The representation of violence in the cinema has been a topic nearly as contentious as sexuality for those concerned with what is proper for the content of film. Yet censorship organizations have focused less on violence than on sexual images or images suggestive of various forms of gender liberation. Cursory application of psychoanalytic theory provides at least tentative answers for this: Western civilization, heavily influenced by organized religion, has been fairly obsessed with policing the body and in controlling sexual conduct of both men and women. Freudian and post-Freudian thinking has postulated that the libido is policed in such fashion as to channel its energies to the service of commerce and state interests. Violent acts—from sports to warfare—have been theorized as a way of providing a safety valve for errant sexual energies. Violence has been viewed, if the cinema is any guide, as a reasonably acceptable form of human expression in a highly competitive civilization that sanctions warfare as a way for states to settle grievances.

There are variations to this acceptance, as becomes plainly obvious when observing how the Production Code and organizations such as the Catholic Legion of Decency regulate the violent image. The regulatory process often sanctions violent images that conform to standing political and moral values, but disallows those that challenge capitalism and notions of social normality. In general, the European cinema has taken a progressive attitude toward images of violence, showing its consequences or using it to jolt the complacent spectator, as with the graphic scenes of bloodshed in Sergei Eisenstein's masterpieces Stachka ( Strike , 1925) and Bronenosets Potyomkin ( Battleship Potemkin , 1925), or the shock effect of the sliced eyeball in Luis Buñuel's and Salvador Dali's Un chien andalou ( An Andalusian Dog , 1929).

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