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They’re only movies: Moral panic, censorship & ‘video nasties’

Infamous Poster for the even more infamous
There are few things more offensive than the act of a group of holier-than-thou types trying to inflict their intensely rigid and often, properly uninformed, viewpoints on the masses. Every decade has some rich examples of this type of restrictive behavior, but the 1980’s were an especially fertile hotbed of moral majority types. In the United States, we had Tipper Gore and the PMRC attacking the music industry. In the United Kingdom, they had Mary Whitehouse and the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) and their attack on the “video nasties,” a list of horror films that were targeted for being especially violent and lurid enough to the extent of being socially harmful. The tight girdle-brigade of Tipper and Mary Whitehouse would have surely gotten along like gangbusters, but the latter’s actions, along with key members of British Parliament can still be felt to this day.

There have been a number of books and articles written about the “video nasties” and even an episode of The Young Ones using them as a key plot device. (Complete with The Damned playing “Nasty” no less!) So it was high time for someone to come along and make a documentary about this movement and thanks to director Jake West and Severin Films, we have all that and more.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide is one of the most aptly named sets to have come out in the past five years. Disc One features West’s documentary, Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Video Tape. Originally released in 2010, West manages to fit in an amazing amount of commentary and information in its 72 minutes. There is a perfect mix of film writers, academics, filmmakers and former political and law enforcement members interviewed here, painting a thorough picture of a weird and sad time for film in the UK.

Director West, who also made the incredible and underrated Razor Blade Smile (1998), integrates a punk type energy and fun with the gravity of the subject matter. The film delves into the fact that, like any situation where censorship is put into action, the issue is far deeper than the works being targeted themselves. Elements like social unrest in a land riddled with high unemployment and the bloody specter of the Falkland Wars, not to mention the inherent classist attitudes of Whitehouse and her crew, are just some of the points bubbling under the surface of “obscene” movies. Censorship, in all of its ugly forms, is rarely about the actual contents themselves and more about assorted underlying problems that run way deeper than a movie with blood and breasts mixed in.

While there are a number of standouts interviewed here, including Stephen Thrower (Nightmare USA), Kim Newman, Dr. Beth Johnson and The Dark Side editor Allan Bryce, it is Professor Martin Barker who is the real star and moral core of the film. Barker, initially studying the horror comics uproar in the 1950’s (a censorship-fueled movement that was paralleled here in the United States around that time period) but soon noticed some striking similarities between the then burgeoning video nasties scare and what happened in the fifties. It was from there that he became one of the few but key voices to speak up critically against Whitehouse and her cronies, which included members of Scotland Yard and Parliament. (Not to mention some moral support from Prime Minister Thatcher herself.) There’s one clip shown of Barker on a chat show where an intensely rude Cardinal interrupts him to ask if he would show a one of “those” films to a little kid, to which Barker replies without a beat, “What a silly question!”

The films themselves, while briefly shown in clips and named in the documentary, get more of an in-depth analysis on discs two and three. Disc two features original trailers and commentary on the 39 films that were successfully prosecuted. Some of the titles on this list include Abel Ferrara’s second feature film Driller Killer, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, the bonkers Island of Death and Roger Ebert’s favorite, I Spit on Your Grave.

Disc three features the same great commentary/trailer combination, with the focus being on the 39 films that were initially banned but were later on acquitted and removed from the list. Some of those titles include Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, the ultra-obscure Elke Sommer film I Miss You Hugs & Kisses, Matt Cimber’s unhinged psychedelia The Witch Who Came From the Sea and Andrzej Zulawski’s art-house, psychological horror film Possession.
Gruesome Art for
The trailers alone are pretty fantastic but the commentary is very much the icing on the cake, including some particularly great insights from the aforementioned personalities, as well as writers like Brad Stevens (Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision) and academics like Professor Patricia MacCormack. The quality of commentary can make or break a set like this but West did a bang up job selecting a group of people that are not just highly educated and experienced, but also quite fun to listen to. Anyone that is working on a film-related documentary in the future need to study this set and see how should it be done. There are few things more soul-crushing than seeing dry-as-ashes commentary on something as vibrant and fluid as art. In fact, if you’re a film lover by any definition, then do yourself a favor and pick up this set. 
Poster Art for
The vital importance of a set like this is summed up beautifully at the end of the documentary by Martin Barker himself:

