Film celebrities protest Ohio obscenity charges


Director Martin Scorsese and actor Alec Baldwin have joined a hefty contingent of arts organizations in condemning Cincinnati authorities for charging three bookstore employees with "pandering obscenity." The employees were charged after renting out a copy of Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1975 film "Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom" to an undercover officer.

On June 30, Cincinnati police arrested Stephen Austin, William Dean and Gary Allgeier, who own, manage and work in the Pink Pyramid, a Cincinnati bookstore that also deals in videos. They face fines of $1,000 and jail sentences of up to six months each if found guilty.

In a brief filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Coalition Against Censorship in Ohio's Hamilton County Municipal Court last week, Mr. Scorsese and Mr. Baldwin -- along with actors Blair Brown and Griffin Dunne, the Sundance Institute, the Film Society of New York's Lincoln Center and almost 50 other artists and institutions -- protested the action.

Noting that all the protesters share "a deep concern with the First Amendment freedom to create and view art, including film art, free of censorship," the brief said the individuals are "appalled by the present criminal prosecution of a small bookstore and its workers for distributing a film of serious artistic, political and literary value, conceived and directed by one of the outstanding artists in cinema history."

"Salo" was Pasolini's last film, perhaps the most controversial of the writer-director-poet's career. When it was released, "Salo" divided critics and upset many viewers with its graphic sex and violence. Many international markets refused to show it in its uncut version.

Dealing with the last days of the waning Italian fascist regime, when Mussolini and his government fled to northern Italy and established the short-lived republic of Salo, the film uses the Marquis de Sade's "120 Days of Sodom" as the basis of its narrative. The film describes the activities of a bishop, duke, banker and magistrate who torture and eventually murder 16 young captives at an isolated villa.

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