Following cancellations at Telluride and then the Chicago International Film Festival, Amazing Grace seemed at least good to go for its Toronto screenings this week. But now even those have been ended by the film’s subject, Aretha Franklin. Her issue with the music documentary, which was filmed way back in 1972 by the late director Sydney Pollack and has finally been completed but reportedly not added to, is she never gave consent for full use of the footage for public let alone commercial exhibition.
As with anything pulled from view, we now want to see Amazing Grace even more than we did before. Fortunately, it’s likely that we will. Officially, even. If the hold up works in favor of demand for the film, someone will hand Franklin her desired $1 million up front fee plus a deal for revenue share on its distribution. That’s a lot of money for a documentary to pay, but maybe there can be a crowdfunding campaign so the fans who don’t want it to disappear will be assured they’ll see it in their lifetime.
Or we can all just wait for the film to be leaked online, by its own producers. These days, it’s very rare for a barred or boycotted not to turn up on the internet. Maybe not on the typically legally compliant YouTube but some streaming video channel and at the very least via download on a torrent site. Below are five films that were long suppressed by their subjects only to eventually turn up for free – easier for people to see than in normal distribution – thanks to the web.
Cocksucker Blues (1972)
With so many documentaries made of The Rolling Stones, fans have a completist need to see them all, and for many years it was hardest to see this direct cinema-style tour film by director Robert Frank. As an observational picture, it captured all the excessive debauchery you’d expect of a band at the time, including a lot more sex and drugs than rock and roll. Mick Jagger can be seen snorting cocaine, Keith Richards so high he passes out, etc. Some of it has been revealed to be staged, though, mainly scenes involving sex with groupies on their jet.
The group had a court order drawn up against the showing of Cocksucker Blues except on special occasions with Frank on hand. It wasn’t necessarily because they didn’t want to be seen so terribly and they had to agree that they’d approved of its making. The complaint was that it could really hurt them as a group, commercially if not also legally. It gets authorized screenings now and then (it actually just showed at Telluride, coincidentally enough) and was long available in bad bootleg quality, but in the age of online video it can be watched by any fan any time. You can see the first 10 minutes here:
Cracked Actor (1975)
As far as I can tell, there’s no official reason for this BBC documentary to be unreleased. It aired as an episode of Omnibus 40 years ago, was re-broadcast in the 1990s and has been legitimately screened here and there, but it’s otherwise never been available by legal means. Perhaps it’s out of request from or respect to subject David Bowie, who is shown at his coke-addicted worst during his Diamond Dogs concert tour. You can see it in bootleg form here:
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988)
A lot of popular directors’ student productions wind up being cult films, but few are as fascinating in their on-screen content or off-screen story as this short by Todd Haynes. The guy who’d soon enough break out with the 1991 indie feature Poison and eventually go on to such lavish cult sensations as Velvet Goldmine and this fall’s festival darling Carol (also at Telluride) made, as his MFA thesis film, a biopic on then recently deceased pop star Karen Carpenter. Depicted, rather cleverly, with Barbie dolls.
The anorexia victim’s brother and musical partner, Richard Carpenter, was not happy with the portrayal, particularly how awful he was shown to be to her, but as far as getting the film hidden he merely had to put out a cease and desist order over music rights. Superstar did become easily found on bootleg VHS in the years following (I bought one at an indie record shop, who had it available in full view at the counter), but now you don’t have to spend $30 on the thing, because it’s online. Watch it here:
Trump: What’s The Deal (1991)
In 1988, long before he became a reality TV star and presidential hopeful, Donald Trump was rising to fame as perhaps the most recognizable real estate developer in the country. Fellow tycoon Leonard Stern was doing a series on celebrity businessmen, and Trump was the logical first subject. But the final product hardly portrayed him positively, and so he threatened to sue any broadcaster or distributor who’d show it. After two screenings in 1991, it was suppressed until producer/editor Libby Handros uploaded it to YouTube, Vimeo, etc. this summer. Watch it below and/or check out the six things Nonfics learned from the film.
This short film is a collection of Nine Inch Nails music videos for their Broken album linked through a narrative involving a man being tortured while watching the videos. The result was deemed too realistic, potentially mistaken for being a true snuff film or at least viewed as disturbing and controversial enough that it would take away from the main point, the music.
Trent Reznor hasn’t exactly been interested in suppressing the film, as he initially distributed copies to friends, each with a marking to indicate the source of any bootlegs. He’s hinted to fans that it’s not hard to come by. But it’s also not ever been legally permitted to be shown publicly. Although bootlegs did wind up circulating (mostly thanks to Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes apparently) and continue to be traded via torrent sites, uploads of Broken to online video platforms, particularly Vimeo, have always been removed. Still, just do a simple Google search and there is at least one streaming version accessible.
Check out a trailer for Amazing Grace: