So much of our debate on free speech now focuses on social media and the dank, dark corners of the internet. It’s easy to forget that once upon a time in a Hollywood far, far away, the issue of censorship was a constant debate between moguls and moviemakers, actors and audiences, critics and the critical masses. Sickies Making Films, Joe Tropea’s zany, zippy and entertaining doc, explores how censorship — and the artists who were censored — impacted society in Hollyweird and beyond.
Norman Mason, Mary Avara, and Rosalyn Shecter. Newly Appointed Censor Board. May 1, 1961Photo by William LaFoore
Tropea pulls off two impressive feats. First, he makes the subject of censorship — not exactly an action-packed convo — entertaining enough to keep the viewer engaged. In fact, the film shows just how integral this issue is to our daily lives both in and outside the multiplex. Second, he accomplishes this tall task by blending interviews with archival footage from films of which the average audience member has little to no knowledge. Iconic figures like John Waters lend their perspectives to Tropea’s insightful flick, providing the color and wisdom necessary to make the story sizzle.
Tropea, who directed the film and co-wrote it with Robert Emmons Jr., uses the Maryland Board of Censors as a framing device for his story. The duo’s film asks many pivotal questions, but above all else, it seems to be concerned with how those in power decide what is and is not appropriate. In doing so, Tropea and Emmons delve into more than just censorship—they’re concerned with power, and the abuse thereof. It’s an impassioned film filled with many clever anecdotes about the medium of film, but ultimately, its true power lies with the “sickies” themselves — the men and women whose controversial works were infringed upon by those with the power to do so.
The central theme is driven home early on — censorship has shaped entertainment and the arts for nearly a century and, in many ways, still does. Tropea’s film brings the conversation into the 21st century, and makes you think twice about what we see, how we see it and who sees it before us.
Sickies Making Films runs 85 minutes and will be shown Saturday, April 21 at 8 p.m. at the Campus Theatre and Sunday, April 22 at 12:30 p.m. at Movie Tavern as part of Thin Line Film Festival. To register for Thin Line Fest or to purchase a premium registration, click here.