On Friday, the Times published a brief followup piece that seems to have fallen off the radar screen as quickly as the original article did. I found it this afternoon only because the tireless Peter K. posted the link on the Archives and Archivists listserv over the weekend. In essence, NYU, which was surprised to learn that the foundation and the Rivers family were not in agreement concerning the transfer of the films, informed the foundation that it did not want the films. NYU also instructed the foundation to examine the collection prior to transfer for "similarly problematic material" and urged it to reach a mutually acceptable agreement with Rivers's younger daughter.
The matter of the Rivers films popped into my head as I was doing various things over the weekend, and I have to say I'm glad that NYU has opted against taking them. I was under the impression that NYU was aware of the dispute but wanted a) to ensure that Rivers's artistic career was fully documented and b) to safeguard against having other collections picked apart by relatives, business partners, and others who lack the legal right to control the collections but wish to alter the documentary record nonetheless. However, even if NYU had been aware of the situation, these films really are a special case. As I noted last week, they may be art, but they may also meet the legal definition of child pornography in some states. Moreover, the person who is seeking their return is depicted within them -- in an extensive, intimate, and invasive manner. There's a world of difference between attempting to preserve one's own privacy and trying to obscure the fact that Grandma owned a house of ill repute, that Uncle Leopold bought a judge, or that Dad really should have become a friend of Bill W.