Censorship

SEX AND VIOLENCE

The sensational and exploitable elements of sex and violence have created the biggest debates in film censorship. Under the new "X" rating in the United States, a wave of 1970s "porno chic" or "middle-class porn" appeared on movie screens, exploiting the commercial possibilities of an adults-only rating. In films such as Deep Throat (1972) and The Devil in Miss Jones (1973), explicit, nonsimulated, penetrative sex was presented as part of a reasonable plot and with respectable production values. Some state authorities issued injunctions against such films to protect "local community standards"; in New York the print of Deep Throat was seized mid-run, and the film's exhibitors were found guilty of promoting obscenity. Caligula (1979), financed by Penthouse magazine, was one of the few of these films to make it to the United Kingdom but only after heavy cuts and initial seizure by British customs. In New Zealand Deep Throat was eventually passed in 1986, yet it remains to be shown; only one cinema tried to organize a screening but was thwarted by the city council that owned the building's lease. Such is the tight regulation of sex in the cinema that its history has been one of a series of certificated firsts. In the United Kingdom this has included the first film to show pubic hair (Antonioni's Blowup , 1966), the first film to depict full frontal nudity (the Swedish production Puss Misterije organizma [ W.R.—Mysteries of the Organism ], 1971), and the first theatrically distributed film to depict the act of fellatio ( Intimacy , 2001). Definitions of sexual explicitness vary widely across national cinemas, with Belle époque (1992) and The Piano (1993) banned in the Philippines.

Sex crime has generated particular concern. In 1976 the BBFC claimed that, in that year, it had viewed fifty-eight films depicting "explicit rape," declaring scenes that glorified it as "obscene." As opposed to questions of "indecency," which have been applied to sexual explicitness, films charged with being obscene have been viewed as having "a tendency to deprave and corrupt" and been liable to prosecution. The art-sex film Ultimo tango a Parigi ( Last Tango in Paris , 1972), with its acts of sodomy and degradation, is one of the most notorious films to depict sexual violence. The film was banned by several UK and US local authorities. The film was also banned in Portugal (from 1972 to 1973) and in Italy (from 1972 to 1987), with federal authorities there filing five separate charges against named participants in the production, including lead actors Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider.

An explicit rape is part of the extreme horrors of The Evil Dead , with a woman assaulted by trees in a possessed forest. This scene was originally left uncut by the British censor but later removed: the chief censor, James Ferman, said "initially we did not think anybody would identify with a tree." In Germany the film was originally banned for having violated the "dignity of humankind." It was not until 1992 that the decision was overturned, with the German High Court ruling that the zombies in the film were not human and therefore their dignity had not been violated. Key guidelines exist within film censorship regarding screen violence. In the United Kingdom the censor is most concerned with what is known as the process shot, the point at which the weapon makes contact with the victim's body. The shots prior to this, showing the wielding of the weapon, are known as the "occasion"; the shots that follow, depicting the effect of the action, are known as the "price." The employment of "everyday implements" in violence is a concern, with the slasher film The Burning (1981) first receiving cuts for its explicit process shots and then later banned on video for its scenes of mutilation and harm using garden shears. Censors are also concerned by "overkill," or the repeated use of a weapon on a victim, and by its being tugged or twisted. There is also the issue of "personalized violence": in a film such as Cliffhanger (1993), attacks on Sylvester Stallone's character were subject to more cuts because of the audience's assumed empathy with the lead actor.

Bernstein, Matthew, ed. Controlling Hollywood: Censorship and Regulation in the Studio Era . London: Athlone Press, 2000.

Black, Gregory D. Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies . Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Conrich, Ian, and Julian Petley, eds. "Forbidden British Cinema." Special issue of Journal of Popular British Cinema 2 (2000).

Couvares, Francis G., ed. Movie Censorship and American Culture . Washington, DC and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996.

Doherty, Thomas. Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930–1934 . New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Lewis, Jon. Hollywood v. Hard Core: How the Struggle over Censorship Saved the Modern Film Industry . New York and London: New York University Press, 2000.

Lyons, Charles. The New Censors: Movies and the Culture Wars. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997.

Mathews, Tom Dewe. Censored . London: Chatto and Windus, 1994.

Petrie, Ruth, ed. Film and Censorship: The Index Reader . London and Washington, DC: Cassell, 1997.

Robertson, James C. The Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in Action, 1913–1975 . London and New York: Routledge, 1989.

Sova, Dawn B. Forbidden Films: Censorship Histories of 125 Motion Pictures. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001.

Ian Conrich

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

CAPTCHA


Censorship forum