“Dirty Pictures” was produced by MGM Studios and premiers on Showtime, 5/27/00 at 9:00 P.M. ET. In 1989, Dennis Barrie (James Woods), the director of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center, booked an exhibit of images by controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe entitled, “The Perfect Moment.” Although he anticipated opposition from a select few who labeled the photographs as pornographic, Barrie never expected that it would go as far as his indictment or have such a negative impact on his family.
When Simon Leiss (Craig T. Nelson), the sheriff of Hamilton County, decided that five of the Mapplethorpe photos depicting acts of sado-masochism and homosexuality and two nude portraits of children were obscene, he sought not only to shut down the exhibit, but also to personally prosecute and imprison Dennis Barrie. The TV movie depicts the trial and takes the point of view of Barrie, who said he was in a public fight to uphold the integrity of the First Amendment.
Intriguing and well acted, but under the guise of attempting to express both sides (William F. Buckley is interviewed, questioning the wisdom of allowing such art to be publicly viewed), “Dirty Pictures” seems to express the viewpoint that if we prohibit the showing of such filth, we will eventually lose the right to show any art that isn’t approved by special interest groups. Was Dennis Barrie a man truly bent on standing up for rights of artists, or did he just get in over his head while attempting to gain publicity and self-promotion? This TV film takes the opinion that he put everything on the line because he believed it to be the right thing to do. What always frustrates me when viewing films made from a so-called “liberal” perspective is the misleading and rather bigoted portrait of Christians and conservatives. In this film the leads can barely say “family values” without a smirk. The conservative moralist, who speaks at the end of the film, is played with a sinister aura. And of course, those from the religious right are portrayed holding placards proclaiming loathsome hysterics such as, “You’re going to burn in hell.” I’ve been attending churches and fellowshipping with Believers since I was seven years old. And as yet, I have never met anyone who had seriously dedicated his or her life to Christ who would ever do such a contemptuous thing. I guess there are Christians who show their faith by promoting hatred. I assume that is true, because I see it in the movies all the time. I will not attempt to debate the issue of artistic rights here. One thing I would like you to consider, however. Before choosing entertainment, whether it is a movie or an art exhibit, ask yourself, “What is the purpose of art if it does not uplift the spirit of man?” For we are not governed simply by amendment rights, but by God’s decrees. “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” Philippians 4:8