“The most interesting thing is just how little historical memory we have. The next time there’s a panic we won’t remember just how stupid the last one was and how people get away with things. And that to me is the most important lesson about this campaign. The evangelical got away with murder. They got away with fraud. They got away with deceiving people. They now laugh it off. The fact that almost all of these films are now available uncut in the public domain, they don’t care. Because they move on, because what they want to do is to dominate the present and they don’t care about history. Critical voices have to care about history. We have to care about the way which things got controlled in the past, because that’s when the damage gets done. If you don’t keep that historical memory, we will allow them to do it again next time.”


Posted by Heather Drain | Leave a comment
Another artist pisses off Putin

A satirical painting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev dressed in frilly ladies’ lingerie, Travesty, was confiscated by officials from the Museum of Power art gallery in St. Petersburg a week before the G20 summit started. Putin is shown combing Medvedev’s hair.

Other paintings of authority figures in the “Rulers” exhibit that “violated existing legislation” and were confiscated included depictions of two evil politicians, Vitaly Milonov (deputy mayor of St. Petersburg) and Yelena Mizulina, the ones responsible for recent vicious anti-gay legislation, with a rainbow flag, and conservative, homophobic Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who was painted with skull tattoos and busts of Stalin and Lenin. The government won’t say which existing laws were violated, but they could always point to the one prohibiting insulting state authorities or the new one banning alleged homosexual propaganda aimed at minors. It would be hard to argue that seeing the equivalent of a political cartoon in a newspaper is going to give young people “The Gay.”

Milonov, who may be the last male on the planet who has never seen actual pornography, had already complained about the paintings being displayed and described them as being “of a distinctly pornographic character.”

According to gallery owner, Alexander Donskoy, the paintings were seized with no formal warrant for their removal, the director was detained by police but not charged, and the museum was closed for a few days. Donskoy has been a thorn in the side of the Russian government since announcing his intention to enter politics in 2006. He also owns the G-Spot, a gallery of erotica, where a painting of a nude Putin and Barack Obama (with multiple massive dayglo penises) by artist Vera Donskaya-Khilko was seized by police yesterday. The G-Spot was shut down.

The artist who painted the Putin-Milonov Travesty piece, Konstantin Altunin, has fled to France and is planning to seek asylum. Maybe he and Femen’s Inna Shevchenko, the two members of Pussy Riot who fled Russia in 2012, and the upcoming diaspora of Russian artists can all be housemates.

Oh, and he wants his painting back. In an open letter to G20 leaders, Altunin wrote, “I ask [you] to mention the topic of censorship in [a] personal conversation with Putin and ask him to return my paintings seized from the Museum of Authority.”

So, hey, just in case G20 leaders or their staff members are actually reading Dangerous Minds during boring meetings, instead of playing poker on their phones (hi guys!), here are two other paintings they’re not supposed to see:

Reuters report on confiscated paintings, below:

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
Rupert Sheldrake speaks on the TED censorship controversy

Last night, acclaimed author and biologist (not to mention public enemy to skeptics and atheists) Rupert Sheldrake gave a lecture in Maryhill, Glasgow.

At the talk, Sheldrake spoke about his recent experience of being censored by the TED organisation. If you are not aware of the story, this past January in London Sheldrake was invited to give a TEDx talk on his book The Science Delusion—a book that calls into question some of the fundamental beliefs of science—which was filmed and uploaded to the TED website.

Sheldrake’s video was subsequently removed from the site as it was deemed to be “unscientific,” and his own reputation was called into question (along with fellow speaker Graham Hancock, the video of whose talk on consciousness was also removed). Understandably, this action upset quite a lot of people, both members of the public and professionals in various fields of science alike. A group of scientists and philosophers have publicly addressed the issue, and the response from TED’s Chris Anderson, at the Huffington Post.

