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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 10. 1962.

The Art Film—Freedom or Licence?

page 7

The Art FilmFreedom or Licence?

(The last article in the series on film censorship in New Zealand, by Arthur Everard)

An oft aired cri de Coeur (in the correspondence columns of Salient a few weeks back, for instance), is for the right of the artist to have his work seen untouched by profane hands. It is felt, by some people, that the results of creative artistic effort are holy works, not to be altered in any way, and to be regarded as sacred relics.

Or the point of view is taken that as right thinking individuels in a freedom loving democracy, we should have the right to see what we want to without being dictated to by others.

With both these claims I am in hearty agreement—almost.

I am the first to complain when a film Is projected on the wrong size screen for instance, as I regard this as contravening the director's intentions as much as any excision ever did. I also dislike being told what I may see or not see by others, especially when I might have a desire to look through my neighbour's window.

No, like all airy fairy idealistic generalisations, they can be shot full of holes by a determined opponent—Individual cases have to be examined In terms of a self contained autonomy and not by comparison with a sweeping hold-all yard stick approach.

Anyway, who is an "artist" and who is not? If a sensationalist tries to make a fast pile of money with a nasty quickie, on the one hand, or a blockbuster spectacular on the other, Is he not just as much an "artist" as anyone else who makes a film "seriously" or "sincerely"?

It's rather reminiscent of the way that some of the first newspapers to cry Freedom of the Press when admonished for undue emphasis on the lurid aspects of crime are those that mistake freedom for licence.

Then again, there is the case of the film with sober intentions whose effect may be completely different from what is expected by its maker and whose lesson may be misapplied.

After Rebel Without A Cause was screened, we had an outbreak of "chicken" behaviour which led directly to fatalities and accidents. This can be traced directly to the Nicholas Ray film, even though the director certainly never intended to glamourise or condone such behaviour. (The reviewer can legiti-mately claim also that he didn't do much to dissect out or explain the reasons for it either.) Similarly, if The Wild One, a film directed by Laslo Benedek and a serious study of the roots of violence in adolescence, were shown here one could predict that there would be a trail of wrecked motorcyclists across the country in its wake—made up of morons who saw only the surface phenomena of motorcycle boots, black leather jackets and fast motorcycles as a justification of their own vandalism.

Love Among the Artists

When it comes to the art film proper, i.e., what we would call Hiroshima Mon Amour, Shadows or Wild Strawberries, it is the censor's job to decide if the explicit scenes of violence or sex fit into the general standard (or context) of the film. The nude scenes in One Summer of Happiness, Extase, Adam and Eve and Hiroshima Mon Amour all have different meanings and are invested with emotional climates as different from one another as they all are from some scenes of nudity in burlesque and strip tease films.

This question of intent and context is usually the one that starts the argument about censorship' being bigoted and stultifying. We cannot develop the question of the ethnos of censorship in general, we can only note that the censor Is made necessary by the shortcomings of an industry which either can not or will not develop Its own standards of suitability, J and that he has a difficult job which isn't going to keep everybody happy all the time. Censorship In New Zealand is far more liberal and sympathetic than that in most overseas countries.

As he himself has pointed out, his job consists primarily of classification and then mainly of defending one section of the public from another—justifying himself in face of such questions as "Why didn't you cut the swear words out of Saturday night And Sunday Morning, or the sex from Hiroshima Mon Amour? Why do you let those silly advertising films be shown?"

Injury-to-the-Face Motif

Injury-to-the-Face Motif

The girl about to receive the face-ful of spikes is Barbara Steel, in the Italian Black Sunday, adapted from a Vampire story by Gogol.


A couple of factors of which we take too little notice are, firstly, that there is no cutting in New Zealand on ideological or political grounds. This is more than can be said even for Great Britain. Secondly, even though the Censor can remove specific sections of offensive or obscene material, who can alter a film which portrays a completely false or negative set of values as its reference frame; for example, On The Waterfront or The Hustler?

Question Time with Mother

From the numerous queries raised by readers of the preceding articles in this series, I culled some of the more interesting and presented them to the Censor and Registrar of Films (Mr McIntosh) for his comments. These questions, with his answers, follow below:

How is commentary deleted—does it necessitate removing a harmless accompanying image, or is it wiped and the soundtrack left blank?

In practice, both image and sound are taken (commentary is not usually "harmful" with a "harmless" image.) A lot of sound can accompany only a couple of frames of film.

Is political censorship practised in New Zealand?

As such, definitely not. If the material were offensive in itself it would be removed, but not just because of ideological reasons.

Just which films are exempt from censorship?

Scientific films (including natural history), religious, educational, medical and surgical, cultural, sporting and any other films which, in the Censor's opinion, are used mainly for education or instruction or for cultural purposes.

Why was The Blue Angel (Jannings and Dietrich version) banned? It seems pretty innocuous now.

In the audience climate of that period of the twenties, this film of a man's degradation was much stronger than anything hitherto seen. It was pretty strong meat for most film goers.

Do you think then, that audiences are becoming more discriminating In their appreciation?

Definitely, but not all, of course.

What is the Censor's attitude to nudist films?

No set one—each treated on its merits and intent of material.

Striptease sequences were cut from The World By Night on the grounds that striptease is not legal in New Zealand. Neither is drug taking or murder. Why pick on striptease then when other offensive actions are shown—even glamourised.

They were excised not or grounds of legality especially, but mainly because of intent. Anyway, in striptease performances the audience is guilty of an offence also, but not in watching murder.

Do you regard films as an art form?

Are all pictures "Art" or all writing "Literature"? Some are, some aren't!