News: Banned in Cincinnati

Esquire operator gives film critic and CityBeat two thumbs down

The operator of the Esquire and Mariemont theaters has banned CityBeat Film Editor Steve Ramos and cut all ties with the newspaper.

The ban came one week after Ramos reported the operator had illicitly altered a film playing at the Esquire in Clifton (see "Esquire Cuts Sex Scene from The Center of the World," issue of June 7-13). Ramos' reporting led the film's distributor to withdraw it from the Esquire, prompting widespread media coverage.

Gary Goldman, president of Theater Management Inc., which operates the Esquire and Mariemont theaters, later issued an apology to the public.

In a June 19 meeting, Goldman informed Ramos he is banned from critics' film screenings at the Esquire. Goldman also forbade Ramos from purchasing tickets to see films at or otherwise entering either theater, according to Ramos and CityBeat Editor John Fox, who was present at the meeting.

Goldman is on vacation out of the country and has not returned a reporter's calls.

"(Goldman) said, 'Steve, you're banned from the theater, and we're not giving you any more schedules,' " Ramos says.

Goldman also ordered CityBeat distribution racks and papers removed from both theaters and canceled future advertisements in CityBeat, according to Fox.

At the June 19 meeting, Goldman said he originally banned Ramos because Ramos broke the story of the Esquire's cutting The Center of the World, then reconsidered, but finally made the ban official due to Ramos' second report on the controversy (see "Esquire Theater's Operator Explains the Naughty Bits," issue of June 14-20).

"What Gary kept repeating was, 'I didn't like the first story, but I thought it was fair and accurate. But the second one was personal and gratuitous,' " Ramos says.

Goldman had already issued the ban through his assistant, who telephoned to announce the ban before the second article appeared, according to Ramos.

If Ramos were banned because of "gratuitous" criticism, Fox says, Goldman would also have banned The Cincinnati Enquirer's film critic, who stated in a column that Goldman's film-cutting was "garden-variety cowardice." A source at the Esquire Theatre says The Enquirer's critic hasn't been banned.

Fox says the reason for the ban is simple: retaliation against CityBeat for exposing the film-cutting.

"What this is really all about is Goldman screwed up, we caught him and he's mad about it," Fox says.

After Artisan Entertainment Inc. pulled The Center of the World from the Esquire, Goldman issued a public apology, saying he cut a brief sex scene in order to avoid a potential obscenity prosecution by Hamilton County authorities. Fox says that, at the June 19 meeting, he offered to highlight Goldman's concerns in CityBeat, but the theater operator refused.

"I told him, 'We want to help. If you're being forced into self-censorship, we want to talk about it in the paper,' " Fox says. "He said, 'I'm a small businessman. If I fight an obscenity action, I can probably win, but I'm going to have to spend all this money, and I'm not going to fight this fight.' "

Goldman then issued the details of the ban, according to Fox and Ramos.

The old in-and-out

The Center of the World, an unrated adult drama, tells the story of a nerdy dot-com millionaire who persuades a pretty stripper to spend three days with him in Las Vegas. In a previous interview with CityBeat, director Wayne Wang called the film the Last Tango in Paris for the Internet generation.

In the scene cut by the Esquire, the stripper inserts a lollipop into her vagina, quickly pulls it out and inserts it into the mouth of her mesmerized customer. The image is brief and fleeting.

An anonymous caller left a message telling Ramos that on May 24, a day prior to the film's local opening, Gary Goldman ordered one of his theater managers to cut the sex scene from the print of the film. The Esquire's audiences weren't informed they were watching a censored film.

Goldman issued a statement June 8, one day after Ramos reported the alteration and four days after Artisan Entertainment pulled the film.

"I deeply regret the controversial issues surrounding The Center of the World and accept the ultimate responsibility for the approximately three seconds of film that were edited therefrom during its recent exhibition at the Esquire," the statement said. "As operator of the Esquire Theater I have a great appreciation and a sincere respect for the arts. I felt that this film deserved to be shown to residents of our community. The Esquire has always prided itself with exhibiting 'cutting edge' films."

John Morrison M.D., who had been president of the board that owns the Esquire and Mariemont theaters, said the organization recently changed from nonprofit status to a limited-liability corporation. He referred a reporter's questions to Goldman and declined further comment. The Ohio Secretary of State's office shows the owner of the theater is Esquire Theater Ltd.

Paul Pflug, executive vice president of Artisan Entertainment in Santa Monica, Calif., declined to comment on Ramos' ban from the Esquire and Mariemont. Pflug said the distributor doesn't intend to sue or prosecute the theater for cutting The Center of the World and will continue releasing films to the theater.

"They have apologized, and we've decided to let bygones be bygones," Pflug says.

Ramos ­ who won the national Film Critic of the Year award in 1997 from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies ­ says he will continue to cover art films that appear at the Esquire and Mariemont theaters.

"We're going to keep doing our job," Ramos says. "We're not going to be vindictive. We're going to try to cover films at the theaters, because that's what we do."

Ramos attended a critics' screening of Sexy Beast at the Esquire on June 21, saying he wanted to see if anyone would bar him from the theater. No one asked him to leave, he says. ©