In this audio clip, which was recorded by Innes Smith (of the Scottish Society for Psychical Research) Sheldrake talks openly about the controversy, the people he thinks were behind the initial censorship, and, having spoken to Anderson directly,  believes he was pressured into the removing the video and now regrets it:

With thanks to Innes Smith. The Scottish Society for Psychical Research can be found here. Sheldrake’s talk can be found here.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Welcome to Kill City: Abel Ferrara’s 42nd St. Fueled Thriller, ‘Fear City’

Fear City Poster
Abel Ferrara is, in a lot of ways, the quintessential New York filmmaker. For a director who is Brooklyn born, it was only natural for the city to be an omnipresent character in many of his works, including such classics as Ms. 45 and Bad Lieutenant. If the City is a strong background character in those films, then it is the star of Ferrara’s 1984 film, Fear City. Even better, we’re talking the seamier, pre-Disneyfied era of New York. Fear City features long gone spots like the Gaiety Burlesk as well as adult theatre marquees promoting such X-rated fare as Devil in Miss Jones II and Snow Honeys. The neon-lit sleaze and wonder of it all has never looked better on Blu Ray, thanks to the efforts of Shout Factory.

Locations aside, Fear City is a crime-riddled thriller centering around Matt Rossi (Tom Berenger), a former boxer who got out of the fighting game after accidentally killing his opponent in the ring. Staying in a profession still fringed with underworld connections, Matt, along with his partner Nicky (Jack Scalia), runs the Starlite Agency, which represents a number of exotic dancers. It’s not all glitter and pasties, since right off the bat we get to see Matt and Nicky hassle a club owner for back pay. When not dealing with business, Nicky tries to cheer up his partner, who is still heartsick after breaking up with his girlfriend and their star dancer, Loretta (Melanie Griffith). His angst is further fueled when he discovers that she is having a liaison with fellow dancer, Leila (Rae Dawn Chong.)

However, Matt soon has to put his emotional scars aside, since there’s a killer on the loose who is targeting strippers, a number of whom work for Matt and Nicky. Honey (Ola Ray) is the first victim, who survives but not without having a couple of her fingers cut off for her trouble. It’s only a matter of time before death looms ahead, with the first mortal victim being Leila. Between getting hassled by former vice cop now homicide detective Wheeler (Billy Dee Williams) and trying to rekindle things with Loretta, will Matt be able to reconcile the ghosts of his past and confront a highly dangerous killer?

Fear City is a film that neither wallows or shies away from the seamier side of life. Even better, it is non-judgmental. The women are not murdered because of any loaded sense of puritanical cultural guilt, but more due to the fact that there is a really sick, karate fueled sociopath with some severe repression issues out on the streets. Fear City is a good answer to anyone that makes the blanket assumption that all slasher-thriller type films are fueled by sheer misogyny. (Not bad for a movie ripe with T&A!) Of course, making a movie set in the often sleazy world of exotic dancing without nudity would be a bit like making a film about plumbing with no pipes.

Fear City has garnered a bit of a reputation as a ultra-lurid film and while the very nature of its story features some amount of sordidness, there were films out there that were were way stronger. The key difference, though, would be that a large amount of those more unabashed titles were typically independent from the get go, while Fear City was set up originally to be released by a major studio. In this case, the studio was 20th Century Fox. However, it apparently still proved to be too heady a film for the decades old giant and in the end, it was released by an independent distributor. Despite that, it still suffered some amazingly lame censorship.

