In an essay recently published at Filmint.nu, Martin Smith takes a critical look at the censorship debates in the British press regarding two equally controversial recent films, Antichrist (2009, directed by Dane Lars von Trier) and The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence (2011, directed by Dutchman Tom Six). Smith’s examination of the many reviews and articles generated by these films demonstrates that the distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art still informs opinions as to the extent of graphic violence and sexuality that is seen as acceptable in a film, even as four or five decades has passed since the postmodern fad first declared this distinction dead and buried. The very different fates of the two films at the hands of the British censoring body, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), further emphasize this conclusion. Antichrist was classified ‘18’ and released uncut, while The Human Centipede II was initially denied a certificate altogether and later classified ‘18’ in a censored form.
In addition to the distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’, or ‘art’ and ‘entertainment’, Smith also points to how the notion of a separate and homogeneous national culture (in this case British) seen as under threat from foreign (here Continental European) immorality, occasionally came into play in decidedly xenophobic terms. All in all, Smith’s study points to a censorship debate that in some important aspects has evolved little since the silent era.
Martin Smith’s essay is, in fact, an excellent introduction to our opening two articles of this issue. In ‘Naked for Lunch’ Rajko Radoviç talks at length to Aleksandar ‘Alex’ Radivojeviç, (in)famous scriptwriter of a film that has probably caused more overheated and underinformed discussions regarding sexuality, violence and national culture than any other in recent years, i.e. A Serbian Film (2010). With four minutes and eleven seconds cut by the BBFC, A Serbian Film incidentally became the most censored cinema release in the UK in almost two decades. During the interview Radivojeviç dispels the many misunderstandings about the film, while answering the most frequently asked question – ‘Why? Oh God, why?’.
If many viewers and critics of A Serbian Film allowed their initial reaction of chock to close off proper analysis, something similar could conceivably be said about The Human Centipede franchise (a third film is due this year). Quoting Steve Jones (2013), who argues that ‘[t]he will to suppress these movies via pejorative critical reviews or censorial prohibition amounts to unwillingness to engage with their themes’, Laura Wilson does just that, examining in detail just exactly ‘how and why the centipede and its bodily functions are upsetting.’
Also in this issue, Silvia Dibeltulo looks at how the onscreen Italian-American gangster’s ‘relationship with family and gang’ – biological family and ‘Mafia Family’ – has evolved ‘as an indicator of the degree of this ethnic character’s assimilation into American society.’ Oscar A. Pérez presents ‘a queer reading of three films that are representative of ‘Nuevo Cine Mexicano’: Danzón (1991), Love in the Time of Hysteria (Sólo con tu pareja, 1991) and Cronos (1993). Jeffrey L. Griffin writes about the ‘small but growing trend’ of the reverse-remake; Hollywood and American films remade for national audiences of other countries. As a case study, Griffin focuses on Saidoweizu (2009), the Japanese version of Sideways (2004).
In the longest text of the issue, John Malkin talks to Godfrey Reggio in an interview that spans the director’s entire career, from his work as an activist for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the 1970s to the release of his most recent film, Visitors (2013). We also present interviews with veteran directors Volker Schlöndorff and Monte Hellman, Tarkovsky expert Nathan Dunne and documentary film-maker Michael Rossato-Bennett.