Frederick Hart is a renowned sculptor, most famous for his "Three Soldiers"
bronze statue at the Vietnam
In 1974, Hart won an international competition to design the
facade for the west entrance of the Washington National Cathedral. The
Cathedral is the world's sixth-largest Gothic-style cathedral and attracts a
million visitors a year. As a result Hart spent 13 painstaking years delving
into the roots of religion and philosophy, probing the very nature of his
The result was his conversion to Catholicism and the bas-relief sculpture
titled "Ex Nihilo, the Creation of Mankind out of Nothing, as Narrated in the
Book of Genesis."
The video clip shows the replica of the sculpture that appears in the office
of the antagonist, John Milton (played by Al Pacino). In this scene, as
Keanu Reeves enters Milton's office for the first time, the camera pans slowly
over the sculpture.
Ex Nihilo in background
The sculpture depicts the creation of mankind from chaos as told in the
book of Genesis, or more specifically, a multitude of naked men and women
writhing in a primeval vortex.
In the film, the image of the sculpture comes to life and the multitude
of naked men and women writhe erotically. This is where Hart
had a problem.
The National Cathedral denounced the film as a grotesque
distortion of sacred art.
Hart and the Cathedral claim confusion between the work and the sculpture has
damaged both of their reputations. And so they sued.
The movie had already been released in general distribution, but the video and
DVD release was scheduled for Feburary 17, 1998. On February 10, 1998,
the judge ruled for Hart and ordered that the release be delayed 48 hours to
allow the parties to come to some creative solution.
Label on back of DVD case
On February 14, 1998, the parties agreed to a settlement wherein Warner Bros.
agreed to attach stickers to the videocassettes specifically disclaiming any
relationship to or endorsement by Hart or Washington National Cathedral.
Warner Bros. also agreed to make changes to certain portions of the film to
eliminate any perceived confusion in future distributions of the movie.
This allowed Warner Bros. to release the initial run of 475,000 copies of the
video, but required them to remove or re-edit over 20 minutes of scenes where
the sculpture can be seen before releasing any further video or television
Warner Bros. changed the cable and subsequent video releases by digitally
removing the images of the people from the sculpture in the early scenes and
significantly changing the presentation in the climax.