Now thanks to this new release, we can finally see the film uncut, for the very first time on the American home video/digital market. Shout Factory have recreated the original cut, utilizing the theatrical print (which is also available on this disc) and an uncut VHS source tape. The most shocking thing about what was cut was the stupidity of any of it being cut in the first place. But then again, censorship rarely, if ever, makes any bloody sense. The raciest footage that was excised includes a kiss between Melanie Griffith and Rae Dawn Chong, which is no more explicit than anything you will see on cable TV. In fact probably less so. On top of that, with it missing, it renders Loretta’s reactions to her lover getting attacked a little less powerful and more over-dramatic. Some of the other footage that has been restored includes extra seconds of the killer exercising, a couple of frames of Loretta’s striptease and some surprising police brutality during Detective Wheeler’s interrogation of Matt. It’s beyond ridiculous that any of this was cut. It is highly doubtful that someone who chooses to see a film about a sociopath who is targeting 42nd St. strippers is going to be overly sensitive to such realities that include two women expressing affection or an officer of the law abusing his power. Audiences being treated like simple children is nothing new though it’s disturbing to think that the trend was still going strong only 30 years ago. Not like censorship has, either. To quote the Jenny Holzer t-shirt, abuse of power comes as no surprise.

Censor gripes aside, Fear City may not be one of Ferrara’s masterpieces but it’s good and features some tight performances, especially from the underrated and occasionally underutilized Tom Berenger. It’s great getting to see Billy Dee Williams, who does a fine job playing such a moralizing, brutal hard-ass. Griffith is fairly good and has never looked better, resembling a less arty version of Tubes chanteuse and Holy Mountain actress Re Styles. Granted, she might be one of the healthiest looking heroin addicts in cinema but as a whole, she’s good. Fear City also has a theme song, “New York Doll” by THE New York Doll, David Johansen and soundtrack composer Joe Delia. The latter’s work goes back to Ferrara’s beginnings, including his first film ever, the adult feature Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy.

At its core, Fear City is a taut thriller but historically, it has become more than that. The era where danger and sleaze bled out on the neon stained pavement on Times Square are long gone, leaving corporate tourism and a sense of loss in its wake. Not that a time period where one could get shanked while trying to watch Snow Honeys or even R-rated fare needs to be romanticized either. But that said, one could argue that the pall of gentrification is even uglier than vice. Ignoring the darker aspects of our humanity is not going to make it go away and if anything, creates a hothouse for dysfunction. The film’s killer is a result of that very attitude.

Abel Ferrara, along with screenwriter Nicholas St. John, have created a film that makes no judgments one way or the other about any of its characters. It is that attitude that perhaps made this film so initially scary to studio execs. Hollywood films ranging from Death Wish to Personal Best featured more violence or sexuality, but the refusal to paint its hero or heroine with a broad brush is more threatening than any breast or blood factor. It might not be one of Ferrara’s best by any means, but it works well and is worthwhile for anyone who appreciates having a film with flawed characters and a peek into a headier time.

Posted by Heather Drain | Leave a comment
Censorship tells the wrong story
09:40 am



Ogilvy & Mather created this hysterical new advertising campaign for Reporters Without Borders. (Note: Some of the images featured here come from that campaign, others have no connection to it.)

More “censored” photos after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’: The importance of showing the truth

I once produced a series called Banned in the U.K., which was based on the premise that we can learn more about a society through what it bans that by what it permits. This week, the issue of censorship has highlighted the difference of what is permitted when viewing extreme violence as fact and fiction.

Dangerous Mind‘s Niall O’Conghaile wrote about the British Board of Film Classification’s decision to ban Tom Six’s sequel The Human Centipede II on the grounds that it “poses a real, as opposed to a fanciful, risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers.”

The principal focus of The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) is the sexual arousal of the central character at both the idea and the spectacle of the total degradation, humiliation, mutilation, torture, and murder of his naked victims….

...There is little attempt to portray any of the victims in the film as anything other than objects to be brutalised, degraded and mutilated for the amusement and arousal of the central character, as well as for the pleasure of the audience.

While the BBFC has banned Brits from viewing fictional acts of extreme and sexual violence, Channel 4 television has taken the brave decision to air raw footage (filmed on a cell ‘phone) of allegedly Sri Lankan troops systematically murdering and committing acts of sexual violence against its population in a documentary called Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields.

