It's been a week since CityBeat first broke the story about Esquire Theatre operator Gary Goldman cutting a sex scene from director Wayne Wang's unrated adult drama The Center of the World. I've yet to hear any jokes about the loss of a scene where a female stripper inserts a lollipop into her vagina. Generally, people are disgusted and alarmed by the clandestine editing.
More importantly, they're genuinely puzzled. It's unclear why Goldman would break his copyright agreement with The Center of the World's distributor, Artisan Entertainment, by censoring the film. He did not speak to me or other media about the controversy.
But, on June 8, Goldman faxed a statement to CityBeat. His explanation was matter-of-fact and unsurprising.
"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 began. "As operator of the Esquire Theatre 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."
In the June 2001 issue of Harper's Magazine, Editor Lewis H. Lapham discussed New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's moral crusade in an essay, "Model Citizens." That city's Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission, a 20-person panel that determines the appropriateness of art in city-funded museums, shares a common crusading mission with Goldman.
By censoring The Center of the World, Goldman has appointed himself Cincinnati's protector against subversive movie images. But it's hard to imagine what great harm would be felt by adult audiences who choose to watch the film in its intended form.
In a city that's proudly cleansed itself of strip club dancers and adult videos, Goldman has personally decided that an unrated adult drama playing at one of his art-house cinemas would prove to be a menace to the Queen City.
It's as if Goldman believes the loyal audiences who patronize his movie theaters are incapable of watching an unrated movie and its naughty bits.
"In this case, the Esquire edited approximately three seconds of a much-overrated scene," continued the June 8 statement. "The scene depicted a woman acting as a striptease dancer. During the dance, she sucks on a lollipop and then, in a graphic close-up, she inserts the lollipop fully into her vagina, and then hands it to a male bar patron to eat. Only the footage depicting actual penetration, not the scene, was edited. I found this act to be both degrading to women and most likely violative of community standards. I could not risk Cincinnati's 'Jewel' (the Esquire) over this three-second scene. It is my sincere belief that the three-second scene in no way altered this film's artistic integrity. I still chose to exhibit the film, however, because I did not want to be censored by intimidation. Risk of prosecution in Hamilton County increases everyday as increasingly challenging films are produced. Only the community can change that."
Based on Goldman's statement, it's fair to assume the Esquire Theatre will no longer be in the business of unrated or NC-17 movies that contain sexual content. With regard to programming, Cincinnati's leading art-house cinema moves a few steps closer to a suburban multiplex dedicated only to the latest Hollywood blockbuster.
Basically, Goldman's explanation is ridiculous. His concerns are more about his bottom line than film art. He has no respect for the artistic integrity of film in general.
The Esquire's priority clearly is about its revenue and profits. After all that's happened surrounding Goldman's decision to censor the scene from The Center of the World, it's important to remember that the Esquire is a movie theater run by an attorney, not a film buff.
"I can assure all moviegoers that this was the first (and last) time that a film showing at one of our theaters has ever been intentionally altered," Goldman's statement concluded. "Obviously, I exercised bad judgment and should have chosen instead not to play the film. For that, I apologize. My only wish is that this film would have received the same degree of attention as this controversy while it was showing at the Esquire."
Based on the statement, Goldman basically edited The Center of the World to suit his own standards. His explanation makes matters even more outrageous.