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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 7. 1967.

Film decision cretinous

page 9

Film decision cretinous

The film censor's recent edict that audiences will be segregated for Ulysses must be the most cretinous decision in his extensive catalogue of blunders. There are undoubtedly some people who think that our censor is a pretty liberal fellow in his own way ("After all, we are seeing the film, aren't we?"), and there is certainly something to be said for the view that we are better off in this respect than some other countries. This attitude, comforting though it may be, is not good enough. No matter whether we think of the gentleman in question as an insidious bureaucrat bent on depriving us of our freedoms, or as a conscientious, well-meaning public servant doing his job as best he can, what we cannot escape from is that his actions concerning Ulysses are sufficient for us to question once again the worth (and existence) of film censorship in New Zealand.

First, there is the suspect rationale that I mentioned in a similar complaint last year. I refer to the censor's tendency to be dazzled by anything that smacks of High Art. Suppose the film Ulysses had been based on, say, an "original screenplay by Melvin Furd" rather than the work of an eminent literary figure. I think the censor would have had little hesitation in banning the film, irrespective of its dramatic and cinematic qualities. It would have been quietly shelved without protest or fuss. But the fact is that the source is not of lowly status and, Joyce being Joyce and the attractions of Culture being what they are, the film passes scrutiny as a kind of elevated masterwork. This may be fine for those who particularly want to see Ulysses, but what about poor old Lady In A Cage, or The Wild Angels, The Balcony, Diary Of A Chambermaid and The Wild One? Some of these may be better films than Ulysses, some of them may be worse, but I think they all deserve the same attention and respect, at least when under the eye of the censor.

Just who does the censor think he is protecting by this decision? Perhaps he envisaged mass orgies in the theatres, or startling increases in the rates of indecent behaviour and rape. This view is so patently stupid that I will be charitable and not attribute it to him. Perhaps he was thinking of all those virginal minds, but if this was so then all he had to do was preface Ulysses with the customary warning, "parts of this film, etc," and any blame for the abuse of precious sensibilities or the perversion of the susceptible could not be directed at him. In all probability Mr. McIntosh was motivated by the thought that our viewing of the film would be less interrupted by sniggers and laughter if the audience were segregated. I think this is a serious miscalculation, in that the manoeuvre, far from having the intended effect, has succeeded only in aggravating the situation.

There is something about the herding together of males to watch a film which reeks of the proverbial "tired businessmen" surreptitiously enjoying a blue movie. Most of the adverse reaction daughter, catcalls, etc) is caused, as in other films, by embarrassment, and this condition is not alleviated for those poor unfortunates who do feel embarrassed by the almost furtive conditions under which the film is seen. I feel that the presence of the opposite sex would have inhibited much of the annoying and disturbing behaviour. I don't mean solely by this that the reaction is repressed—I mean also that some of it is eliminated. There are many parts in the film (and the book) which can be a shared experience, since they deal with some of the most basic aspects of the relationships between men and women. Our feeling of affinity with what Joyce has to say, our sense of communion with the characters and their actions, and the significance and relevance of the situations presented can all be heightened by sharing the experience with those most intimately concerned—a woman or a man, as the case may be. This is what I feel anyway, and I had hoped that the censor might see something in this point of view.

Questions as to whether Ulysses is faithful to the novel, or whether it succeeds as a translation of Joyce's intentions, will be, so far as most viewers are concerned, irrelevant and remote. In one sense this is as it should be, for the film cannot fall back on the reputation of the original or make any special plea because it is a translation, it must stand on its own feet, divorced from the source, as a film worthy of being nought out and admired, and as a film which sustains the normal criteria of judgment. Those whose knowledge and understanding of the novel far surpass mine have assured me that the film is in fact a faithful and complementary translation. I would normally not be concerned if this were the case, or indeed if it were not the case, but the fact that much of the novel is unfilmable, depending as it does on aural rather than visual sensations, makes me almost glad that we can appreciate the verbatim extracts on the soundtrack if not always the pictures which accompany them.

For the most part I find Ulysses an intelligent piece of filmmaking, often gripping, often amusing and, more so for others I suspect, sometimes erotic. If this film is not of the highest class, it is because director Joseph Strick is not always successful in finding the appropriate visual counterpart for the text. As I mentioned above, this is virtually impossible for some sections of the novel, and the lapses here axe no reflection on the talent and dedication of the film's makers. Other parts, however, cannot be so excused. Strick succeeds admirably in the scene where Stephen walks by the sea, and most of Molly's soliloquy is presented with a genuine feeling for Joyce's prose. But there is a large chunk in the middle of the film where Bloom follows Stephen wound the brothels, which is seriously flawed.

The antics here, although amusing in parts, resemble corny vaudeville and Gilbert and Sullivan, rather than transient and fragmented mental impressions. These scenes may very well be faithful to the novel, but they do not come across with any great conviction. And nowhere in the film does Strick approach the superlative montage or Menilmontant, or even the "stream of consciousness" techniques employed in the excellent B-grade film, The Carnival Or Souls.

Throughout Ulysses Strick is served by some fine black and white photography and a cast which is generally first-rate. The film as a whole is a commendable effort, but I would be inclined to think more highly of it if a uniformly imaginative touch had been applied throughout, specially to the middle section, which sags drastically. Those possessing an abundance of enthusiasm for the novel will probably be more impressed, but I must take the film as it comes and Judge accordingly. As it is, the sincerity and courage of Strick and his team is unquestioned. It is a pity that the finished product is not equal to their intentions. One final word for the censor: now that we have seen Ulysses, how about The Balcony (directed by Strick from Jean Genet) and all the others? Or must these two be required reading for University courses before being considered fit and proper for the New Zealand public?