The material has been described as “the most horrific footage [Channel 4] has ever broadcast”. An extract from the video was aired in August 2009, which showed naked, bound men being executed with a shot to the back of the head by what appears to be Sri Lankan soldiers. This material was edited as it was considered “too gruesome” to be broadcast pre-watershed. Now the footage will be transmitted at length next Tuesday at 11pm:

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields includes full-length videos of naked and bound Tiger prisoners kneeling whilst they are shot in the back of their heads by men in army uniforms. When extracts of some of these videos were first shown on Channel 4 News the Sri Lankan government denounced them as fake - and have refused to accept they are real - despite being authenticated by UN specialists. In new footage, a Tiger prisoner is shown tied to a coconut tree. The same prisoner is captured in a series of photos - at first alive, threatened with a knife and then dead and covered with blood.

Further videos show evidence of systemic murder, abuse and sexual violence - women’s bodies stripped of their clothes being dumped into trucks by soldiers. The film includes an interview with a woman who, with a group of civilians, handed herself and daughter over to government forces. She claims they were both raped; she witnessed others being raped, she heard screaming and shots and never saw them again.

This week, Head of News and Current Affairs at Channel 4, Dorothy Byrne defended her decision to screen the film in a radio interview:

“I believe it is absolutely justified. The UN has reported that there is credible evidence that actual war crimes took place.

“This is not just a TV programme, this is evidence. If we don’t show it and the Sri Lankan government say it never happened – how are you the viewer, a member of the public, able to make up your mind, unless you see it yourself.

“We felt we had to show it as overwhelming evidence of potential war crimes which need investigating.

“I would like to be able to say we will never again show footage again like this. I hope it is the first and last time we have to do it.”

Byrne took the decision to show the film “after serious and careful consideration.”

“This dossier of visual evidence of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by forces of the government of Sri Lanka is of the greatest possible public interest. We believe that screening it is the only way to enable viewers to make their own informed judgments about what happened.”

Byrne is right to show the footage as “evidence”, in the same way the films of Auschwitz and Belsen were “evidence” of the atrocities committed. But it will lead to people asking why it is acceptable to broadcast genuine material of “gruesome” violence, and sexual assault, while it is not acceptable to screen fictional material, like the next Tom Six movie?

Shouldn’t it be more troubling to watch film of actual murder, rather than fictional?

The screening also opens “a door to which there is no way of closing” for once one news agency shows such footage, what is to stops others following suit?

There is usually a protocol to showing shootings in news footage: the camera freezes before the moment the gun is fired, then cuts to the dead body. This explains in simple terms what has happened. If this protocol is abandoned then the stakes are upped in terms of what a news channel can offer to attract viewers - and let’s be clear, viewing figures drive scheduling, which drives programs and their commissioning, and if real violence can deliver column inches and a healthy viewing figure, then who is going to say “no” to cell ‘phone footage of other atrocities?

But there is also a more troubling issue - would this material have been screened if it was British citizens that had been shot in the head? Do we treat foreign nations with dignity when it comes to reporting on their lives? Or do we use them as victims for our own infotainment?

This is a very tricky area but I think Byrne is right, for it is “evidence” that Channel 4 is presenting and there is a moral duty to screen it, which is what makes this footage exceptional, and important.

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields is broadcast on Channel 4 on June 14 at 23.05hours, details here.

Below is the original Channel 4 News report on the Sri Lankan atrocities - please note some viewers may find this clip disturbing, as it contains footage of prisoners being killed.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Jean Rollin: ‘Schoolgirl Hitchhikers’

During a screening of Jean Rollin’s first horror movie, La Viol du Vampire (aka Queen of the Vampires) in Paris 1968, police stormed the cinema and a riot erupted between the audience and the gendarmerie. The event made Rollin and his film famous, and started a career in fantasy, horror and sexploitation movie-making that has continued for over forty years.

Rollin began his career as an editor, and hung out with Nouvelle Vague film-makers such as Jean-Luc Goddard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais and Eric Rohmer.

