John B. Murray: Cinematographer Interview
Cinema Papers Issue 6, February 16, 1970
ARE YOU LIKELY TO ENCOUNTER CENSORSHIP DIFFICULTIES?
We hope not The Chief Censor has been advised in detail of the project and the basically serious minded approach to the subject. Being mainly documentary I could only film what actually happens. The nudity shouldn't offend anyone. It depends on their thinking of course. And then there's the satire. Here goes.
WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON CENSORSHIP?
I can't make up my mind on the overall question of censorship. I am not satisfied with the, arguments either for or against. I would shudder from the responsibility of having to decide this question for the Nation. Fortunately, I'm not in that position. I believe that thorough research by a highly competent authority on an international level should be undertaken and its findings made known. At the moment we are trying to decide on no facts. In the meantime, let's not miss the opportunity to educate the young and bring about a natural acceptance of the body and its physical functions, together with a respect for love and trust, the so-called higher human emotions. Which reminds me, if you are talking about censorship, violence must also be discussed as well as sex.
In July 1970, a 5940-feet (165:00) 16mm print of THE NAKED BUNYIP was submitted for classification.
John B. Murray
I produced the first answer-print of the original cut of The Naked Bunyip with a low-cost electronic soundtrack to allow for possible censorship changes, rather than outlay funds on a final optical sound negative at this early stage. I had introduced myself to Prowse by telephone and, as soon as I received the answer print from Supreme Film Laboratories in Paddington, Sydney, I sent it to him on 3 July 1970, together with a completed Application Form for the Registration of a Film and an accompanying letter in which I set out the aims of the work.
Three months later, the Censorship Board replied with a list of thirty cuts, of approximately five minutes.
In September 1970, an appeal was lodged against the censorship, but this was dismissed by the Film Board of Review.
John B. Murray decided to have a media screening of the uncut version where he could highlight the thought process of the Censorship Board.
John B. Murray
I had prepared the theatre by setting up lamps on both sides of the screen with wires trailing to a switchbox, where I was to sit. One lamp was covered in red gel, the other with green. The lights were facing directly at the audience. During the screening, I turned on the red lamp to indicate image that the censor demanded be removed, and the green lamp to indicate dialogue that was to be deleted. I switched on both lamps together for the duration of image and dialogue cuts. It was the first opportunity provided in Australia for social commentators, columnists and writers on film and the other arts to learn what the censors regarded as offensive and unacceptable for cinema exhibition.
He then decided that instead of removing the sound and images, he would instead mask them with a siren and sketches of a bunyip.
John B. Murray
I had been advised that the film could not be screened until the offending sound and image footage was “removed”. My interpretation of the relevant Act suggested that we could not be forced to physically “remove” any film footage. I reasoned: if it is left to run with the scenes blacked out and the sound untouched where image cuts were demanded, and if the soundtrack were to be bleeped while the images were left to be seen for dialogue only cuts, no objection could be sustained when the film was re-submitted for approval. Second, by this action the censor’s demands would become an integral part of a work that we were to sub-title, “A serious study of sex and censorship”.
This version of THE NAKED BUNYIP was passed with an SOA-rating, and released theatrically.
The above quotes are taken from the excellent article that John B. Murray wrote for the Senses of Cinema site.
The Genesis of the Naked Bunyip
February 07, 2006, sensesofcinema.com
The three sections that deal with the censorship of THE NAKED BUNYIP are:
WHAT DID THE CENSOR THINK?
Covers the rating process, and the Censorship Board's reaction to the film.
WHAT DID THE MEDIA THINK OF WHAT THE CENSOR THOUGHT?
Covers the uncut media screenings used to drum up publicity, and highlight Australia's draconian censorship standards.
Covers Don Chipp's views on the provocative way the censorship issue had been used to promote the film.
THE NAKED BUNYIP remained unseen until Umbrella Entertainment released an extras-packed DVD. It was passed with an M (Sexual references, Adult themes, Nudity) rating in February 2005.
The DVD presents the 138:50 censor-approved version. Here a picture of a bunyip appears over any visuals that required cutting, and a siren masks audio cuts.
The 06:43 of previously censored scenes are shown as an extra on the disc.
They are as follows:
We highly recommend that you track down Umbrella Entertainment's DVD release of this censor baiting film. It contains a detailed example of the state of Australian film censorship prior to the introduction of the R-rating in November 1971.
The story of how THE NAKED BUNYIP was modified is covered in the documentary titled, IN A FUNNY SORT OF WAY (2005). It can be found as an extra on the Umbrella Entertainment's DVD.
These are a few of the censorship related quotes.
PHILLIP ADAMS (Producer)
In the 1960's in this wide brown land. We had about the most repressive censorship in the entire Western world, with the possible exception of Northern Island. Every other book was banned, the most mild innocuous little art film from Sweden was being scrapped by the censor. And it was a fairly oppressive time for all the arts in terms of what you could say, and what you couldn't say.
