Archive for Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Red Face, Blue Pencil

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , on August 23, 2017 by dcairns

Marvelous Mary brought me back a present from her travels: a 1949 Penguin Film Review. This series, edited by Roger Manvell, was a bit like John Boorman’s late lamented Projections — it looks like a paperback book but behaves like a magazine. It provided a smart look at the film industry from a practitioner rather than a critical viewpoint, and probably helped prepare a lot of future filmmakers for getting into the studios before they started closing down…

This one has, besides writing from the obnoxious Harry Watt and the lovely Eric Ambler, an interesting piece by one A.T.L. Watkins, secretary of the BBFC (then the British Board of Film Censors, now Classification, though they still censor a bit). It’s very readable and cogent, a useful primer, and ably expresses a lot of the horrible assumptions underlying censorship in Britain.

Censorship is only news when it makes a mistake. The fact that the British Board of Film Censors has been viewing films at the rate of 3,000 a year for many years is a matter of indifference to the majority of cinema-goers. And rightly so. The effect of a good censorship should not be noticed. The result of its work lies on the cutting-room floor of the studios, and though the trade may be all too aware of this, the cinema public, which sees only the completed and apparently untouched film, is happily ignorant. Indeed, they might reasonably be pardoned for wondering why censorship is needed. They well might ask, “Who is this censor? Why should he take upon himself the duty of saying what I should and should not see? What does he mean by “should not”? Because I may suffer harm? Well, if I am in that danger, isn’t he in his examining theatre? What is there in his mental equipment that enables him to emerge unscathed from seeing things I’m not allowed to? Surely intelligent adults may be allowed to look after themselves in these matters?”

You see? Already we’ve had beautiful phrases like “examining theatre” (do/did such places really exist? With a sign on the door? I am thrilled to hope so) and “mental equipment.” A.T.L. goes on ~

The answer is that intelligent adults could be. But the world is not made up of intelligent adults, any more than it is made up of morally balanced individuals. The cinema public in particular represents all ages and all stages of mental and moral development. And while an intelligent adult audience might be relied upon to reject bad taste and to remain undisturbed by immoral influences, he would be an optimist who would expect such qualities of resistance in the average patrons of the local Odeon or Granada. Bearing in mind the mixed audience which attends the ordinary cinema, imagine what would be the result if no obstacle were placed in the way of films which misrepresent moral values, condone cruelty, debase marriage and the home or mock at religion. Does anyone believe that such films would have no ill-effect, particularly on the young people who represent such a large percentage of the thirty million weekly cinema-goers?

Now we’re getting somewhere. (Plus, I never thought of “Granada” as an archetypal cinema name, but apparently it was.)

British censorship has always been about class (“Is Lady Chatterley’s Lover a book you would be happy for your wife or servants to read?”), fear of the underprivileged, and fear of the young. The specific traits we fear they may acquire from movies has evolved over the years, but that’s where the anxiety was located. Nice middle-class viewers could watch anything that was out there, and the censors DID, with no apparent ill effects, but you couldn’t trust the hoi polloi. (Or those outside London: in 1950, Ophuls’ LA RONDE was passed for the metropolis but barred from the provinces.) Books were always far less censored than films, because it was assumed readers were a bit more educated than movie audiences.

Note that at this time, all films released in Britain were open to all ages. Certification was merely advisory. I know at one point there was an “H” certificate for horror films, but it didn’t last, and I don’t know if kids could still go. I know they DID…

A.T.L.’s assumptions about what qualities his readership will be united in condemning are hilarious: “misrepresent moral values” assumes an absolute set of immovable laws, “debase marriage and the home” is something I have a hard job visualising any film doing; “mock at religion” is something I’d certainly commend as a valuable service, tracing its honourable history back to Voltaire, and of course by “religion” A.T.L. means Christianity. “Condone cruelty” does seem like a pernicious one, but certain forms of cruelty have always been staples of entertainment, especially in comedy. But maybe that’s merely exploiting rather than condoning. And, interestingly, cinema at it’s most uncensored has rarely gone in for condoning serious cruelty. The vilest Italian concentration camp movie of the ’70s still makes a show of being on the side of the victims. This only seems hypocritical because they exploit their suffering so blatantly.

But, it may be said, no director would make such films. The answer is that, even with a censorship, he occasionally tries to. And if the Censor so much as nods in his direction, a storm breaks. Angry members of the public reach for their pens. Responsible public bodies demand an inquiry into the methods of censorship. The Board has no right or desire to resent criticism when a mistake is made, but from the letters which from time to time reach the office, it might be inferred that some of the critics never visit a cinema and have little or no knowledge of how censorship works. Though the best censorship may be the one that works with due reticence, not seeking advertisement or expecting commendation, it must rely for its success on public support and co-operation. For this reason it may be useful in this short article to clear up one or two of the commoner misconceptions.

And he goes on to attempt to do so… Let me know if you’d like to hear more from this stuffy fellow with the quaint prose style, and I can type up the rest of his essay, with my own notes.


Go Ask Alice

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2008 by dcairns

Last week we were round at our friend and Benshi Film Translator David Wingrove’s for dinner and a movie. The dinner was chicken in a luxurious sauce and the movie was Sylvia Kristel in ALICE, Claude Chabrol’s surreal fantasia from the 70s.

