Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 19
October 7, 1951
La Ronde shut down in New York

By the time Max Ophüls’ La Ronde came to America, it had played for over two years in Paris and for four months in London to almost entirely enthusiastic reviews. Based on a play by Arthur Schnitzler, La Ronde tells ten stories, each connected by a character who has an affair with a character from the previous story. It begins with a prostitute being picked up and ends with the last character picking up the same working girl. While the film was overtly sexual, most considered it a sophisticated comedy of manners. André Bazin commended it as “a spectacular and brilliant film, extremely nimble in its writing as well as in its filming — above all the movement of the camera; and it is also full of a rather Germanic eroticism.” The New York State Censor, however, seemed fixated on the latter quality, its “eroticism,” rather than on its nimble writing. On October 7, the NY Censor board refused to grant the film an exhibition license. None of the New York censors found the film unpleasant; indeed some commended it. Rather they felt its casual depiction of sexuality (out of wedlock and with prostitutes) “would tend to corrupt morals” by contradicting the “standards of normal family life.” The distributor took this case to the New York Appellate court, where they lost. They then took the case to the United States Supreme Court where after months of legal maneuvering they were granted the right to show the film. Yet despite this victory, the ruling was so narrow that it hardly seemed to open up the potential for cinematic expression overall. The film itself went on to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing and Best Art Direction.


More Flashbacks
December 19, 1977
Jacques Tourneur dies

On this day in 1977, the film world lost of the most creative directors of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when Jacques Tourneur passed away in Bergerac, a town in the south west of France.

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December 19, 1979
Being There, Sellers' Last Chance

According to director Hal Ashby, the editing of Being There was only finally finished at around 4 a.m. on the first day of its limited Oscar qualifying run, 29 years ago today, and Ashby himself delivered the film to the theatre by hand. The painstaking approach Ashby took with the film, however, translated into rapturous reviews and turned Being There into a financial as well as critical success. The movie was a long-gestating project that Ashby and the film’s star, Peter Sellers, had been planning since 1973 when the Pink Panther star had first shared with Ashby his love of Jerzy Kosinski’s novel about a idiot savant gardener who unintentionally becomes a political heavyweight. Sellers, who was initially seen as too broad a comic actor to play this subtle a role, excelled as Chauncey Gardiner (aka Chance the gardener), the childlike man whose simplistic comments are misinterpreted as ingenious political rhetoric, and garnered the very best reviews of his career and a Best Actor Oscar nod in the process. The film proved the most fitting of swan songs as Sellers died of a heart attack just six months after the film’s release. Being There has since become a classic, not least because of its incisive and gently scornful satire of the American political establishment: during the 1980 election, candidates Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter both tried to paint their opponent as being “like Chauncey Gardiner,” and over the course of the presidency of George W. Bush, numerous comparisons were made between the intelligence of commander in chief and Sellers’ simple-minded comic hero.

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