Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?

If you look close enough at CityBeat's film clock on page 42 of this week's print edition, you'll notice that for the first time in 10 months it includes information on the Esquire and Mariemont the

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If you look close enough at CityBeat's film clock on page 42 of this week's print edition, you'll notice that for the first time in 10 months it includes information on the Esquire and Mariemont theaters. The movie times, however, come with an asterisk.

Film Editor Steve Ramos remains banned from the theatres, a move instituted by theatre operator Gary Goldman last June after CityBeat broke the story of Goldman's unauthorized editing of the film The Center of the World. After a lot of thought — and with no hope of an end to the ban — we've decided to reinstate the Esquire and Mariemont schedules to the weekly film clock.

Here's the story, and here's why we made this decision.

Before The Center of the World opened at the Esquire in late May, 2001, Goldman directed an employee to literally snip a three-second scene out of the unrated film. The scene involved a strip club dancer inserting a lollipop into her vagina and then offering it to a club patron.

Neither the film's owner, Artisan Entertainment, nor Esquire audiences were told about the deleted scene. Ramos found out about it, though, and wrote a column breaking the news (see Esquire Cuts Sex Scene From Center of the World issue of June 7-13, 2001).

After Ramos called Artisan executives for comments for his column, alerting them to the situation, the studio pulled the film from the Esquire.

The day after Ramos' column appeared, The Enquirer ran a front-page story titled "Theater's fans feel betrayed." The Post and local radio and TV stations covered the story. National media — from movie trade publications to the Associated Press — spread the word of the latest example of Cincinnati's small-mindedness.

Goldman issued a statement to the media accepting "ultimate responsibility" for the editing and assuring "all moviegoers that this was the first [and last] time that a film showing at one of our theatres has ever been intentionally altered."

"I found (the edited scene) ... most likely violative of community standards," Goldman, a practicing attorney, said in his statement. "Risk of prosecution in Hamilton County increases everyday as increasingly challenging films are produced. Only the community can change that."

Early the following week, Ramos was informed, through Goldman's assistant, that he could no longer attend critics' screenings at the Esquire. The ban had begun.

Ramos produced a follow-up column the next week that blasted Goldman's statement as "ridiculous" (see Esquire Theatre Operator Explains the Naughty Bits issue of June 14-20, 2001). "His concerns are more about the bottom line than film art," Ramos said of Goldman. "He has no respect for the artistic integrity of film in general."

In the following Sunday's Enquirer, film critic Margaret McGurk labeled Goldman's statement "a woozy combination of defensiveness, rationalization, blame-shifting and outright contradiction" and called his unauthorized editing "an internal condition of garden-variety cowardice."

Two days later, Ramos and I met with Goldman to see if we could iron out our differences and get the ban on Ramos lifted. Instead, Goldman informed us of a broader ban: Not only couldn't Ramos see critics' screenings at the Esquire, but he could no longer buy a ticket to see a film there or at the Mariemont; information concerning which films were opening at the theatres and show times would no longer be provided to or confirmed for CityBeat; CityBeat racks and papers could no longer be displayed at the theatres; and the theatres would no longer advertise in CityBeat.

No other media outlet was banned.

Since then, Goldman has offered two changes: CityBeat could send another reviewer to attend critics' screenings, and show times would be provided for inclusion again in the CityBeat film clock. When the times were offered, I asked if that meant CityBeat's ban had been lifted. I was told no.

I decided we wouldn't accept piecemeal givebacks on the ban but would hold out for all the terms to be lifted. Otherwise, we'd have no leverage against the ban.

Meanwhile, at Ramos' urging, we've continued to write about Esquire/Mariemont films and, in fact, did two cover stories on films playing there (Waking Life and Storytelling). Ramos doesn't want to punish art house film studios by withholding coverage and feels that CityBeat readers deserve to hear about interesting independent films.

All these months later, there's no end in sight to the ban on Ramos and CityBeat. And — based on the letters, phone calls and emails I receive — readers are getting increasingly upset about not finding Esquire/Mariemont times in the paper.

So we've decided to give up our leverage, since the leverage isn't going to get us our desired result. We write about Esquire/ Mariemont films, and now our readers will know where those films are playing.

We will not, however, apologize for breaking the unauthorized editing story last year, nor will we apologize for criticizing Goldman's handling of the situation. Nor will we stop reminding readers of the Esquire's misdeed. Nor will we hold off covering future misdeeds at the Esquire, any local arts organization or any local organization of any kind.

Our editorial mission hasn't changed in the wake of this ban, even if our movie-viewing habits have.

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