So that was one of the impulses with THE NAKED BUNYIP, was to stretch the envelope on matters of sexuality, particularly as Kinsey reports are coming out. Sexuality is starting to be debated, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. But there was another issue, the film industry was as dead as sexuality.
Now we always knew that the result would get into trouble with the censor, one hoped for this intensely, and indeed it did.
John B. Murray (Director/Producer)
I know that I had been very provocative because I had organised a screening at the Palais, which is a huge cinema in St Kilda, near Melbourne. I'd put a coloured light on one side of the screen, and another coloured light on the other. I had wires trailing up to the lounge, where I had a box so I could switch one off or the other on. And invited key figures in the media, and there were about 150 journalists, and others from radio, print media, and television came. And I ran the film in its original form right through, and turned on the light when the censor demanded an audio cut, and the other when he demanded an image cut. And for the first time in Australia they could see exactly how the censor reacted to material that, in quotes, was questionable. And we got, I wasn't thinking so much of getting editorial coverage out of it, we got huge coverage, and it helped the film tremendously.
But I was really more interested in opening up the subject, and letting them know how it was regarded. I was asked by Mr RJ Prowse, who was the Commonwealth Censor at that time, to come to Sydney after I'd written him a letter detailing what I was trying to achieve in handling these subjects in the way I did. And I had a good talk to him, and then he organised for me to sit with members of his censorship board in the office in Sydney to see the film.
Graeme Blundell (Actor)
And there was some kind of basement in the centre of Sydney, this sin city place. And he'd been interrogated as the film was shown by these censorship people. I think there was about a dozen of them sitting around. I always had this impression of Barry Humphries kind of gargoyles, and Les Patterson types, dibbling, drooling, and masturbating in the corner, with a fag hanging out of one part of the mouth, and a can of beer going in the other.
(Adopts Les Patterson voice) "See you've gotta cut that, rawhh, look at her, rawhh, no cut those out, rawhh leave those"
This is the impression one got. This sort of phantasmagoric set of characters that had descended upon the film to rip it apart, as they did on anything that those kind of people deemed offensive.
PHILLIP ADAMS (Producer)
Now, John Murray discovered a fascinating truth, that the act that forced us to comply with the censors ruling, did not require us to invisibly mend. There was nothing in the act that said we had to put all the bits together and hide the cuts.
John B Murray (Director/Producer)
And I realised that whilst he was demanding that these pieces or sections should be deleted from the film. If I left them in, and blacked them out, and made them part of the film itself, attitudes to sex and censorship, then he really couldn't force me to cut the footage out. And then I told Phillip about that and he immediately suggested Peter Russell-Clark do some sketches of a bunyip, and we could put that on, which I did, and supered them over the black, to show the nature of the material that was cut.
The naked bunyip is a mythical animal, and I thought that pretty much fitted us in Australia in the late 60's. And the naked bunyip is reported to have said to someone "I don't know what I am, can someone please tell me?". And I thought that was the position regarding sex and censorship. Our attitudes to them, and I wanted to strip it bare, that is, open the subject up for discussion.
PHILLIP ADAMS (Producer)
So when we opened at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne, the biggest cinema in the country, packed to the rafters, the most popular parts of the film were the parts that were missing. Think about that, the parts the audience really adored, weren't there. The censor was off his face about it. He got very, very angry, threatened us with all sorts of legal problems.
I remember Barry Humphries decided to have a press conference, to aggravate the situation further. So Barry gets the media there. And I have to reveal at this point that Mr Prowse, the Chief Censor, was, well he reminded me on the one legged Tarzan, he had one arm. Perhaps is was from over zealous film cutting. And Barry told the assembled throng that Mr Prowse would give his right arm to be here today, or Mr Prowse told me this straight from the shoulder. Now these kind of ironic comments do not endear ourselves to the Chief Censor. So the situation got nastier and nastier and nastier. But for us it was a godsend.
We could hardly afford to make the film. I think I managed to raise, I think about $40,000 from a couple of friends of mine who were in the used car business. Bob Jane, and his brother Bill. And we certainly couldn't afford to promote, we couldn't afford to advertise. But with Russell Prowse's help, with all his agitations about the films sins and shortcomings, the thing just took off.
It was mildly cathartic for Australia. Because this showdown with Russell Prowse, the showdown with the censoring. I think began, or accelerated the process that brought the whole censorship structure in Australia tumbling down. What happened was the censorship system fell over from absurdity, a bit like the collapse of the Kremlin, or the Berlin Wall. And almost overnight Australia had the most progressive censorship in the world. We went from one extreme to another. And in that change of attitude, that paradigm shift, I think THE NAKED BUNYIP played a small, but modest part.