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Censors of the cinema

23 October 2020

October 22nd, 1920.

THE British Board of Film Censors, set up by the cinematograph trade, and having Mr T. P. O’Connor for its president, has, after an interval of some years, issued a report of its activities. The period dealt with is the year ending December, 1919, and, from the summary of action taken in respect of undesirable films, as well from the general observations, it may be allowed that the Board deserves thanks and congratulations. The Board has been guided by the main broad principle that nothing should be passed which is calculated to demoralize an audience, that can teach methods of or extenuate crime, that can undermine the teachings of morality, that [can] tend to bring the institution of marriage into contempt, or lower the sacredness of family ties. Such matters, it may be presumed, are fairly easily dealt with. The chief difficulty arises where the love interest is considered. The censors hold that there is a distinction to. be drawn between crime caused by love, even if guilty love, and the pursuit of lust. The betrayal of young women is a question which, in the opinion of the Board, depends upon the treatment. When the subject is treated with restraint, they consider it impossible to exclude it as a basis for a story, but they take exception to such stories being treated in such a way as to suggest that a girl is morally justified in succumbing to temptation in order to escape sordid surroundings or uncongenial work. The number of films to which the examiners took exception in the year under review was two hundred and fifty-three, a number largely in excess of any previous year. The exceptions taken were for sixty-seven reasons, which are enumerated. Among them are the “Materialization of the conventional Figure of Christ”, “Disparagement of the institution of Marriage”, “Brutality and Torture to Women”, “Executions and crucifixions”. One film was totally rejected on account of its insistence on the inferiority of the coloured races. The Board has many more things to say on the principle of censorship generally, and is evidently concerned with the problems presented by the so-called propaganda film. If we have a criticism to make it is that the Board seems inclined to concentrate too much on details, and to allow films whose general tendency is undesirable. That impression may, however, be due to the exhibition of films not submitted to the Board, for at present there is no obligation to submit films for censorship. On the whole we are inclined to think Mr O’Connor and his assistants can do more to raise the level of films than a State censor with necessarily arbitrary and inflexible standards.


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