I met most of them at Henri Langlois’ Cinemateque Francaise; we talked, and I saw their films. It was not exactly my cup of tea. It was a movement similar to German New Wave filmmaking, some sort of rebellion against the old directors—not only their approach and vision, but also their technical style. I was always most attracted to traditional, old French cinema, but there is no doubt that the Nouvelle Vague played an important economic role. They proved it was possible for young people without experience to make successful, acclaimed films on a small budget. They gave me and others the courage to attempt the same feat.

However, Rollin had his own vision of the cinema he wanted to make, and it wasn’t long until he tried his hand as a director. As a member of France’s Left, Rollin was asked to make a documentary in support of the Spanish resistance against the fascist leader, General Franco. The experience and the success of the film encouraged Rollin to make his first feature, the fantasy horror La Viol du Vampire.

In general, the fantastic cinema is always political, because it is always in the opposition. It is subversive and it is popular, which means it is dangerous. I made films with sex and violence at a time when censorship was very strong, so that was certainly a political statement as well, although again, not a conscious one. I just happen to have an imagination which doesn’t correspond with those of certain conservative people.

Over the next decade, Rollin made thirty-two films, mainly horror-fantasy, including Le Frisson des Vampires (aka The Shiver of the Vampires), Requiem for a Vampire, Les Démoniaques and Lévres de Sang (aka Lips of Blood). To help supplement the budgets for his own film projects, Rollin made a series of sexploitation films (usually under the name Michel Gentil), the first of which, Schoolgirl Hitch-hikers has just been digitally remastered and is about to be released for the first time on DVD, to coincide with Rollin’s birthday, by Nigel Wingrove’s Salvation Films

Now in his seventies, Rollin continues to work and his latest fantasy horror flick, The Mask of Medusa was released in France last month.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Bugger the Natives: The Trial of Howard Brenton’s ‘The Romans in Britain’

Thirty years ago this month, a new play opened in London’s National Theater that was to change legal and theatrical history. Howard Brenton’s The Romans in Britain contrasted Julius Caesar’s Roman invasion of Celtic Britain with the Saxon invasion of Romano-Celtic Britain, and finally Britain’s involvement in Northern Ireland during The Troubles of the late 20th century. Epic in scale, Brenton’s intelligent analysis of the effects of imperialism was sidelined when The Romans in Britain became center of a farcical court trial over a simulated act of buggery.

The son of a Methodist minister, Howard Brenton was born in Porstmouth in 1942, educated at Chichester High School, and at Cambridge University, where he won the Chancellor’s Gold Medal for poetry. In 1965, he wrote his first play Ladder of Fools, described as an “Actable, gripping, murky and moody: how often can you say that of the average new play tried out in London, let alone of an undergraduate’s work.”

A highly talented and original writer, Brenton quickly proved he was unafraid to investigate controversial or contentious political subjects.  His first big success as a playwright was Christie in Love (1969), which examined the public’s fascination with murderers through the life of John Christie, who had murdered at least 6 women at his home, 10 Rillington Place. The play opened with a monster-like Christie rising from beneath a grave of torn newspapers, and then masturbating in front of the audience. His next Brassneck (1973) followed the rise of an inner city family over thirty years, from radical politics to drug dealing. While The Churchill Play (1974) questioned the rise of state security against individual liberty, and opened with a dead Churchill rising from his catafalque in Westminster.  The play briefly caused a national scandal, as it questioned Churchill’s actions as a political leader. Brenton followed this with Weapons of Happiness, an examination of a factory strike in London. In 1977, he was then commissioned to write The Romans in Britain.

Commissioned by Sir Peter Hall, director of the National Theater, a key establishment figure and founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who formed an odd collaboration with the left-leaning, libertarian Brenton. The key to their relationship was Hall’s genuine respect for Brenton, and his belief that playwrights should deal with contemporary political issues, in particular, at that time, the situation in Northern Ireland. To direct the production, Hall brought in Michael Bogdanov, a young, imaginative director, known for his acrobatic and physical productions for the RSC.

