[Censored] (2018)


Image via miff.com.au


Sari Braithwaite’s hour long introspective documentary built from clips cut out of films by the Australian Censor Board goes some way to exploring the notion of censorship.

Braithwaite was given access to reels of films created from censored clips from 1958 to 1971. Filed in alphabetical order, the clips exist as markers of what was seen as inappropriate, stripped from any cultural or narrative meaning by their removal. With thousands of clips archived, Braithwaite manages to pull together some themes that give her film meaning and purpose.

It becomes clear that most censored scenes are unacceptable because of violence, nudity, sex or language. There is a delight in seeing some of these snippets of history; Bob Dylan drunkenly berating a man, “Either be groovy or leave,” ticks the boxes for language, alcohol and threatened violence. Not all are so benign and watching a quick succession of maybe 20 clips of women being hit has a visceral effect quite different to the appearance of any single one in its original film.

Unexpectedly, one of the most confronting scenes is a relatively ‘warts and all’ clip of childbirth – educational perhaps but also representative of something that, even today, is not shown so graphically. It was interesting to hear Braithwaite’s discomfort about including this clip without getting permission from the woman involved. It is even more intriguing that, when she saw that the film the clip was from is a smutty one, designed to titillate, her sense of responsibility for the woman decreased.

Braithwaite intersperses the clips with quotes from the Censor Board as well as her own narrative, charting her personal experience as she made sense of the archive and what it says about censorship. This leads her to ponder on the role of the film industry as pseudo-censor, as they decide who gets a voice, and filmmakers who further control what the audience sees.

Other than a rather simplistic, although true, realisation that most of the films are made by men and lots of the clips are about women being objectified or abused, Braithwaite doesn’t delve any deeper. There is no comment on the prevalence of white faces and voices, or straight people and their stories. There is no context of what happened after 1971, once films were no longer secretly cut, and which, if any, of the clips might be refused classification today. I don’t dispute Braithwaite’s right to make the film about her own experience but it seemed less profound than the premise and synopsis promised.

More challenging for me were some of the views expressed in the Q&A following the film. Sari Braithwaite gave some interesting insight into her process, particularly as a researcher in the early days of the project. When asked by an audience member as to why the film didn’t delve into what the clips say about cultural exchange and the contrast between what is deemed appropriate in Australia compared to the countries of origin of the films, Braithwaite responded simply that this is not what interested her.

Filmmaker Corrie Chen spoke about her responsibility to represent the voices of women, as well as Asian women and gay women, and the discussion around the male and female gaze being perhaps better described as the ‘dominant gaze’ and ‘the other gaze’ was very interesting. It gave some depth to Braithwaite’s exploration of gender in [Censored].

What made me most uncomfortable was The Holiday (2018) director Isabella Ecklöf’s views about violence and film. I missed her film at MIFF last week due to tiredness and have been tempted to see it, even though it contains a rather intense rape scene. Ecklöf’s response to a question about her responsibilities as a woman around portraying violence in film, was to deem the rape in The Holiday as “not a violent one”, although she conceded that rape was essentially violent, and that the male character being pushed down concrete steps and beaten up was more violent.

For me this illustrates the complexities that [Censored] raises but doesn’t fully explore; that what we see and don’t see in films, says more about who wields power than is apparent with a superficial glance.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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