Film Censorship Jan'60-Apr'70: N





Night Games

Directed by Mai Zetterling / 1966 / Sweden / IMDb

In a 1969 article from Masque magazine, NIGHT GAMES was named as being banned by the Australian Censorship Board.

The article compares the openness and flexibility of the New Zealand system, with the secrecy and inflexibility of the Australian one. Fifty years on, and the secrecy of the Australian system has not really changed.

It is interesting to compare how the lack of a restrictive classification for films was replicated many years later for games. New Zealand had a R18-rating for games, many years before Australia introduced one in January 2013.

snip, snip, snip, snip
Peter Boyce Masque,
June-July 1969

Film censorship in New Zealand functions very differently from Australian censorship. Of course neither system is without faults, but overall the New Zealand system is more satisfactory, firstly because it is less secretive than the Australian system, and secondly because the use of restrictive certificates enables some films to be shown in New Zealand which are banned here.

In New Zealand the Censor and Registrar of Films is an officer of the Internal Affairs Department, thus breaking the traditional link between censors and customs men, who have always proved notoriously conservative. No film may be shown until it has received the Censor's certificate of approval, but the N.Z. Censor has a far greater range of certificates at his disposal than his Australian counterpart.

Films passed for general exhibition may carry an 'A' certificate (recommended for adults only), a 'Y' certificate (recommended for those over thirteen) or a 'C' certificate, indicating approval for unqualified general exhibition. In addition, films may instead be given a certificate restricting their exhibition to a certain age group; over thirteen years (R13), over sixteen (R16) or over eighteen (R18). The onus is on the exhibitor to refuse admission to underage children, and this system has worked to the satisfaction of the public and the Censor alike.

While the rationale of censorship in New Zealand is similar to that in Australia (the Censor will reject or cut films which are 'contrary to public order or decency'), New Zealand censorship regulations and practice are a matter of public information, while in Australia they are shrouded in mystery.

In New Zealand the Censor's register includes the date on which each film is examined by the Censor, the footage of the version passed, and whether or not the film was cut. If a film is rejected, this fact is recorded. Any member of the public may examine the register, held in the Censor's office in Wellington, on payment of a nominal fee. Until April 1968, a certificate giving date, footage, and nature of approval was screened before the commencement of each film, but this practice has been discontinued.

There are several important differences already apparent in the New Zealand system. While the Censor will not reveal what has been cut from a film, his record of the footage enables us to discover how much is cut — often a matter of uncertainty in Australia. Similarly, when a film is banned, this is a matter of public knowledge, whereas in Australia one must find this out from those 'in the know'.

Each year the Censor presents a report on his activities, including a list of films banned, and the total of cuts from films, with the reasons (in general terms) for the cuts. For example, the report for 1965-66 included the names of eight features rejected, stating that two of these were later admitted by the Appeal Board. 702 cuts were made for violence, 696 for sex, 131 for horror, and 175 for 'other reasons'. If a distributor wishes to appeal against the Censor's decision, he may take his case to the Appeal Board, which consists of three rather elderly gentlemen. The Board has generally upheld the Censor, but on occasion has been more liberal: for example, the Board admitted THE KNACK after it had originally been banned. Perhaps the best aspect of New Zealand censorship is that there seems to be no cutting by distributors. This unofficial censorship is apparently a great problem in Australia.

I am not referring here to the iniquitous practice of `reconstruction' of films to enable them to be passed (although this too is almost unknown in New Zealand), but to the deliberate shortening of films, so they can be run as the lower half of a double bill. TWO WEEKS IN SEPTEMBER, over ninety minutes long in New Zealand, ran for less than an hour when i saw it in Sydney. Official censorship cannot be wholly responsible for such drastic mutilation. I am reliably informed that a similar fate befell THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST and LORD LOVE A DUCK, to name only two.

In New Zealand the Cinematograph Films Act (1961) expressly states that If any length exceeding five percent of the total length of the film is deleted from any film after it has been approved by the Censor ... until that film has again been approved by the Censor, it shall be deemed not to have been approved. The 5% tolerance is supposed to cater for the loss of some footage by wear and tear: otherwise, the intention is to prevent distributor cuts. I know of no cases of distributors cutting films in New Zealand.

How liberal is film censorship in New Zealand? BLOW-UP, THE FOX and BARBARELLA, all cut in Australia, were passed entirely uncut with restrictive certificates. NIGHT GAMES, ULYSSES and THE INCIDENT, all banned here, have been shown in New Zealand.

I know of no films banned since 1967, which indicates that New Zealand censorship is entering a liberal phase. A few years ago Australian censorship was occasionally more liberal than New Zealand's (THE BALCONY and DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID were shown here but banned in New Zealand) but today the situation is reversed. The degree of liberality of a censorship system depends ultimately on the people who administer that system. But it seems that the secrecy and inflexibility of Australian film censorship pushes it more firmly in the direction of illiberality than the relative openness and flexibility of New Zealand's system.

The introduction of R certificates, and the official publication of censorship information would enable more adult films to be shown in Australia, and would perhaps make our censors more responsible to the public whom they claim to serve.



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