It was soon apparent that a key scene in the play would be troublesome. This scene centered on the anal rape of a native Celt called Marban, by a Roman centurion, played by actors Greg Hicks and Peter Sproule. The action was symbolic, but its effect was literal. Both actors bravely agreed to play the scene naked, and it was decided that Sproule, as the rapist centurion, would grasp his penis and extend his thumb to simulate an erection. He would then jab at Hicks’ behind in a simulation of sodomy. During rehearsals word went out that alleged hardcore sex was being performed by the actors under Bogdanov’s direction. This led to a planned boycott by the theater’s ushers. To stop this, Bogdanov invited the ushers, and any other concerned parties, to an open rehearsal. Beer was suppled and the audience gave the performers and their scene overwhelming approval - a literal thumbs up, one might say.

In October, The Romans in Britain opened to mixed reviews, ranging from a disparaging “These ignoble Romans are a national disgrace” in Now magazine, to discussions of the play’s political content. Only one thing remained constant, the shock of the rape scene. Its effect was later compared to that of the news of John F Kennedy’s assassination.

Tipped off by a journalist, Mary Whitehouse, a busy-body President of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, an unrelenting campaigner for censorship, who wanted anything distasteful (i.e. that she didn’t like) off TV screens, raised her concern that the play would “over stimulate” men and incite them to bugger young boys. Though she refused to see the play herself, as she was too frightened it would lead to the “corruption of her soul”, she requested the Metropolitan Police to examine whether the play was “an offence against the Theaters Act of 1968” which outlawed performances “likely to deprave or corrupt.” After a brief investigation, the Attorney General, Lord Havers, decided there was no case to answer. But Mrs. Whitehouse didn’t agree and discovered that a private prosecution could be brought against the director on grounds that he had “procured an act of gross indecency by Peter Sproule with Greg Hicks on the stage of the Olivier Theater,” a law intended to stop men wanking in lavatories.
More on ‘The Romans in Britain’ plus bonus clips after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Nigel Wingrove: ‘Sisters of Armageddon’

Bad Boy of British cinema, Nigel Wingrove, is the only director to have one of his films banned on the grounds of blasphemy. His 1989 short Visions of Ecstasy, was refused certification by the British Board British Film Censors on the grounds of its sexualized representation of Saint Teresa of Avila making love to a crucified Christ on the cross.

The film was based on St Teresa’s own religious and highly erotic writings:

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it…

When I interviewed Wingrove in 2005, for Channel 4’s Banned in the U.K., he explained the main issue was over Christ responding to Teresa’s kisses. If Christ had been represented by a wooden mannequin or a blow-up doll, rather than an actor, then Teresa could have fucked her brains out, and the film would have been passed uncut. As it was, the BBFC wanted the offending scenes removed, which meant losing almost half the film. Wingrove rightly refused and the film was banned.

In 1996, supported by the likes of authors, Salman Rushdie and Fay Weldon, film-maker, Derek Jarman, and musician Steven Severin, who composed the soundtrack for Visions, Wingrove appealed to the European Court of Human Rights under Article 10, which defends freedom of expression, to have the ban lifted. The Court dismissed his case, stating that the criminal law of Blasphemy, as it was applied in England, did not infringe the right to freedom of expression under Article 10. In other words, typical bureaucratic ass-covering.

Wingrove is currently working on his next cinema release Sisters of Armageddon, which as he tells Dangerous Minds is:

A sci-fi nunsploitation film called Sisters of Armageddon - think Planet of the Apes meets The Nun’s Story with a sprinkling of The Gestapo’s Last Orgy and a soupçon of Mad Max.

And here’s a sneak preview.

Bonus clip of the banned ‘Visions of Ecstasy’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
China’s Forbidden Words
01:38 pm



A pictorial representation of China’s censored words and blocked websites (minus the pornography).  For a (slightly) larger pic of this, visit InformationIsBeautiful.


Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment