Film as a medium has always been subject to much scrutiny by cultural authorities around the world. Different beliefs and taboos in different countries have led influential films to the blacklist as a result of somewhat *ahem* questionable content. Over the years, however, standards change and once-discarded movies can quickly become acceptable. Despite this evolution, it can be quite hard to shake the word “banned” from a movie’s legacy once the damage has been done. For many, though, banned films are an intriguing look at what our culture deems acceptable – and unacceptable – in popular media. If that sounds interesting to you, head on down to Media Services; we happen to house a number of previously banned movies in our Teaching & Research collection. Let’s take a look at three of the most controversial titles ever to hit the silver screen, all of which can be found in our department.
- Pink Flamingos (1972)
Director John Waters has never been known as a friend of good taste. Along with frequent collaborator Divine and her crew of assorted misfits, Waters has consistently pushed the envelope of what a feature film could and couldn’t show onscreen. Nowhere is this more evident than in his most iconic film Pink Flamingos. In it, Divine stars as the “filthiest person alive,” a title she proclaims with pride. An ensuing competition to usurp Divine’s status leads into one of the most famously tasteless films ever made. There is a strong focus on sexuality, crime, and fetish in the film, among countless other taboos. The unabashed depiction of such themes led to a ban in Switzerland and Austria, as well as parts of Canada and Norway. This didn’t stop the film from becoming a cult classic on the midnight movie circuit, however. In a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Waters spoke about his acceptance into the mainstream and his recently published autobiography, Mr. Know-It-All: Tarnished Wisdom of A Filth Elder. Says Waters, “There’s plenty of rules that you can still break….I think you have to use humor and you can’t be so angry about it.” Today, Flamingos is considered a benchmark in queer cinema and punk aesthetics despite its one-time ban. Check it out at Media Services and experience the filth for yourself, if you dare!
2. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Wow – what a title! Filmed and marketed as a chilling and depraved documentary recorded by a lost crew, Italian director Ruggero Deodato’s film Cannibal Holocaust is considered a pioneer of the found-footage genre. It has also been considered one of the most controversial films ever released.
The story, loose as it is, follows a supposed anthropologist and his team into the Amazon rainforest as they attempt to make contact with an indigenous tribe known for dabbling in cannibalism. They witness (and partake in) horrific violence directed at both people and animals. Eventually, the camera crew is attacked by members of the tribe and their footage is all that remains of them in the end. Upon release in Italy, the film’s director was charged with obscenity and eventually murder, as rumors claimed the onscreen deaths were in fact real. Though all charges were dropped, the uproar surrounding the film remained. Bans were imposed in the United States, Australia, Norway, Iceland, and several other countries. Viewers and critics remain divided on the film to this day; yet it has been undeniably influential on movies such as The Blair Witch Project. If you’ve got a strong stomach, check it out and give it a try.
3. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Originally created as a propaganda film for the former Soviet Union, Battleship Potemkin was a cinematic feat the likes of which had never been seen when it was originally released. Pioneering several now-ubiquitous film techniques including montage, the film was a revelation in terms of shot composition, plot, scale, and content. Chronicling the mutiny of the eponymous battleship in 1905, the film depicts the widespread chaos that spread through Odessa as a result of a clash between the oppressive government and the average citizens. In the most iconic sequence of the film, a battalion of unfeeling soldiers march down the Odessa Steps toward a crowd of unarmed citizens and send down a hail of bullets upon them. The violence of the Odessa Steps, though tame by today’s standard, alienated audiences around the world in 1925. This, coupled with the film’s overtly political messaging, led to a series of bans including one in the United States. Retrospective reviews, however, have lauded the film as one of the greatest ever made, and a progenitor of countless tropes and techniques. You can experience the classic today – it’s available in Media Services.
Banned films are often those at the forefront of change in media and culture at large (this is one of many entertaining banned-film lists in circulation). Though the content depicted within these films and others may be jarring, they all have a lot to offer in terms of new ideas and perspectives. Whether you’re a fan of comedy, horror, or a nice classic, Media Services can help you find a banned film you’ll love. Do you have a favorite movie that’s faced bans or censorship? – TC
Tanner Chaille is a junior studying Media and Human-Centered Computing. You can find him playing retro video games and listening to podcasts.