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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What film would you ban, and why?

The Independent runs down the list of films that have been banned around the world for such reasons as extreme violence, religious blasphemy, explicit sex, and other outrageousness. They’re all the usual suspects you’ve probably heard about before as controversial: A Clockwork Orange, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Caligula, and so on. I’m not sure what prompted yet another iteration of this list — perhaps all the hullabaloo that Lars von Trier’s Antichrist is causing; the Times of London even asked last month whether the film should be banned. (The film is currently in theaters in the U.K.; it arrives in the U.S. on October 23.)
But it got me thinking: Movies have been banned for reasons that accommodate some very narrow modes of thinking. Why should some sensitivities be coddled but not others? I mean, if Life of Brian could be banned for being anti-God by people who don’t like their deity being scoffed at, then why shouldn’t the Left Behind series get banned for being anti-humanist? Maybe we freethinkers and humanist should fight to ban any movie that uses the words “God” or “Jesus Christ” in any way other than a blasphemous one.

I don’t really mean that, of course: the idea that freethinkers and humanists would work together to censor anything is pretty much antithetical to being a freethinker or a humanist. But it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with the topic.

Put aside issues of politics, humanism, freedom of speech, and such, and just enjoy your mad, crazy power. What film would you ban, and why?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • I am not inclined to ban anything, however, I do take exception to two things:

    1) Inciting violence against another person or group (women, gays, Jews) or promoting it as a good thing. Portraying it in a historical or characterization is one thing, but to promote it is wrong…it should always be presented as an act of evil.

    2) Deliberate falsehood. This gets tricky in historical drama where the facts are played fast and loose is actually a falsehood. So is the idea of “based on a true story” in which the basing may be very loose indeed. But the statement of something as an actual fact that is resolutely incorrect I find unforgivable. To state that numbers of victims of the Holocaust are exaggerated by some conspiracy or that the Moon landing was faked or that that 9-11 was an inside act are all examples of falsehoods presented as fact – even in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary.

    My way of dealing with these things is to ignore them. Let them go away. They are deliberate pleas for attention by sad, little people who are misguided, wrong, and possibly in need of counseling. Their followers are also, probably. I inform those I can of the falsehood and hate. I prosecute or expose those who commit crimes or propagate ignorance through coercion. And I don’t feed the trolls.

    Other than that, people are entitled to their opinion (Ben Stein, Michael Moore) because while I don’t agree with them and they use questionable logical fallacies to derive their conclusions they are basically presenting their OPINION, which is why we have laws protecting free speech.

    If a filmmaker wants to make a gore-fest or prent something as questionable as Antichrist as art, he is welcome to do so. I just don’t feel compelled to watch it. I have watched things that were questionable (Tidelands comes to mind) that I found uncomfortable but ultimately I saw the artists vision as he intended not clouded by my perceptions. And that may be the case here, although the Times article of the director presents a fairly damning case of “shock” art which is something I also don’t care for (and subsequently ignore).

    But I’ll defend his right to make and present it.

  • Brian

    As reluctant as I am to start down the slippery slope of censorship, if an outright ban would prevent just one person from being subjected to the torture that is Speed 2: Cruise Control (tagline: So Bad Even Keanu Won’t Do It), then it would all be worth it.

  • amanohyo

    This is a tough one, but if I was to somehow become that mythical villain, (featured so prominently in Republican bedtime stories) the evil feminist socialist dictator, I would ban The Little Mermaid.

    I’ve always hated the whole, “sacrifice your voice, home, and family for sexual freedom and then you’ll live happily ever after with yo’ man in his world” message, and the three things that don’t bug me in the original story were taken out, namely:

    1) When The Little Mermaid becomes a human, every step she takes feels like walking on sharp swords and her feet bleed
    2) Her sisters give her the choice to kill the prince or die herself when he chooses to marry another princess instead
    3) She dies (ignoring the Christian mumbo jumbo about souls)

    The fact that in the Disney movie, her father is the one who restores her legs/sexuality and gives her to the prince has always creeped me out a little too. Then again, I’m creeped out at weddings when fathers “give away” their daughters. The whole skewering Ursula with a giant phallic bowsprit to kill her bit is kinda disturbing as well. The children of the feminist revolution should not be subjected to such vile anti-woman er..anti-octopus-witch propaganda.

    Yup, I’d probably go ahead and ban every Disney movie made after 1989 too (except Lilo and Stitch) just to kick off my glorious new regime on a positive note. I’d also have to kidnap Miyazaki and get him working on state-approved replacement versions poste-haste. Hopefully, Ponyo will be up to state standards unlike the disappointing Howl’s Moving Castle.

  • joe

    None, obviously. You ban one thing, pretty soon you’re censonring left and right.

    That said, I could do without a lot of these godawful pseudo-National Lampoon direct-to-DVD crapfests that I keep seeing ads for during Colbert…

  • Bill

    I think I would ban all Monty Python films. I love the idea of the Resistance huddled in a basement somewhere singing along with “Every Sperm is Sacred” in a great act of defiance. Maybe members of the resistance would have a special silly walk that would identify them to fellow rebels. If the police ever busted in during a screening while the rebels argued about whether to call themselves the People’s Front of Judea or the Judean People’s Front, well, that would be awesome. Oh, yeah, I would rename my kingdom Judea.