Neither of us Davids care much for Chabrol: David finds the films ugly, I just find them visually staid, and uninvolving. But we make exceptions for baroque curios like TEN DAYS WONDER, a mad thing that acts upon the system like a powerful drug, and now for ALICE, OU LA DERNIÈRE FUGUE too.

I saw Kristel interviewed on TV once when I was a kid. I think she’d just done LADY CHATTERLEY with Nicholas Clay (or should one say, Nicholas Clay had just done Sylvia Kristel in LADY CHATTERLEY) and was talking to some prissy reporter who wanted her to admit that her films were just porn, weren’t they? I can understand this-stuck up attitude must have been irritating, but Kristel’s insistence that no, the EMMANUELLE films were ART, damnit, and this was proven by the fact that they’d been shown on French television, struck me as a bit silly and self-important.

So it was reassuring to hear from David that whenever S.K., in the wake of her softcore triumphs, was invited by a classy director to appear in a “proper” art film, she would start by saying, “You DO know I can’t act?” Made me warm to her.

The evening began slightly shakily when David dropped the dinner on the floor. He was mortified, and we felt very bad for him, but the chicken was rescued and delicious and subsequently acquired a strange resonance with the film we watched, so it was for the best, really. David is an excellent host and it’s always a pleasure to join him for one of these evenings.

ALICE is available only on unsubtitled French DVD, which is a great shame, as it’s more interesting/unusual that the majority of Chabrol’s work. Chabrol haters might dig it, and Chabrol lovers would certainly find it an intriguing departure. But David’s powerful polyglot brain allows him to provide simultaneous translations of films in French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, and sort of in German (but if it’s German he has to make most of it up).

Bourgoise Sylvia, as “Alice Carroll”, ditches her boring husband and drives off into a PSYCHO-style rainstorm — the “Last Escapade” of the film’s title? Anyhow, Chabrol drives home the PSYCHO motif by replaying the couple’s last conversation on the soundtrack, and onscreen in a little vignette. Then a broken windscreen* forces her to stop at an Old Dark House where she meets the Old Dark Charles Vanel. Always lovely to meet Vanel, the detective from LES DIABOLIQUES. His crumbling face looks like a one of those decaying stone faces Jules and Jim get so excited about. Or like a cake left out in the rain.

The Crumbler.

Now things get peculiar, in a way reminiscent of Lewis Carroll but without the the humour. Alice is unable to leave — first, a wall encircles the property, then she finds that all roads lead back to the front door. A White Rabbit (well, a white-clad André Dussolier, in mysterioso mode just like in Rivette’s slightly similar LOVE ON THE GROUND) shows up, and like everybody else, refuses to answer questions.

Oh — the film is dedicated to Fritz Lang, and the encircling wall is obviously a DER MUDE TOD homage.

Film references come thick and fast: in her sheer satin nightgown, Kristel moves through the hallways “like a white flame”, as James Whale described Gloria Stuart in THE OLD DARK HOUSE.

Is this some kind of rebuttal to feminism? Is Kristel being punished for wanting to have a life separate from her businessman husband? Virtually all her persecutors in this Wonderland are male. Although Chabrol does eventually wrap his mysteries up in some kind of solution, or at least some kind of structural design, the issue of deeper meaning is never really addressed. But instead we have intriguing and stylishly presented fantasy in a beautiful location, with gorgeous photography and the gorgeous Sylvia. I hadn’t actually registered how stunning she is before, since the image of Emmanuelle is so familiar as to be pretty much invisible, and I haven’t really viewed any of those films (the one where she has plastic surgery and turns into another, worse actress sounds irresistible though). Kristel is so lovely, and her performance so low-key, that the question of whether she can act doesn’t arise — she works in this role, is all I can say.

There’s one nude scene, a sort of sop to Kristel’s fans, or just Chabrol being French? Fiona was impressed with the Kristel rack — not immense, just beautifully sculpted. Fiona considers herself a connoisseur of movie bosoms. It’s easy to see how Chabrol could have pushed the whole film towards erotic fantasy, and it would have ended up like Polanski’s WHAT? Or, he could have heightened the horror movie trappings and it would maybe be more like a Jess Franco or Jean Rollin piece. Instead he lets it drift in an arthouse hinterland, with moments of Cocteau, a flavour of Rivette… it’s not quite fascinating, but very lovely.

Chabrol does Rollin doing Kummel doing Magritte.

Plot twist — Alice escapes from the Mansion of the Doomed, or whatever it is, but now the whole world is infected with the same madness. A Shell service station is downright sinister, and the attendant is a heavily-disguised Dussolier again. A motorway restaurant turns into a stupid riot, the wiatress is jostled, and Alice’s omelet crashes to the floor!

At this point I felt like the film had spilled out of the screen and infected reality — our evening was bracketed by chicken-based products descending violently onto linoleum. As the film ended with an unsurprising Third Policeman-style twist, I wondered if Chabrol’s drowsy nightmare was now loose in the world…

*Oddly, the only complete sentence I recall from French lessons is “Mon par-brise est cassé.”