Toronto filmmaker John Greyson says he is “deeply disappointed” that the Canadian Film Centre chose to cancel a screening of his 1991 short film, The Making of Monsters.
The film, which was produced by the CFC, was Greyson’s experimental response to homophobic violence. It proved a hit on the film-festival circuit when it debuted, and it featured parodies of the songs of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht.
It was to screen at the Art Gallery of Ontario on April 1 as part of the John Greyson retrospective, but Greyson says due to threats made by the music publisher Warner-Chappell, which owns the rights to Weill’s music, the CFC opted to cancel the event.
Greyson says when he made the film, both the Weill and Brecht estates gave him clearance to use their music. But The Making of Monsters depicted the two famous cultural figures as fish – and gay lovers, to boot. When Weill’s estate learned of the film’s premise, they flew into what Greyson says appeared to be a fit of homosexual panic, pulling the plug on their copyright agreement.
Since then, Greyson has tried to get the ban lifted, but to no avail. Strangely, as of 2001, the Weill tunes became public domain under Canadian law (it has been 50 years since the death of the author; Weill died in 1951). Greyson points out that even in the US, laws allow for parody of copyrighted material under the auspices of fair use, meaning the film isn’t really a legal violation in that sense either.
Greyson thinks the CFC appears to be most afraid of the possible hefty legal fees associated with going to war with a formidable company like Warner-Chappell. “I don’t see that as an acceptable excuse,” says Greyson. “Letting people bully you? You’re not supposed to let that happen.”
In an official statement, the CFC said, “The CFC and John Greyson have been trying to resolve a music clearance issue with Warner-Chappell that has prohibited the CFC from screening the film The Making of Monsters for the last 20 years . . . We were feeling confident that we could find a way of making this work, which is why we went to the effort and expense of getting a new digital master made of the film . . . we regret any inconvenience this may cause the AGO in hosting his retrospective.”
Greyson says the CFC and Warner-Chappell also asked him to sign a written agreement that would severely restrict where the film can be screened in Canada. He has refused.
The Making of Monsters won awards at the Berlin International Film Festival and at TIFF when it premiered. It is still screened in film classes at universities.