  • JoshB

    The American Godzilla. HATE.

  • chuck

    I would not ban any film no matter how repulsive.

    Why?

    First, a truly depraved film once and for all exposes the maker for what he or she really is, and they more than anyone will be forced to live with it. Every film brings something to the table even if it just more evidence that some people should just not be making films.

    Second, who gets to decide what’s on the ban list? I know a guy who insists that this country would be much better if it were ruled by a benevolent dictator. But he does not seem to grasp the concept of “benevolent to who?” Banning is the dark path.

    Thirdly, Every adult should choose for themselves what they want to spend life hours on. No film is a secret, you can always find information on what the film is to make an educated choice.

    Fourth, there is no expectation or right that you should always like and agree with a film. Some you’ll like, others not.

    Just support your favorites, the system will weed out the trash.

  • misterb

    If I am declared king, then I’ll take the positive approach. Rather than banning films, how about a list of films that people have to see? I’ll start with Monty Python and include Koyaanisqatsi.

  • LaSargenta

    I think I’d second Bill’s choice.

    Or, if I was really serious, I’d ban Zack Snyder.

  • doa766

    great QOTD

    my first reaction should be that of course no movie should be banned

    but on second thought I think that movies that take too much from others should be banned (unless they’re remakes)

    The fast and furious is a giant rip off of Point Break, it’s IDENTICAL. down to the undercover good guy letting bad guy espace finale, instead of surf it’s cars, instead of suspicious but innocent german gang it’s suspicious but innocent japanese band and so on

    movies like that shouls be banned unless they pay for the rights and include some sort of “based on…” credit, other examples are The Island, 50 first dates, disturbia

    also movies that use specific stuff like using bullet time without consent should be banned, it’s unfair to use it and make money without the creators’ authorization

    but no movie should be banned regarding if the content it’s offensive to some people, even if it offends 99.9% of people

  • doa766

    looking at that list I find it ironic that some of the movies that were banned are the ones that people need to see the most

    I can’t think of better way to undertand evil and violence on modern societies than to see “a clockwork orange” or to undertand the difference between belief and fanatism than watching “life of brian”

    I always found it funny that the two times that the actual Jesus appears on the “Life of Brian” he’s treated with the upmost respect and never made fun of, and all the irony, scorn and criticism is reserved for the mindless fanatism that soon morphs into hatred and violence

    I remember watching a clockwork orange when I was about 11 and understanding that the point was that evil is natural to humans and it’s foolish to think you can erradicate it, everything I’ve experienced on the following 15 years asssured me that I got Kubrick’s point right at the time. War on terror is futile because terror will exist as long as there’re people, Kubrick tried to explain that 38 years ago and the people who most needed to understand it banned his movie.

    (I know the movie has many more readings and points but I think that’s the main one)

  • I would ban any and all video game movies. I can’t figure out how that ever got started.

  • MaSch

    Well, amanohyo, you could also see the film saying that giving up your voice to pursue your sexual desires leads to no good. And boy, sometimes a ship stabbing an evil über-octopus is just a cigar and not a phallus.

    By the way, do you know the opera “Rusalka”? If so, do you find it more/less offensive than the Anderson version?

  • amanohyo

    Yeah, I can see that message in the Anderson version, but the Disney writers blunted most of the negative consequences in the final act. Reading through the synopsis of Rusalka, the prince seems to share more of the blame and negative consequences which is nice, but unfortunately I’ve never seen it performed so I can’t say for sure which I prefer. Like most people here, I don’t actually want any movie banned, and although I wouldn’t show the Disney version to a young child of my own, I don’t find it offensive. I was just mugging for the question of the day.

    And just as a cave is never just a cave, a cigar is never just a cigar (ask Bill Clinton).

  • MBI

    At first, I was thinking I would pick a movie whose viewpoints I find repugnant. But then I realized that many films that do that (like Dirty Harry, or The Birth of a Nation) are actually fantastic. Those are challenging films. So then I thought, maybe something that is instead just atrociously stupid, something actively making the world a dumber place, like the Epic Movie movies.

    Then I thought, how about one that combines BOTH? An American Carol! Of course! Perfect! Consider the banhammer swung! Take that, free speech! Censorship is more fun than I thought it would be!

  • Paul

    I agree about the irony that if a movie is banned it’s probably a movie people should see, which isn’t all that different from the situation with books.

    My own personal beef is with movies that promote as heroic people being dumb so they can follow their heart/faith/intuition, but that covers so many movies I’d be a busier censor than Joe McCarthy ever was.

  • Dave in EH

    Too easy…

    Highlander 2… there should have been only one.

  • Victor Plenty

    Egad! No! Never ban Highlander 2! That would only make unsuspecting people seek it out, as they do all forms of forbidden fruit.

    Now, if we were talking about something far beyond the way banning stuff works out in the real world, like maybe a supernatural power to make every copy of a movie instantly vanish forever, then fine, go ahead and do that to Highlander 2. But please, for the love of all that’s decent, never, ever ban it.

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