Quote of the Day: Ban This Sick Filth!

From Tom Dewe Mathews’ Censored, The Story of Film Censorship in Britain ~

Ai No Corridor

‘The various reasons cited by the board for its refusal to grant a certificate to SHOCK CORRIDOR in 1963 are confusing as well as contradictory. First of all the Board said that its depiction of conditions in an American mental asylum bore no comparison with those in hospitals within Britain. But this could equally apply to gangster films, Westerns or, for that matter, musicals. Secondly, the film could also frighten cinema-goers who had relatives in mental institutions. This had been the rationale behind the BBFC’s [British Board of Film Censors’] rather extensive cutting of the German Expressionist film THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI back in 1928, and even then it appeared to be a catch-all excuse.

‘The last three reasons given by the Board did at least concern themselves with the film’s plot: it was irresponsible to suggest that a sane person could gain admission to a mental hospital by pretending to be insane (maybe the Board thought that this would be imitated); or to suggest that residence in a mental hospital could cause insanity; finally, it was considered that the film might have ‘bad, possibly dangerous, effects’ on film-goers who were susceptible to mental disturbance. But the charge of an irresponsible story device is merely an attack on Fuller’s ingeniousness and the last two clauses cancel each other out because, presumably, if a film can cause insanity then a mental hospital must have the same capacity.’

I remember a discussion with a fellow student when I was at art college: they had seen SHOCK CORRIDOR on T.V. and been outraged: “Whoever made this obviously knew nothing about mental illness.” My defense was that the film wasn’t truly about mental illness. The three main patients in the film are all suffering from political illnesses. If we except the hospital as a nightmare vision of America, then Fuller’s decision not to reflect the realities of psychiatric conditions as we currently understand them becomes more explicable.

(SHOCK CORRIDOR isn’t realistic, but an earlier U.S. film, THE SNAKE PIT, despite its melodramatic title, is pretty credible. I would say it gives a more accurate impression of life in a psychiatric hospital than ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, though that film captures a very authentic atmosphere, leaving aside the plot.)

In THE BIG RED ONE there’s a scene in a Walloon insane asylum which has been taken over by Nazi forces. The Americans attack, and there’s a shoot-out during which inmates, some of whom have learning difficulties and some of whom presumably have psychiatric conditions (I have no idea whether people with such disparate conditions would really have shared a Walloony-bin in the 1940s, but it does seem possible) continue to eat their lunch, unperturbed by the fire-fight raging around them. Of course, this isn’t realistic. A person with Down’s Syndrome, depression, schizophrenia or pretty much any other mental condition would be likely to react with even more alarm to such an occurrence than you or I would. Fuller’s intent is clarified when an inmate snatches up a fallen soldier’s rifle and blows away a few of his fellow diners. “I am like you — I am sane!” he asserts. The scenario is satirical, Swiftian, rather than realistic, and the idea that warfare and murder are proofs of sanity has been floated — and rendered absurd.

Censorship is always political. It’s interesting that one of the things the BBFC seems to have been afraid of is that relatives of those committed to institutes would become concerned about the well-being of their kin. The likely outcome of such a thing would be, what? They might visit their relatives to check that they’re being well looked-after, and inspect conditions in the asylum. Is that so alarming?

As to the censors’ other reasons, it has since been proved that pretty much anybody can get themselves admitted to a psych ward by reporting false symptoms (assuming there’s a spare bed). Psychiatrists have been shown to be no better than anybody else at detecting lies — judges and lawyers are equally gullible, with only professional SPIES being any better than you or I (they’re specifically TRAINED to know when they’re being bullshitted).

And could a mental hospital drive you mad? I think this idea is based on a false assumption that any one of us can be “driven mad” by stressful circumstances. But certainly psychiatric hospitals can often be depressing, and sometimes alarming places, often ill-suited settings for any kind of recovery process. Filling a large, institutional building with mentally ill people, and maintaining some kind of calm, pleasant atmosphere, is a tall order, but a civilized country ought to try a lot harder to do it than we do.


4 Responses to “Quote of the Day: Ban This Sick Filth!”

  1. Sam was a poet. I had the great pleasure of watching him shoot his late period masterpiece White Dog — which is about an animal driven insane.

    A true original and a delightful person. We shall not see his like again.

  2. I can’t compete with that — but I did see him “pitch” his dream project The Lusty Days at Edinburgh Film Fest, where he was a well-known character since his first appearance in the 70s. (Edinburgh in the 70s was at the forefront of appreciating Corman, Fuller, the “movie brats” — how quaint that phrase sounds today — and a bunch of happening stuff).

    What a great guy.

  3. Hi,
    May I use this image:

    It’s for my my University blog post.

    Thank you

  4. Sure, but I got it from DVDBeaver.com. I didn’t bother asking them, I’m afraid…

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