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Session 13: Cinema and Censorship

Paper 1 - Peter Turner, Oxford Brookes University, Pause and Rewind: Investigating Memories of Illegal Underage Film Viewing in 1980s Britain.

This paper will introduce a work-in-progress project that will investigate the memories of 1980s British audiences surrounding viewing films underage illegally due to film classifications. I am particularly interested to find out how/when/where underage viewers watched films rated ‘suitable for 18 years and over’. This will involve conducting research into what films viewers chose to watch illicitly, what genres these films belong to, viewer memories of the conditions of reception and what the post-viewing experience was like for these viewers.

The investigation of viewer recollections will be presented against BBFC and archival media documents such as newspaper articles on ‘video nasties’ in order to highlight how audience memories of, and responses to watching films illegally compares and contrasts with official discourses around illegal film viewing, classification and censorship.

The project will entail questioning participants that were under the age of 18 in the 1980s and collecting data about their experiences of watching 18 rated films or films that were banned in the UK.

It is my aim to analyse the responses of these participants in order to:

• Question what role illegal film viewing played in the lives of the UK population in the 1980s • Establish the broader context in which films were being classified and censored by the BBFC at the time
• Establish the factors influencing decisions regarding illegal film viewing, practices and habits
• Evaluate the illegal reception of films by engaging with memories of film viewing through oral history
• Investigate recollections of film classification and censorship and how these compare to official discourses on the subject

The methodology that I will propose for this project is inspired by the work of Daniela Treveri Gennari (2015) on memories of Italian cinema-going in 1950s Rome, as well as Gennari and Silvia Dibeltulo’s (2017) work on memories of film censorship in 1950s Italy.

Barber, S. (2018) Power struggles, regulation and responsibility: reappraising the Video Recordings Act, Media History, 24(1), pp. 99-114.

Petley, J. (2011) Film and video censorship in contemporary Britain. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Treveri Gennari, D. and Dibeltulo, S. (2017) ‘It existed indeed … it was all over the papers’: memories of film censorship in 1950s Italy, Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, 14(1), pp. 235-248.

Treveri Gennari, D. (2015) ‘If you have seen it, you cannot forget!’: film consumption and memories of cinema-going in 1950s Rome, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 35(1), pp. 53-74.

Peter Turner is a lecturer at Oxford Brookes University where he teaches on the Film, Digital Media Production, and Media, Communications and Culture courses. He is the author of Found Footage Horror Films: A Cognitive Approach and a monograph on The Blair Witch Project as part of Auteur’s Devil’s Advocates series.

Paper 2 - Robert James, University of Portsmouth, ‘The “cinematograph evil”: Defending the cinema industry in Britain during the early twentieth century’.

‘Pestilential hotbeds of vice’: Cinema-management and morality in Britain, c. 1900-1950. In 1916, a public meeting held in Exeter, UK reported on the ‘cinematograph evil’, with speakers calling on regulators such as the British Board of Film Censors and local watch committees to ensure that the programmes exhibited did not include ‘objectionable features’ that could cause harm to those watching them. These concerns were instigated by the supposed and real immoral activities that took place at the cinema, on-screen as well as in the auditoriums. Critics were concerned that many of the films being exhibited encouraged degenerate behaviour, and a number of morality campaigns were initiated across the country, principally led by religious and purity crusaders, to protect the cinema’s patrons from its perceived harmful influences.

This paper will evaluate the activities of cinema managers across Britain in the first half of the twentieth century to evaluate what practices they undertook to defend their trade against outside criticism. To establish a balance between respectability and profit, cinema managers were careful to promote the films they exhibited in ways that would appease the sensibilities of the pastime’s regulators, while also remaining attractive to the cinema-going public. In addition, they eagerly participated in activities that situated cinema-going as an educational or civic-minded activity, thus promoting cinemas as respectable locations for the public to visit.

R. James, ‘“If there’s one man that I admire, that man’s a British tar”: leisure and cultural nation-building in a naval port town, c. 1850-1928’, in Port Towns and Urban Cultures: International Histories of the Waterfront, c. 1850-2000, co-edited with Brad Beaven and Karl Bell, (Palgrave MacMillan, 2016)

R. James, Popular Culture and Working-Class Taste in Britain 1930-39: a round of cheap diversions? (Manchester University Press, 2010 cloth; 2014 paperback)

R. James, ‘Hollywood in the British Neighbourhood: local moviegoing in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century’, in Hollywood and the World , co-edited with Roy Vallis, (Interdisciplinary.Net Publishing, 2014)

R. James, ‘Cinema-going in a port town 1914-1951: film booking patterns at the Queens Cinema, Portsmouth’, Urban History, 40.2 (2013): 315-335

Robert James is Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Social History at the University of Portsmouth, UK. He has published on cinema-going, censorship, popular taste, libraries, and reading habits in Britain in the twentieth century. He is currently researching the activities of cinema managers in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century.

Paper 3 - Jorge Iturriaga, Instituto de la Comunicación e Imagen, Universidad de Chile, Film censorship in Chilean military dictatorship, 1973-1990: a quantitative depiction of movie examination.

The objective of this presentation is to analyze the work of the chilean film rating board (Consejo de Calificación Cinematográfica) during the military dictatorship of 1973-1990, in order to give a quantitative depiction of its labor. The analysis will be made from a database built with information extracted from more than four thousand records of movie examinations (documents that provide date of the review, title of the film, name of the reviewers, rating voted by each reviewer and final rating of the film). The observation of the data shows a strong impact of the CCC in the film market in terms of the following characteristics: vast majority of movies rated for adults (over 18 years old); big number of forbidden films; special bias against sex and crime cinematographies; all brought by a monolithic standard of judgment inside the CCC. The first cause of these trends is clear: the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet militarized the state and the society (against the “marxist danger”) and censors from the military were incorporated to the board. However, despite this important turn, there is a fundamental continuity, which is a shared moral conception of sex, crime and adulthood. This must undoubtedly be attributed to the enormous weight that catholic conservatism had -and maintained- within the board.

Biltereyst, Daniel and Vande Winkel, Roel, eds. (2013). Silencing cinema. Film censorship around the world. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Olave, Daniel and De La Parra, Marco (2001). Pantalla prohibida. Censura cinematográfica en Chile. Santiago: Mondadori.

Ramírez, Fernando (2016). Noches de sano esparcimiento. Estrado, católicos y empresarios en la censura al cine en Argentina 1955-1973. Buenos Aires: Libraria.

Jorge Iturriaga is a Doctor in History (PUC) and Assistant Professor at the Instituto de la Comunicación e Imagen, Universidad de Chile. Author of the book La Masificación del Cine en Chile, 1907-1932 (LOM, 2015), he currently leads a FONDECYT Iniciación project titled “Film censorship in Chile, 1960-2000”.