I am from the 90’s when pumping pistons, jangling bells, and dangling flowers shot on wobbly cameras were apparently sufficient enough to convey the concept of adulterous liaisons. I know it now, but back then I was completely oblivious; those sudden inclusion of buzzing bees, singing birds , or a sweeping pan of a picturesque dawn with two swans swimming together were only beating the bush. The ordeal that I have spent to understand those over-the-top intimations demand a different day; it is a long story and I better save it for next time. Don’t get me wrong. I like a clever use of allusion as much as the next person but few do it justice. When done correctly, implied sex is oftentimes much more enlightening than showing the real thing but only few of the self-acclaimed film makers can abstain from an excessive practice of this art. A film maker of such an acquired skill set, perhaps only driven to poke fun at censorship, uses allusions stingily to present sex in a cinema without bringing the hassles of a censorship aboard.
There are some sexual behaviours that the law strictly forbids: rape, incest, sodomy, prostitution, pedophilia, adultery, fornication, abduction, and miscegenation. Trust me, censorship would be the least of my concerns had the censors been issued under the pretext that movies were trying to circulate forbidden sexual behaviours to the public though cinema. However, the censorship prescribe to the language of ‘obscenity’. Obscenity is what justifies the censorship’s screening of the information, separating of wheat from the scaff before distributing it to the audience.
Honestly, who gets to decide what is obscene? This nebulous concept has provided the crutches for censorship to exercise their unjust practice of limiting the audience to ‘suitable’ media contents. Webster defines obscenity as any act which offends the prevalent morality of a particular time and society. Okay, now what the hell is morality? The confusion simply grows in our attempt to pin down an accurate definition of obscenity; our search is to no avail. Since obscenity is fundamentally based on morality and a specific time, it is bound to change and is arbitrary. It is a communal concept which defines certain behaviours which are acceptable in the society. Nudity which was non-existent in the past has recently been a lot more acceptable in art and media. Thus, obscenity is completely arbitrary to place and time. That’s messed up!
But, things are different now. Thanks to the ever changing transcription of obscenity and morality of our society! With the reformed understanding of obscenity and thus the change in the requirements for censorship, it is not necessary for film-makes to be ‘subtle’ when presenting the no-longer provocative behaviours through cinema. Gone are the days of dangling flowers and jangling bells. The scenes considered obscene and inappropriate in the 90’s have become commonplace in today’s cinema and the filmmakers do not hesitate from practicing their new-found freedom bounteously. With liberal use of the formerly provocative, fresh and in-demand with the eager public, the filmmakers explore new avenues to render new creative outlets for their cinema. The avid cinema followers swoop in to their nearest theatres to grab the best seat in the house to watch the ‘fresh’ cinema which treads on some previously considered controversial concepts.
Lars Von Triers is one of the most proficient filmmakers who champions unrestrictive practice of movie making. He regards art, which he claims to be expressing through his movies, to be of the highest order. Driven by the philosophy that art and cinema can never be limited by the societal judgements, the Danish filmmaker is a master abuser of his artistic freedom. His movies are difficult to sit through and there are bound to be people who will be offended by the movie. He makes it absolutely certain that at least one of the controversial contents of his movie will rile up the audience. The complete freedom to produce art, regardless of them being taboo or provocative to the members of the society, has bagged him some of the most visually stunning masterpieces like Antichrist, Dogtooth, Melancholia, Nymphomaniac, and The House That Jack Built- just to name a few. In the movie Antichrist, ‘He’ and ‘She’, while on a retreat in their tiny cabin, lose their son-a toddler who manages to walk out of his crib, across the room, climbs up a chair and steps on the desk, heads to the open window and falls out of the window. ‘She’ chooses to finish off sex before stopping her son, only to live with the guilt of choosing carnal pleasure over saving her son’s life. The fall is pictured beautifully as the white flakes of snow serves as a spotless canvas for Von Trier’s masterpiece. How would that concept be conveyed in my 90’s movies? Perhaps two birds singing a melodious song would accidentally push their egg out of the nest?
Of course, Von Triers would not be able to make such a movie even with the slightest of meddling from censorship. Nevertheless, his movies does encourage a wide group of filmmakers to amass taboos and provocative contents in their movie to acquire some recognition from the fresh audience. This then simply prompts the filmmakers to embark on a ‘who can make the most gruesome and unbearable movie’ contest. Not only are the filmmakers drifted towards sensationalism but even the audience feel a sense of accomplishment if they manage to sit through a ghastly movie while their friends quit. The competition changes the dynamics of the film industry to move from creativity to sensationalism.
Call me old-fashioned but I do think censorship is an important aspect of creative movie making. It separates a sensationalist from an ingenious problem solver who can circumvent a way around the limitations posed by censorship. A sensationalist is simply unable to operate under such restrictions. The use of allusions is also a form of art, not the only form, which distinguishes a master from the students of art.
Do I wish to travel back in time and watch the lovers hug a tree trunk standing on either side of the tree, stroll around in a garden, stare at each other for god knows how long only to have the flowers dangle? Absolutely not! I have had enough of that. I believe it is necessary for there to be a flexible censorship, neither too meddlesome nor too lax, that values the creativity of an artist while weighing in the impacts the art will have on the society. A delicate balance is necessary. But honestly, I would not mind seeing lovers slow dance to Bill while he sings ‘Lean on Me’- just one more time. I can never get enough of that.
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