I know it when I see it

“In a tantalizing and increasing tempo, the sex appetite is whetted and lascivious thoughts and lustful desires are intensely stimulated.”


Opening credits to Louis Malle’s 1958 film about adultery: Les Amants. Notice the ‘dangerous river’ (rivière dangereuse) and the ‘indifferent lake’ (lac d’indifférence).

Jeanne Moreau to the left, pictures sourced here.

Les Amants (The Lovers) is a 1958 French film directed by Louis Malle and starring Jeanne Moreau. It was Malle’s second feature film, made when he was 25 years old.

A showing of the film in Cleveland, Ohio resulted in a series of court battles that led to a Supreme Court decision on obscenity issues and judge Potter Stewart’s famous “I know it when I see it” opinion about what the definition of obscenity is. Usually dropped from the quote is the remainder of that sentence, “and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

2 thoughts on “I know it when I see it

  1. Roger Allen

    Was Judge Stewart inspired by A. E. Housman’s remark that ” I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat, but that I thought we both recognised the object by the symptoms which it provoked in us. “, perhaps? It’s a fair basis for an acquittal, but- if you are going to convict a film of obscenity at all- is it a basis for conviction?

  2. jahsonic

    Hi Roger,

    I’m not sure what you mean, but your Housman quote reminds me of one by Frank Zappa: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

    Anyway, welcome to my blog.


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