Freedom to OffendHow New York Remade Movie Culture

Freedom to OffendHow New York Remade Movie Culture

Raymond J. Haberski

Print publication date: 2011

ISBN: 9780813124292

Publisher: University Press of Kentucky


In the postwar era, the lure of controversy sold movie tickets as much as the promise of entertainment did. This book investigates the movie culture that emerged as official censorship declined and details how the struggle to free the screen has influenced our contemporary understanding of art and taste. These conflicts over film content were fought largely in the theaters and courts of New York City in the decades following World War II. Many of the regulators and religious leaders who sought to ensure that no questionable content invaded the public consciousness were headquartered in New York, as were the critics, exhibitors, and activists who sought to expand the options available to moviegoers. Despite Hollywood's dominance of film production, New York proved to be not only the arena for struggles over film content but also the market where the financial fates of movies were sealed. Advocates for a wider range of cinematic expression eventually prevailed against the forces of censorship, but Freedom to Offend is no simple homily on the triumph of freedom from repression. In this analysis of controversies surrounding films from The Bicycle Thief to Deep Throat, the book offers a cautionary tale about the responsible use of the twin privileges of free choice and free expression. It calls attention to what was lost as well as what was gained when movie culture freed itself from the restrictions of the early postwar years. It exposes the unquestioning defense of the doctrine of free expression as a form of absolutism that mirrors the censorial impulse found among the postwar era's restrictive moral guardians. Beginning in New York and spreading across America throughout the twentieth century, the battles between these opposing worldviews set the stage for debates on the social effects of the work of artists and filmmakers.