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Monday, March 8, 1999 Published at 17:28 GMT


Director faces lawsuit over violent movie

Oliver Stone: Accused of "intending" to make people violent

The US Supreme Court has ruled that the film-maker Oliver Stone can be sued over allegations that his movie Natural Born Killers inspired a real-life crime spree.

The ruling comes at a time when another violent film, A Clockwork Orange, is back in the headlines after the death of its director Stanley Kubrick.

When Kubrick's film was first released in 1972 it was attacked by the tabloid press and politicians who said it inspired copycat violence. As a result Kubrick withdrew the film from distribution in the UK.

Film 'inspired' a crime spree

The 1994 movie Natural Born Killers faced a similar barrage of criticism for its graphic depictions of violence when it was released.

Directed by Stone it starred Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, as two young lovers who commit numerous robberies and murders during a wild three-week spree.

The US legal case revolves around the violent crimes of two young people in Louisiana in 1995.

Sarah Edmondson, the daughter of an Oklahoma judge and the niece of Oklahoma's attorney general, and her accomplice, Benjamin Darras, repeatedly watched a videotape of the film before embarking on a crime spree which led to one death and a woman being seriously injured.

Way clear for lawsuit

The Supreme Court let stand a Louisiana appeals court ruling that the film was not protected by constitutional right of free-speech because it allegedly incited "imminent lawless activity."

The ruling leaves the way clear for a lawsuit by the family of Patsy Ann Byers, the Louisiana woman who was seriously wounded by Edmondson and Arras.

The lawsuit seeks damages against the directors, producers and distributors of the film. It claims they should be held responsible and pay damages because they made a film that intended to make people violent.

'Constitutional rights'

But Theodore Olson, the lawyer for the Hollywood defendants, appealed to the Supreme Court, asking for the ruling by the Louisiana court to be overturned.

Olson said the decision "exposed writers, publishers, broadcasters and motion picture producers to costly litigation" whenever it can be alleged an individual inflicted injury based on inspiration from an artist's work.

The appeal was supported by groups representing the major US TV networks, booksellers, authors, publishers, film directors and the film industry.

They urged the Supreme Court to reverse the ruling summarily "to safeguard important constitutional rights."

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08 Mar 99 | Talking Point
A Clockwork Orange - should it be screened?