Magazine article Screen International

Sharp Cuts

Magazine article Screen International

Sharp Cuts

Article excerpt

Screen delves into the inner workings of the BBFC thanks to its silent censor panel (held on Friday at the BFI Southbank) and their special centenary book Behind the Scenes at the BBFC.

As part of their Uncut season, Friday (Nov 9) saw the BFI's Bryony Dixon and the BBFC's Lucy Brett & Jen Evans host a special panel at the BFI Southbank.

What the Silent Censor Saw - 100 Years of the BBFC outlined the censorship issues facing the early years of the British Board of Film Censors (as it was then known) through a series of silent film clips from the era.

In 1916, the then-President of the Board T.P. O'Connor set out a series of 43 grounds for 'deletion' including the likes of "indecorous dancing", "excessively passionate love scenes" and, probably our personal favourite, "scenes laid in disorderly houses". We couldn't help but wish we were born in a different era... in this day-and-age of torture porn, who wouldn't want the worst thing to be seen in a film to be "drunken scenes carried to excess"?

Most fascinatingly though, the clips we saw focussed on elements that, even today, are of the most sensitive nature to the BBFC such as drugs, highlighted in the 1922 film Cocaine with the clip, scored by a wonderful live piano accompaniment by John Sweeney, showing a young woman overdosing on the titular substance.

Some however couldn't help but feel quaint such as the censorship of Charlie Chaplin's The Face on the Bar Room Floor (1914), at odds with the BBFC for the "drunken scenes carried to excess", or Billy's Burglar (1912) which fell foul as a result of showcasing the "modus operandi of criminals".

There was also time for clips from the likes of Damaged Goods (1919), kind of like a Contagion for the era only with VD spreading, and Maisie's Marriage (1923), adapted from Marie Stopes' controversial book Married Love, dealing with the sensitive issue of family planning and culminating in the bizarre shot of a baby's face supplemented on top of a rose, somehow simulating careful pruning...

The talk ended with a screening of Adrian Brunel's Cut It Out: A Day in the Life of a Film Censor (1925) [pictured], a highly enjoyable comedy following an over-zealous film censor (bearing an uncanny resemblence to Mark Gatiss) on the set of a film. …

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