Ferency cautions that the.
proposed law "runs contrary to
ordinary social discourse, and
has a tendency to punish innocent
Ferency compared the "ob-
struction by fraud" provision to
an ordinance not long ago found
unconstitutional. The latter,

at first glance seem similar to
control of perjury, Ferency
stresses the distinguishing
features. "There (in perjury
cases) you've created a circum-
stance whereby a person knows
what the obligations are," pur-
suant to an explicit oath.
Courtroom questioning dissuades
lawyers from witness abuse,
through regular procedures and
precise records. Stationhouse in-
terrogation, however, cannot
match these guarantees. Deter-
mination of a witness' intention,
which often must reflect nuance,


S. 1722

To codify, revise, and reform title 18 of the United States Code; and for other
SEPTEMBER 7 (legislative day, JUNE 21), 1979
and Mr. SIMPSON) introduced the following bill; which was read twice
and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary
To codify, revise, and reform title 18 of the United States Code; and for other
1 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States

sexism and of large-scale unem-
ployment would reduce
prostitution far more than any
criminal procedure.
The most frightening aspect of
S. 1722 may be its abridgement of
the citizen's right to com-
municate ideas. We have learned
from Justice Douglas that such
threats strike at the heart of our
nation's heritage. "Full and free
discussion has indeed been the
first article of our faith. We have
founded our political system on
it. We have counted on it to keep
us from embracing what is cheap
and false."
5. 1722 would render criminal
the "physical obstruction of, a
government function." Since any
cluster of people tends to retard
movement in its vicinity,
Professor Ferency concludes
that S. 1722 would "interfere with
picketing, demonstrating, and4
other types of informational ac-
Such a policy might eliminate
our capacity to receive diverse
messages. Justice Douglas has,
counseled awareness of exactly
that possibility. "Those who do
not control television and radio,
those who cannot afford to adver-
tise in newspapers or circulate
elaborate pamphlets, may have
only a nmgre limited type of ac-
cess to public officials. Their
methods should not be condem-
ned as tactics of obstruction."
Additional First Amendment
issues include S. 1722's rein-
statement of McCarthy-era laws
about disclosure of government
activities, and its excessively
broad plan to shield servicemen
from hearing or seeing criticism
of military operations.
. Justice Douglas reminded us .
that "Under our Constitution it is:
'We the People' who are
sovereign." This statement does
not suggest an eternal security
for our privileged condition, but
rather. it conveys the imperative
that we limit government to its
proper role.
If we abdicate our respon-
sibility to protect liberty, then
awesome power will transfer to
an unconcerned elite. Congress
has somewhat modified the in- .
famous S. 1, of course, yet in S.
1722, its essential character
remains. That Congress con-
tinues to work from Nixon's
blueprint for criminal law
demonstrates the urgent need for
citizen involvement.
r Zolton Ferency will discuss
rriminsal nderevr~ision this

.s -.,

4 'i'
: . #,

1 4^

/ ' A


of America in Congress assembled, That this Act may be cited as the "Criminal
Code Reform Act of 1979".

5 SEC. 101. Title 18 of the United States Code, which may be cited as "18


U.S.C. -" or as "Federal Criminal Code -", is amended to read as follows:

11 "Subchapter A-Matters Relating to Purpose and Application
"101. General Purpose.,
"102. General Principle of Criminal Liability.


.. -_
f j .
/r .
1 l

designed to limit prostitution,
prohibited any person on or near
a street from gesturing to a
passing vehicle. Because the
statute's language also encom-
passed efforts to secure taxi ser-
vice, the Michigan Supreme
Court reversed convictions based
., +c v ,n- .,tvnrs..c Althnuo11d

should not rely on an uncertain
Predictably, S. 1722 includes an-
arry of non-complaint crimes.
"The only way to enforce these
laws," Professor Ferency ex-
plains, "is to have undercover
police go into the community to
cnalth ffi S " z7 ince such a

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