Tuesday January 29th 2013
The BBFC put a book out recently, and it’s a fascinating read for various reasons, not least of which is that it’s hard to read a single page without at some point exclaiming ‘you’ll never believe what used to be banned!’ Island of Lost Souls, Dial M for Murder, The Tin Drum, Cape Fear — all were once censored or rejected entirely by the board, and all are now available uncut with a 15 certificate or lower.
An awareness of this familiar pattern — film provokes controversy, film is cut, a decade goes by, film is uncut — is illuminating and also somewhat reassuring, as it promises that whatever misguided decisions are made now, will eventually be undone by the passage of time. Sure, Maniac won’t get an uncut UK release in 2013, but five or ten years down the line it’ll almost certainly be available. And safe to say, the uncut version — which has already shown at a dozen festivals and gone on general release in France — isn’t going anywhere.
Altogether more worrying are situations like the one that Fede Alvarez’s upcoming Evil Dead remake recently found itself in. The director tweeted this yesterday afternoon:
Such a practice is incredibly common in the United States (here are 39,500 Google results for “cut for an R rating”) and disturbingly, few people seem to give a fuck. If works of literature, fine art, theatre, or any of the other ‘proper art forms’ were so routinely forced into a position of censorship, there’d be outrage. With films, the public reaction is — at worst — one of mild annoyance.
When I bemoaned the situation on Twitter earlier today, responses ranged from the nihilistic (‘it’s the nature of the beast’) to the idiotic (‘it looks shit anyway’) to the optimistic (‘just wait for the unrated version on DVD’). That third reaction is all well and good, but often unrealistic. While a high profile piece of censorship like the one applied to The Human Centipede 2 will inevitably result in a thirst for the original version, a quieter, less dramatic alteration like the one made to Evil Dead can easily wind up being forgotten. The cuts in question may have been insubstantial or substitutionary, meaning few would notice — let alone demand the reversal of — any changes. The R-rated cut may soon become just ‘the cut’, if international distributors blindly carry it across to other territories in the interest of consistency.
Remember: just because the uncut version could be released in the UK, doesn’t mean it will be.
Last week I watched Todd Solondz’s Storytelling, a film that was released internationally in 2001 with a third of its runtime missing, supposedly because the MPAA didn’t like a sexually explicit subplot involving James Van Der Beek. Ten years later, there is no ‘unrated Blu-ray’ or ‘workprint version’ floating around on torrent sites. The film as it originally existed is gone.
Even when a non-theatrical cut does make it onto DVD, who’s to say that it represents the original version of a film? As we’ve seen time and time again, the words ‘banned’, ‘uncut’ and ‘uncensored’ have been bastardised out of all recognition by studio marketing departments, presumably to the delight of the MPAA. Because if there’s one thing they can’t stand, it’s transparency.
When Storytelling was first rejected by the board, Solondz ordered that the film be released with the word ‘censored’ literally covering any offending material, as a political protest against the MPAA. They rejected the idea, on semantic grounds: they do not consider themselves censors.