Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cronenberg on Censorship

In 1982, Mick Garris conducted a roundtable discussion with horror directors John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), John Carpenter (The Thing), and David Cronenberg (Scanners). The talk ranged far and wide, touching on everything from special effects and film quality to body horror versus external fear. For me, though, the most interesting section involved Croenberg discussing how censorship came in to play with the extreme content in his movies. He said:
Every picture I've done has originally got an X [rating] here in the States. You have to understand that I live in Ontario, Canada. ... When I came down here to talk to the MPAA about ratings, it was still a relief compared with what happens in Ontario, which is that they take your picture, they take every print, and they cut it, and they hand it back to you, and they say, "This is your new movie." They keep the pieces that they've taken out, and you go to jail for two years if those are projected, if you put the pieces back. And that's real censorship.

What you've got here [in the United States], however imperfect it may be, at least you still have the option of releasing the film as an X. Of course, there are huge economic sanctions against doing that, and usually you have a contractual obligation not to have an X. Nonetheless, if you really want it to be an X, you can still get it shown here. In Canada, you go to jail.
Watch the clip in question here. Much has changed in thirty-some years, but I still think Cronenberg's opinion might prove profitable for us today. Longtime readers know my dislike for the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, a celebration that seems to intentionally confuse community involvement with standards of appropriateness and prior restraint on publication. Cronenberg obviously knows no such confusion, although history shows his proposal of creating "another [rating] category, something like 14 and over" has fomented as much confusion about content as clarity. Still, he's on to something. Storytellers in America enjoy immense freedoms not shared by artists globally. Instead of bickering about what few restrictions we face, why not channel that energy into creating stories that speak to all of life and the truths that give it meaning?

(Picture: CC 2012 by aeneastudio; Hat Tip: Tor.com)


Chestertonian Rambler said...

Honestly, this was the weirdest realization upon moving to Canada. America's rather absolutist when it comes to guaranteeing free speech.

In some senses, I can understand how weird this is; censoring certain forms of speech seems like a human instinct. But as a native-born American, any form of real government censorship of personal communications just feels bizarre. (Of course, the military plays by different rules and that's its own discussion.)

Loren Eaton said...

I remember Neil Gaiman saying how appreciate he was of being an artist in the U.S. because there was no guaranteed freedom of speech in the U.K. Also, one doesn't have to agree with all of Mark Steyn's views to be horrified at what the Canadian Human Rights Commission did to him.