Police seize videos after judge declares classic foreign film obscene
Jun. 27, 1997
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Michael Canfield had not even finished watching the movie he had rented, ``The Tin Drum,'' when police knocked on his front door and demanded that he give them the Academy Award-winning foreign film.
``I got the strong impression that verbal resistance on my part was futile and they were going to get that tape one way or another and arrest me if they had to,'' said Canfield, development director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Oklahoma.
The officers had used video store records to track Canfield down. They had also seized copies of the 1979 movie from six video outlets within hours of a judge's ruling that the film was obscene.
Some critics labeled the movie about Nazi Germany, as seen by a little boy, as smut, but civil libertarian Joann Bell likened the police seizures to ``book burnings organized by Hitler's Gestapo.''
``This kind of insensitive disregard of our fundamental rights of expression and free speech is outrageous,'' Ms. Bell, executive director of the Oklahoma ACLU, said Thursday.
District Judge Richard Freeman said Wednesday that the movie was obscene under Oklahoma law, which says that any depiction of a person under 18 _ or anyone portraying someone under 18 _ having sex is obscene.
``Frankly, as long as the statute is the way it is, I couldn't do anything else,'' Freeman said.
Freeman was responding to a complaint by Oklahomans for Children and Families, an anti-pornography group upset that the film was available at a public library.
``The Tin Drum,'' which won the 1979 Oscar for best foreign film, is German director Volker Schlondorff's acclaimed adaptation of Gunter Grass' novel of the same name. The movie includes one scene where a boy about 6 or 7 has oral sex in a bathhouse with a teen-age girl.
Police Capt. Bill Citty said officers seized copies of the film from six video stores and Canfield's home.
Because of the judge's ruling, police are obligated to confiscate copies of the film, Citty said.
``Someone can feel free to come in and file a complaint if they feel we overused our authority,'' he said.
Ms. Bell, who said the ACLU received several complaints about officers searching homes for ``The Tin Drum'' videos, accused the police of having an ``unhealthy relationship'' with the anti-pornography group.
The ACLU will likely seek a federal review of police conduct, she said.
Canfield said he rented the movie so he would be familiar with the contents after the judge's ruling.
He had watched part of the movie Wednesday night, but was interrupted by police before he could finish. Canfield said he surrendered the video after a debate with the officers on ``constitutional law and artistic merit'' _ and when it became clear they were not going to leave without it.
Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy said he will prosecute only those found with the film after the judge's ruling.
The city's Metropolitan Library System pledged to heed Freeman's decision and make the movie unavailable. The library's only copy of the film was given to Macy's office and will not be replaced.
Canfield said he believes he saw the scenes in the movie that upset anti-pornography forces. He is convinced the film deserves protection.
``If ever there were a work of art that demanded the support of First Amendment advocates, this is certainly one of those works of art.''