Damned in the USA
1991, NR, 78 min. Directed by Paul Yule. Starring Jimmy Tingle, Rev. Donald Wildmon, Jesse Helms, Alphonse D'Amato, Andres Serrano, Luther Campbell, Lou Reed.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 15, 1993
Finally able to be seen stateside, Damned in the USA is a British documentary that examines censorship in the United States, most notably the struggles between Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association and artists Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano (whose “Piss Christ” photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine single-handedly started the whole debate regarding government funding of artists). Intercut with shots of Boston-based comedian Jimmy Tingle riffing on the threat of artists to a free society, director Yule shows us Senators Helms and D'Amato railing against the so-called obscene photographs of the artists involved, Playboy Enterprises head Christie Hefner concisely outlining the ludicrousness of the situation, the protests organized against the movie The Last Temptation of Christ and Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew wondering aloud why his rap label has been the target of so many lawsuits of late. Through it all, Rev. Wildmon is given enough rope to hang himself thoroughly, and he does a good job of it as well. Interestingly, after the original release of the film, Wildmon and the AFA filed an $8 million lawsuit against the producers of the film, apparently because he didn't like being seen in the same movie as the works of Mapplethorpe, et al. Thankfully, he has since lost the case, and the film is now in general release (with an added performance of a song by Lou Reed called “Walk on the Wildmon” to the tune of his “Walk on the Wild Side”). Although many of the incidents mentioned in Damned in the USA are old news by now, Yule's film still packs a punch, perhaps even more so because it was made by outsiders, having as it does a British director and producers. My only qualm was that, at 78 minutes, some aspects of the film seem to have been glossed over; more screen time could have been devoted to Luther Campbell and the plight of his 2 Live Crew, for example. In the long run, though, Damned in the USA does an admirable (and unnerving) job of illuminating the rampant censorship and paranoid backbone of conservative America.