● Genre : Documentary Film
● 2008-04-07

Obscene is a biographical documentary about Barney Rosset, a publisher and film distributor from the '50s through the '70s, who fought many a legal battle regarding his alleged distribution of obscene literature and cinema.

When America was vehemently enforcing strict moral standards on what other people could read, write or watch, Rosset was getting behind and publishing notable writers of what was considered pornographic material, writers such as D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. By publishing such works of "filth" as Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Tropic of Cancer, Naked Lunch and the poem Howl, Rosset endured court case after court case brought on by those who strove to preserve the purity of America at the expense of its freedoms.

This film follows Rosset from childhood into the army into the publishing career he accidentally stumbled upon on into nefarious fame, fortune, governmental investigation and ultimately bankruptcy. Interspersed through and finally, we see the Rosset of the present, a relatively penniless, and sadly forgotten hero in his mid-80s. As far as content goes, the film is a fascinating look at a delightfully enthralling subject.

There are some fascinating interview segments culled from a number of sources, including an old, in-depth interview on the infamous late night NYC cable access shock-stravaganza Midnight Blue. But while there is plenty of old information and interviews in the film, there are few segments with literary celebrities of the time speaking about Rosset and his dedication to protecting their works.

Ultimately the film is an informative, but somewhat “talking head,” documentary on a subject of great interest to those with a predilection towards literature or civil rights, but won’t set the world ablaze for those who aren’t.

Besides an adequate amount of stuff-of-the-times archive footage, you will also see plenty of flashy, animated manipulations of Roy Kuhlman's ground-breaking book cover designs.

Some of the books from Barney Rosset's personal library are for sale now. If you are interested to buy, please visit his blog. He will sign on the book upon request, and write something else if desired.

[ The following are some of the book covers designed by Roy Kuhlman for Grove Press ]

The Confidence Man - Herman Melville - 1955

The Zen Teaching of Huang Po - Translated by John Blofeld - 1959

The Threepenny Novel - Bertolt Brecht - 1956

The_Subterraneans - Jack Kerouac - 1958

The Balcony - Jean Genet -

Jazz - Nat Hentoff & Albert McCarthy -

The Snake Lady & other stories - Vermon Lee -

Chekhov: A Life - David Margarshack - 1955

The Brave African Huntress - Amos Tutuola -

The Pillow-Book of Sei Shonagon - Arthur Waley -

The Kabuki Theatre - Earle Ernst -

The Opening of the Field - Robert Duncan -

Six Plays - Slawomir Mrozek -

Krapps Last Tape - Samuel Beckett -

The Caretaker & The Dumb Waiter - Harold Pinter -

The Pit - Frank Morris - 1956

The Girl Beneath The Lion - Andre Pieyre De Mandiargues - 1958

Nova Express - William S Burroughs -