Freedom, care of the US: Iraqis flock to see "blue" films.
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Thu Sep 11 01:59:55 PDT 2003
* Blue Movies Proliferate in Post-Saddam Iraq *
* BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Outside the cinemas on Saadoun Street, groups of
men loiter round film posters of naked women, whose private parts are
crudely super-imposed with underwear drawn in colored pen. *
Behind doors in Baghdad's main movie strip, there is no such teasing.
Barely a seat is empty as hundreds of men, most puffing cigarettes, sit
in total silence and darkness to enjoy scenes of nudity and sex for
1,000 Iraqi dinars ($0.50) a time.
"Under Saddam, forget it. You would go to jail for showing or watching
this," said movie-watcher Mohammed Jassim at the Atlas Cinema where one
of the films on offer was disturbingly named "Real Raping."
The fall of Saddam Hussein liberalised Iraq's cinema industry overnight.
Pornographic movies which had circulated only secretly before suddenly
came into the open. The smuggling of films from abroad became overt
importing. And demand has proved high despite Iraq's strict Muslim morals.
With no Ministry of Information censorship department to get round any
more, most Baghdad cinemas are now showing primarily "romantic" and
"sexy" films as Iraqis euphemistically call soft- and hard-core movies
The few places trying to maintain respectability have been forced to mix
their bill to include a few crowd-pulling blue movies to cover costs.
"We feel bitter and disgusted to show such pictures because this cinema
has always shown good films. But if we don't, there is no money to pay
our wages and rent," said Isaam Abdul Kareem, who has taken tickets for
20 years at Baghdad's prestigious Semiramis cinema.
"Just 50 people a day come in for good films. Hundreds come for the
'romantic' ones. We must go with the market."
The open proliferation of mainly U.S. and European-made porno films, and
the pavement posters advertising them, has shocked Iraq's religious
They hope the novelty factor will wear off and a new Iraqi government --
which the postwar U.S.-led occupiers are struggling to get in place --
will re-impose restrictions such as age-limits for cinemas and a ban on
"SINFUL" CINEMAS THREATENED
"A revolution or a big change like the one we had with the end of Saddam
is like a flood," said Mohammed Saleh Al-Ubaidi, a 73-year-old Sunni
Muslim imam whose Baghdad mosque is a stone's throw from Saadoun Street.
"It brings a lot of trash and wood with it, but then soon after clear
water comes. That is what we hope for Iraq...Under Saddam, there was
prohibition only. Now there must be persuasion too."
Some among the majority Shi'ite Muslim community are already taking
matters into their own hands.
In the mainly Shi'ite south, for example, Basra's three cinemas closed
for two weeks after young men on motorbikes turned up warning that if
they showed "sinful" movies they would be burned down.
When they re-opened, sex was off the agenda and it was back to Arabic
movies and U.S. action films -- the staple of prewar cinema bills.
One cinema manager, who asked not to be named for fear of provoking the
clerics, recounted the dangerous games he used to play under Saddam.
"We had to take films for approval to the Ministry of Information, where
they could say 'no' or cut out the bad parts," he said. "But we paid
bribes to keep the hot shots in. Or, if they cut them out anyway, we
would go somewhere else to buy them and put them back in again."
Now operating freely, his Baghdad cinema was plastered with raunchy
posters of U.S. sex symbol Pamela Anderson and pop star Christina
Aguilera. On show were the film version of British author D.H.
Lawrence's explicit novel "Lady Chatterley's Lover" and a seedy-looking
Italian film "Love, Pleasure and Romance."
Faris Sami, who owns a shop selling films on CDs -- including a fair
sprinkling of "romantic" and "sexy" films -- is worried about the
corrupting effect on teenagers and would like to see some restrictions
But he is relieved not to be running the same risks as before when he
and his business partner would secretly sell sex films to trusted
clients and friends.
"Uday (Saddam's son) had a big campaign a couple of years ago. They put
my partner in jail for three months," Sami said in his Baghdad shop.
"For them, everything was allowed. For the people, everything prohibited."
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