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Dirty Pictures (Film Analysis)

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The film Dirty Pictures released on year 2000 is loosely based on the story of Robert Mapplethorpe and his photography in late 1980’s. Most photos of the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe is actually uncontroversial however few of them– some sadomasochistic in nature– seem to offend. The inclusion of these provocative and seemingly offensive pictures in art exhibit has been highly criticized by the authority and feasted by the local media.

Bennis Barrie, the curator of the Cincinnati Arts Center is inevitably accused of promoting pornography as he displays Mapplethorpe’s naked images and graphic displays of homosexual offensive activities in Cincinatti art museum. Barrie initially knows that some of Mapplethorpe’s photography may receive negative criticisms because of its provocative depictions of humans’ mutual sensuality however as a curator he recognized that art encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations and emotions. He believes that an artist deserves a freedom of expression.

However Mapplethorpe photographs became the center of controversy when these were exhibited at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts.

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Dennis Barrie who is the Museum director was being accused and condemned by the right wing conservatives. The rest of the film revolves in public debate towards how freedom of expression should be applied. The character of Barrie in the initial part of the movie is being portrayed as a modest and ordinary man who have a simple lifestyle. However after the exhibit, he was suddenly thrown into extraordinary circumstances as he deals with the enormous pressures of ugly public debate.

He faced personal intimidation since his reputation and career were at stake. Furthermore, the issue pressed against him affected the emotional aspects of his family. The film effectively illustrates the emotions of a couple struggling to decide and do the right thing while dealing with the political pressures brought by the issue of displayed sensual photographs. Though Barrie comes off as a man sophisticated and knowledgeable about contemporary arts but he is a little bit innocent about his stand since he was faced with unreasonable political pressures.

The involvement of big conservative figures made this issue highly politicized. As a result, the jury who are also heroes of this story, experienced personal pressures of their own. At the end however they manage to navigate their way to the right decision after Barrie made a profound kind of speech about freedom of expression. Even if Barrie was being acquitted in the film, the local conservative group believes that this trial would have a chilling effect on future art exhibitions.

Since freedom of expression has been positively justified in the film, there is a great possibility that curators and artists will always make an excuse to not restrict them in any kinds of mode of expression since this is after all their right. However, the conservatives subtly stand that the authority should give restrictions especially in displaying sexually explicit photos to avoid public intimidation. The film inevitably shows Mapplethorpe controversial photos. A number of the actual Mapplethorpe’s photos that were the heart and reason of the controversy were used in production.

Though the photos are shown in shortcuts but the film allows the viewers to have a glimpse to both the controversial photos and the extraordinary beauty and story of all the photos in general. Apparently, he is not only interested to capture humans sexuality but his portraits, photos of flowers and landscapes illustrate his love in beauty. Mapplethorpe’s “The Perfect Moment” collections air different angles of expression. His photographs were not confined in nudity however the authorities only favored and noticed one side by giving obscenity charges against the curator.

Since big people also offered their own perspective towards the provocative photographs, it seems that the issue became politically motivated. Meanwhile, the film also looks like a documentary one since the filmmakers highlights new interviews from cultural and conservative figures about their personal perceptions in the issue. Meanwhile the filmmakers in the movie also incorporated many inter cut scenes from the original events collected from the archives of the local media (e. g. the trial and that attempted closing down of the art museum).

The movie demonstrates that the beauty of art depends on how people perceive it. Their level of appreciation depends on their personal tastes, values, cultural and social orientation. In the movie, the characters were obviously divided by two– those who are open minded who believe that any kind of art depiction even in a sensational manner is just but a manner of expression that is natural to the artist; and the conservatives who believes that pornography negatively affect the viewers as it arouse malicious intent and emotions.

However the film with the character of Barrie reminds the public to uphold their right of expression and their right to choose what they art they would want to see and appreciate. No matter how disgusting and offensive a particular art might be, it has its every right to be exhibited. Any contemporary or classic art form is not exclusive to elite. The film subtly emphasized that an average and ordinary person can understand and appreciate art and art definitely do not only belong to specific few.

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