SYNOPSIS What makes a rebel? This 78 minute documentary probes the psyche of bad-boy publisher and free speech warrior Barney Rosset, whose mid-century legal and cultural battles smashed sexual and political taboos in the United States — unleashing the counter-culture of the 1960s and introducing millions of young intellectuals to the most radical currents in literature, film, theater and politics.
“Without Barney Rosset, American culture as we now know it would not exist.”— LA Times
For over 100 years an act passed by Congress allowed the U.S. government to ban, seize, and condemn books, films, and plays it deemed “obscene,” as well as contraceptives, erotica, and sex toys. In 1959, Barney Rosset, a flamboyant and provocative young combat photographer turned publisher began a crusade: overturn repressive federal censorship laws.
In the early 1960’s, Rosset’s defiant publication of three notoriously banned books – D.H. Lawrence’s racy Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Henry Miller’s steamy Tropic of Cancer and William Burrough’s drug-drenched Naked Lunch — landed him in ferocious and costly First Amendment battles. His relentless three year legal crusade broke the back of the era’s stifling literary censorship laws, abolished in landmark decisions.
Barney’s Grove Press and its journal Evergreen Review became the Instagram, BuzzFeed, Facebook and Twitter of the era: where you went to know what was happening and what mattered. Barney never stopped seeking and publishing the heartbeat of the ‘now’, the new voices and truth-tellers.
In his late eighties, coming to terms with his life, Barney Rosset began to obsessively sculpt an autobiographical 15′ x 22′ surreal wall mural, embedded with jewel-like vignettes crafted out of found objects, each a clue to the conflicts and obsessions that drove Barney’s lifetime rebellion against authority. A cast of artists, a neurologist, and a shaman connect the clues and piece together Barney’s life.
Vividly enhanced with rare archival footage and contemporary film clips, this timely bio-doc reminds us that it takes only one defiant visionary to marshal a passionate army of resistance against cultural repressiveness and over-reaching government powers.