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Controversial 'Damned' to Air on Playboy : Television: The documentary on artistic freedom's run-in with Christian fundamentalists will have its first U.S. airdate on May 14.

March 29, 1993|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Another chapter is being added to the troubled history of "Damned in the U.S.A.," Paul Yule's documentary on the cultural battles between artists and Christian fundamentalists.

After being rejected by numerous TV cable networks, the controversial British film will have its first American broadcast on Playboy TV on May 14, with repeat airings on May 16, 19 and 30. Cinemax has also purchased the work for dates in June.

A 1992 court battle waged by the Rev. Donald Wildmon to prevent Yule and his producer, Jonathan Stack, from screening the film in the United States brought notoriety to "Damned," plus an ironic comment from some observers that a film about censorship was itself being kept from the public. However, once Wildmon, whose campaign against public funding against so-called indecent art is prominently featured in the film, lost his case and the film could be seen, Yule's documentary seemed to lure few takers among cable buyers.

"We never considered the commercial networks," said Yule, noting that those networks would have been unlikely to air a film containing images of several explicit Robert Mapplethorpe photographs.

"But it couldn't seem to find a home on American television at all," said Stack, "which is a sad commentary on American television."

As to why a channel not noted for its public-affairs programming would be interested in the documentary, Richard Bencivengo, Playboy TV's senior vice president of programming and production, said that "supporting such First Amendment issues as the film covers is near and dear to our hearts."

In order to watch "Damned in the U.S.A." on Playboy, viewers who aren't already monthly subscribers will have to purchase the channel's pay-per-night package from their cable company.

"It would be interesting to see Wildmon's reaction once he hears that he'll be on Playboy's channel," Stack said.

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