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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his lovely wife, the writer Emily L. Stephens, and their cat, Cooper. When not watching all the movies ever made or digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

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Posted: September 29, 2016

Banned shmanned, Portland library shows big-screen versions of controversial books

Written by: Dennis Perkins
"Alice in Wonderland" 1933. Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures

“Alice in Wonderland” 1933. Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Banned Books Week ended Saturday, but the Portland Public Library is extending its celebration of free expression and the freedom to experience new ideas with its Banned Book Film Series.

Every Thursday in October, the series will feature a film adaptation of a classic book that is still routinely banned or challenged at libraries, schools and bookstores all over America.

Yes, America. Land of the free, home of the “concerned citizen” who thinks that his or her personal prejudices overrule the rights of other citizens to make their own decisions about what to read, or what to watch.

Banned Books Week is a respectful rebuttal to that idea, one that the Portland Public Library has always been proud to take part in, according to Program Manager Rachael Harkness.

“We host this series because, as a library, we stand for free access to ideas, even those that make us uncomfortable,” Harkness said about the Banned Book Week and Banned Book Film Series. “(We) believe that readers are the curators of their own informational experiences. We are also a place where people have unfettered access to put difficult ideas into context and learn about them more deeply.”

As part of its ongoing mission to celebrate not only literature, but your unrestricted right to read it, the library actively takes part in Banned Books Week each year — although, thankfully, Portlanders have a pretty good track record when it comes to respecting others’ rights to read.

“We generally have positive reactions to Banned/Challenged Book Week,” said Harkness. “We’ve never had a negative reaction to this particular film series nor to any other banned/challenged book activities or book displays we’ve had in the recent past.”

Which puts Portland at the head of the class, as not all communities are so fortunate, or open-minded. Reading through a list of the most challenged books every year is a barometer of America’s fears and prejudices, with “concerned citizen” too often translating to “closed-minded person.”

The top most banned/challenged books from last year — in addition to old standbys like Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and D.H. Lawrence’s “Women In Love”— touch on topics like homosexuality and transgender issues (Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings’ “I Am Jazz,” David Levithan’s “Two Boys Kissing”), the Muslim world (Jeanette Winter’s “Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan,” Craig Thompson’s “Habibi”) or plain old sex (“Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James).

Oh, and the Bible’s always in there, too.

With its Banned Book Film Series, the library invites the public to free screenings of four films whose source books are still routinely trotted out as “inappropriate” by people who think they know better than the rest of us what we should see. This year’s series includes:

— “Alice In Wonderland” (Thursday)

Still on the list of the 100 most banned books of all time, according to the American Library Association, Lewis Carroll’s timeless 1865 fantasy comes to life in the delightful 1933 film version, starring the likes of Cary Grant, W.C. Fields and Gary Cooper.

Here’s the trailer for “Alice in Wonderland”

"Catch-22" 1970. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

“Catch-22” 1970. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

— “Catch-22” (Oct. 13)

Joseph Heller’s absurdist anti-war classic novel became this star-studded 1970 black comedy from director Mike Nichols, starring Alan Arkin, Orson Welles, Bob Newhart, Paula Prentiss and Anthony Perkins.

Here’s the “Catch-22” Trailer

"The Chocolate War" 1988. Photo courtesy of MCEG Productions

“The Chocolate War” 1988. Photo courtesy of MCEG Productions

— “The Chocolate War” (Oct. 20)

Based on the 1974 young adult novel by Robert Cormier, this 1988 film similarly explores themes of conformity, intimidation and independence when a lone student at a strict religious school stands up to the manipulations of a secret student society.

Here’s the trailer for “The Chocolate War”

"Stand by Me" 1986. Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures

“Stand by Me” 1986. Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures

— “Stand By Me” (Oct. 27)

Maine’s own Stephen King is no stranger to seeing his books banned, including “Different Seasons,” the source for his novella “The Body,” that’s the inspiration for this beloved 1986 coming-of-age film from director Rob Reiner.

All screenings in the Banned Book Film Series are held in the Library’s Rines Auditorium, are free to the public and begin at 6:30 p.m. Apart from being a great, free night out at the movies, these showings, Harkness said, are “a way of celebrating access to these challenged books.”

Watch the “Stand By Me” Trailer

Friday and Sunday: “Mia Madre.” The newest film from Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti (“The Son’s Room,” “We Have a Pope”) sees the film’s director playing a film director, coping with both his personal problems and the antics of the hammy American actor (John Turturro) playing the lead in his newest film.

Friday: “The Birth Of A Nation.” Sweeping into theaters on a wave of controversy (for its subject matter and writer-director-star Nate Parker’s past), this striking, violent, furious film about the slave rebellion of preacher and slave Nat Turner is what everyone’s going to be talking about.

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