Oftentimes censorship battles are fought not in the mainstream but in the margins. Witness the case of Trouser Bar — a 22-minute silent film in which two men look into the window of a men’s clothing boutique where a male orgy is in full swing — which has been blocked from ever being shown or released.
The interesting reason why? Because it was written by Sir John Gielgud, the famed British actor who won an Oscar in 1981 for Arthur and died in 2000 at age 93, and a charitable trust which acts as the late actor’s estate has deemed the material inappropriate.
According to the film’s producer David McGillivray, Gielgud wrote the screenplay in the mid 1970s for Peter de Rome, considered one of the pioneers of gay films in the erotic genre. The script lay dormant until 2011. McGillivray was producing the documentary Fragments: The Incomplete Films of Peter de Rome when the filmmaker told him that the screenplay existed. “I wanted Peter to make the film,” McGillivray tells EW, “but he was reluctant, claiming that he had retired.” So McGillivray approached The Sir John Gielgud Charitable Trust in 2012, shortly after de Rome’s films had been released on DVD by the British Film Institute, with his proposal to produce the script himself. “I assumed they would support the project,” he says, “and I was very disappointed when [Gielgud Trust member] Ian Bradshaw told me that they wouldn’t.”
In a comment to Britain’s Daily Mail, Bradshaw stated, “The trustees decided not to give their permission for [the film] to be produced because they didn’t think it was appropriate. They didn’t have to go into detail because they own the copyright.”
McGillivray, who wrapped shooting on the $75,000 film in September and is currently editing, doesn’t dispute the trust’s copyright ownership. But he asserts that the trust’s claim of intellectual copyright, “of a script of which they previously knew nothing,” is simply an “excuse for a form of censorship.” And he rejects the widely held contention that Trouser Bar is pornography — “Sir John’s screenplay gave no indication that the film should be explicit,” he says. “I call it an erotic fantasy.”
(Though notoriously private, Gielgud was indeed gay and was arrested in 1953 on the Orwellian charge of “importuning for immoral purposes,” which led to a nervous breakdown for the actor.)
Interestingly, in yet another instance of the Barbra Streisand effect, the suppression of the short film by the Trust could lead to much more notoriety for it. McGillivray is working on a documentary called Inside Leg: The Making of Trouser Bar, which he intends to premiere next year at film festivals. In it he addresses the copyright anomaly that a film’s production can be featured, even if the film itself cannot. “I will have to run it past lawyers before it can be shown,” McGillivray tells EW. “But I’m given to understand that as long as it doesn’t quote from Gielgud’s writing, we’re in the clear.”