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July 21, 1997

Wanna see something gross? I mean really, really gross? Check out John Waters' Pink Flamingos this week at Enzian Theater. Oh, and that's the only place you can see it.

In case you don't remember, or you weren't here, in 1990 an Orange County grand jury declared the film - whose storyline involves a competition for the title of "the filthiest people alive" - "obscene". This happened in the midst of a crack-down on "obscenity" by state attorneys John Tanner and Lawson Lamar, which made it illegal to distribute the film. In June of 1990, video store owner Steven Zlatkiss was arrested for doing just that.

It seems a clerk at Mr. Zlatkiss' store, American Video Network (now owned by Blockbuster), rented the then-unrated movie to a 14-year-old girl who was acting as an undercover agent for Central Florida's Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation. Mr. Zlatkiss turned himself in the next day. This was the first time an Orange County video store had been indicted for such activity. The case would eventually cost Mr. Zlatkiss and his company $11,000 to defend (not to mention months of bad publicity), but eventually the charges were, for all intents and purposes, dropped or at least forgotten. He did face very stiff penalties, including the confiscation of his business, and this frightened other video stores in Orange County into pulling the tape from their shelves. The cost to Orlando? We lost a movie, often considered classic cinema, from our collective pool.

When asked if this was a form of censorship, then Orlando Police Chief Danny Wilson stated the movie had been brought before the grand jury because people had complained. Similar complaints, made by organizations such as the now-defunct Greater Orlando Coalition Against Pornography and the American Family Association, sparked the general crackdown on "obscenity".

The MBI, according to spokesperson Bill Lutz, has the same policy: the agency won't investigate unless there has been a complaint. "There have not been any complaints [of this type] in a long time."

Today, over six years later, you still can't rent Pink Flamingos in Orlando. Not even the newly remastered, re-released version. Most stores, even independent ones like College Park Video, won't carry it because of the case. There's also the fact that the film's distributor, Fine Line Features, paid to have the film rated by the Motion Picture Association of America, and it's now branded NC-17. As a result, Blockbuster won't carry it either. According to company spokesman Jonathan Baskin, this is a matter of policy. "We could have a line out the door [and] down the block, and we wouldn't carry it," he said.

When asked why Blockbuster doesn't make that decision on a case-by-case basis, looking at the artistic merits of each film, Baskin responded: "In all honesty, and feel free to quote me, we're retailers, not artists. And far be it from us to make an artistic judgment. That's not our business. Our business is renting and selling movies." However, Blockbuster does make case -by-case decisions on unrated films (based on what rating company executives think it would have gotten).

As I mentioned, the film is showing (this week only) at Enzian, which is following the distributor's wishes and not allowing anyone under the age of 17 to view the film (whether or not they're accompanied by parents). Messages are also posted in several places, warning those easily offended about attending the screening. According to Michael Monello, marketing coordinator for Enzian, the fact that you can't rent the film in Orlando is one reason they are playing it.

Another reason is that Pink Flamingos is a genuinely good film. Monello points out that it has been screened in places such as New York's Museum of Modern Art and Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival. This seems to hint that the film truly is art and might make you wonder how it could be found "obscene" and, in effect, banned from Central Florida for so long.

What the hell is this movie about anyway?

--JD Ashcraft and Ben Markeson


about the author
J.D. Ashcraft
Born in 1880 to a coal miner and an alligator wrestler, I came to Orlando after the great depression to take part in the new media revolution that was television. Now, some 50 years later, I am still active in new media via The Slant. Der wiesel ist in der flub!.

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