Sunday, January 23, 2000

Film exposes Mapplethorpe secrets


Bribery try in 'Dirty Pictures' true, Dennis Barrie says

BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PASADENA, Calif. — Showtime's cable movie about Cincinnati's controversial Robert Mapplethorpe photo exhibit in 1990 will show Contemporary Arts Center director Dennis Barrie being offered $350,000 by a stranger to plead guilty to obscenity charges.

        The hush money offer, which has never been made public, “actually happened twice,” Mr. Barrie said after a press conference with TV critics to promote Showtime's Dirty Pictures docudrama about the court battle. James Woods stars as Mr. Barrie in the film, which will premiere in early June.

        “An amount was put on the table if I would plead guilty. It was very serious,” he said.

        Mr. Barrie and the CAC were indicted on April 7, 1990, for pandering obscenity and illegal use of a child in nudity-related material for exhibiting Mr. Mapplethorpe's show, The Perfect Moment. All 175 photos from the exhibit, including the seven named in the indictment, were used in filming Dirty Pictures.

        The CAC and Mr. Barrie were acquitted on all charges in Hamilton County Municipal Court in October that year.

        Mr. Barrie said he refused the offers before testifying in his own defense about the freedom of expression guaranteed in the First Amendment.

        “There was no way I could ever contemplate it,” he said. “I do think the (Mapplethorpe) work was valuable, beautiful and worth showing.”

        Mr. Barrie, now president of a Cleveland company that producers events for museums, refused to identify the man who offered the money in a downtown Cincinnati parking garage and at a social gathering. The person is not named in the film.

        “I'm not at liberty to say. I really can't go there,” he said. As for the man's motive, Mr. Barrie said he believes “that he was connected to” anti-pornography organizations that opposed the exhibit, “although that was never clear.”

        H. Louis Sirkin, who defended Mr. Barrie in 1990, said he was aware that “somebody was trying to get Dennis to make a deal” on the criminal charges back then, but he was “unaware of any money being offered,” he said.

        “My sense was that Dennis was under a lot of pressure. The feeling we were getting (from Mr. Barrie) was that we were being encouraged that we should talk to the city about making a deal,” said Mr. Sirkin, who is portrayed in the movie by David Huband.

        “I have a feeling that it was possibly someone from a law firm, or a lawyer that had contact with Richard Castellini (then Cincinnati city solicitor) and Dennis,” Mr. Sirkin said.

        So Mr. Sirkin and associate Marc Mesibov met with Mr. Castellini in late summer of 1990, before the trial, Mr. Sirkin said. He said Mr. Castellini proposed that the CAC plead guilty to possession of child pornography in exchange for dropping all other charges.

        “The city wasn't willing to drop the whole case, and Dennis didn't want to make the deal, so we rejected it,” Mr. Sirkin recalled.

        Word of the hush money offer is news to Roger Ach, CAC board chairman at the time, who was in constant contact with Mr. Barrie during the six-month controversy.

        “It seems unlikely to me, given the scope of things at the time,” Mr. Ach said. “I don't want to be in the position of doubting Dennis' word, but it's unlikely that I wouldn't have heard about it.” Mr. Ach refused to grant his story rights to the Showtime project.

        Asked how the offer could remain secret for 10 years, Mr. Barrie said: “It is known in a small circle of people . . . who were there. It really did happen.”

        Mr. Barrie said he has not seen the final script, and he wasn't in Toronto when that scene was filmed. Showtime publicity materials say that “Barrie and his wife (Diana Scarwid) were approached by a stranger who offered them $350,000 to keep Barrie from testifying.”

        “The last script I read makes it a little bit more ambiguous, but I clearly said no (to the offer),” he said. “I think it's part of a dramatic device that will become obvious when you see it.”

        Mr. Barrie moved to Cleveland in 1993 to oversee construction and acquisitions of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. He resigned as executive director in 1996. Last April he was named president of Malrite, a Cleveland company that stages major events for museums and other organizations.

        Mr. Barrie says the Cincinnati controversy over Mr. Mapplethorpe's homoerotic photos taught him that First Amendment fights are “always about difficult things. It's never about easy things,” he said.

        “You learn that you do have to make stands in life, and it's not easy,” he said. “It's scary stuff. I'd hate to have to go out and do it again.”

       



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