Reiner Vows to Pursue Fight Against Sex Films Despite High Court Ruling

Times Staff Writer

Between his arrest in 1983 for producing the sex movie "Caught From Behind, Part II" and his final victory before the U.S. Supreme Court last week, Harold Freeman's video company turned out eight sequels to the movie. None of them was filmed in Los Angeles.

That's just what the county prosecutors had in mind when they made Freeman a high-profile test case by charging him under a pandering law originally designed to combat street pimps. The law carried a mandatory three-year prison term that prosecutors figured would scare the producers away from what was becoming the smut capital of the world.

And so it did--for about five years.

According to police and participants in the estimated $500-million Los Angeles sex movie industry, the actual filming moved to rented houses safely beyond the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner.

But when Freeman talked last week about scouting locations for his next movie, "Caught From Behind, Part XI," he gleefully noted one criteria for the movie set--it will be in Los Angeles.

And, "If Mr. Reiner wants, I'll invite him to the set," Freeman declared.

He was not the only one celebrating in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's affirmation last Tuesday of a California court's ruling that use of the pandering statute against film makers is unconstitutional. Other producers kept Freeman's phone ringing.

Not Conceding Defeat

"Everybody is coming back to shoot," he reported.

Two days after the ruling, however, Reiner was not conceding defeat. Speaking to the county Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, the prosecutor vowed to seek more "innovative" ways to fight pornography.

"We will vigorously pursue any obscenity cases presented to us and continue to work for better laws to increase our effectiveness in this important area," he said.

But Reiner offered no specifics. And other law enforcement officials were not so optimistic.

"We're back to ground zero on pornography," said Capt. Jim Docherty, commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department's vice division. "We were hoping that this law would help in driving these folks out of Los Angeles and eventually out of the state."

Docherty and others said that sex film making had begun returning to the county even before the Supreme Court ruling as it became apparent that Freeman was winning his long legal battle.

"We've seen more and more shootings and filmings," said Robert Peters, an LAPD vice detective. "We began to see an increase in filming before it (the Supreme Court decision) was even official. We have seen a definite increase, but it was building before that--like a shark smelling blood."

Freeman, who estimates that he has produced more than 100 sex films over 22 years, was convicted in 1985 under a state law that makes it illegal to hire people to perform sex. While admitting that his movie was "filth," Freeman contended that the actresses he hired could hardly be compared to prostitutes.

Although a judge refused to impose the law's mandatory three-year sentence--rejecting it as cruel and unusual--and instead handed down a 90-day jail term and $10,000 fine, the threat of similar prosecutions prompted sex film makers to head for the hinterlands, industry officials say.

"It virtually stopped people in L.A. County from shooting," one executive said.

Many of the estimated 30 Los Angeles-based companies producing and distributing such films, most of them located in the San Fernando Valley, moved their activities just beyond county lines or north to San Francisco, they said.

Freeman said his Hollywood Video Production Co., where his wife of 32 years and his two daughters also work, was one of the firms that began using San Francisco as the site of most of its films.

But in 1987 the state Supreme Court unanimously reversed Freeman's conviction and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the county's appeal.

Freeman said he was not personally involved with any of the dozens of sex videos made by his company after his arrest. He spent his time producing horror movies such as "Blood Frenzy," he said.

But the 52-year-old Encino resident said he was eager to get back to making movies showing "good, good sex."

Some of his colleagues in the sex film industry, however, said Freeman should be more circumspect.

"Continuing to shoot in L.A. is smacking it in the face of vice (authorities)," said one official of the Beverly Hills-based Adult Video Assn. "Why give anyone ammunition to shoot at you? I still feel you're better off shooting outside of L.A. County."

Freeman said officials should be happy that all revenue from the filming, including permit fees, will return to the local economy.

Draws Comparison

Calling the successful mainstream movie "Fatal Attraction" "one of the hottest things I've ever seen," Freeman maintained that what he does is not that much different from the R-rated films turned out by major studios.

"The major difference is that we show the whole thing," he said.

Although he said he was angry that he had to spend more than $300,000 in legal fees defending himself, he did not seem worried by the district attorney's pledge to come up with a new way to drive off productions such as his.

"Mr. Reiner must have better things to do with his time," Freeman said.

The greatest threat to the sex film business now is not law enforcement, he said, but competition in the form of dozens of small producers "out to make a fast buck" who are flooding the market with "garbage."

"The industry is killing itself on its own," he said.

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