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AMC Doc Doesn’t Excise 'Censoring’ Controversy

4/24/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

AMC tackles the issue of “sanitizing” movies in Bleep!: Censoring Hollywood, produced by ABC News Productions. The practice consists of private companies editing films to remove violence, profanity, sex and other “questionable” content.

The special is very timely: Last week, Congress passed the Family Movie Act, which guarantees the legality of filtering technology.

Companies like CleanFlicks Media Inc., CleanFilms Inc., Family Flix and ClearPlay Inc. are positioning themselves as moral authorities that determine what content concerned parents ought not to let their tots see.

Bleep gives both sides an ample forum, with the sanitizers explaining their practices and justifying their services, while directors like Steven Soderbergh (Traffic), Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough) and Taylor Hackford (Ray) voice their objections. But one is left with the impression that the special leans toward the creators.

The artists and studios are worried about the integrity of their vision, First Amendment rights and copyrights. Sanitizers are blurring the latter line by purchasing DVDs, altering them, then renting or reselling them. These versions are never vetted or approved by the studios. Hollywood contends that if such products are going to exist, they should come from the studios — directors already create versions for play on airplanes and TV.

Bleep, the first of a half-dozen documentaries ABC News will produce for AMC, shows clips from the sanitized films, juxtaposing the actual scenes before the deleted content was excised. For some, the sanitizing is extremely detrimental. The opening scenes of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, for instance, lose their context almost completely, becoming just another shoot-’em-up, rather than the intended powerful anti-war message.

But the sanitizers maintain they are producing a product that allows parents to show their children movies without fear of “unpleasant surprises,” as CleanFilms’s Web site puts it. Family Flix takes its editing process to the hilt, clipping “inappropriate” dress, innuendo, crude humor and homosexuality, along with violence, sex and profanity. The heavy-handed and subjective morality could reduce every Shakespearean play to a brisk 20 minutes.

And the censors have a powerful ally, as the current moral fever in Washington has birthed the Family Movie Act, which seemingly affords the right to butcher any film. Its passage probably means the end of the Director’s Guild lawsuit brought against the sanitizers. It also may mean that artistic freedom means little in the digital age, when films can be easily manipulated.

Bleep!: Censoring Hollywood premieres on AMC April 26 at 10 p.m. (ET).

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