Canadian movies, cut and banned before the November 1971 liberalisation of the Australian censorship system.
Directed by Mark Rydell / 1967 / Canada / IMDb
The original theatrical release was censored for a ‘Suitable only for Adults’ rating.
Shane Harrison reports.
Ellen (Anne Heywood) masturbating and her later sex scene with Paul (Keir Dullea) were both trimmed by the censor.
Censored at 11:15 by 00:06 – Full-length view of a naked Ellen rubbing lotion on her raised leg.
Censored at 11:44 by 01:09 – After wiping lotion over her body, Ellen switches the light off. The continuation of the scene, where she finishes masturbating to climax, was completely removed. Despite the censorship, what remained made it obvious what was going on, which made it a daring scene for 1968.
Censored at 88:53 – While Jill (Sandy Dennis) runs through the snow hysterical, Ellen and Paul have sex in a barn. The scene is tastefully shot, with the camera focusing only on their head and shoulders as it intercuts between them and Jill. The intercutting gets faster as the sex act builds, finally hitting its crescendo as Ellen orgasms. A number of the views of the sex were removed, destroying the sexual build-up process inherent in the editing style.
THE FOX was released in Australia in late 1968 with Ellen and Jill’s famous lesbian kiss left uncut. It was the first of three boundary-pushing lesbian-themed films. The other two being THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE (1968) and THERESE AND ISABELLE (1968), both of which had problems with the Australian censor.
During the 1970s, THE FOX screened uncut on Australian TV numerous times. Unlike at the cinema, it played unmatted which revealed more nudity during Ellen’s masturbation scene. At the time, TV audiences benefited from many unmatted screenings, including one that exposed Jean Simmons’s masking tape during her bedroom scene in LIFE AT THE TOP (1965).
A Married Couple
Directed by Allan King / 1969 / Canada / IMDb
A MARRIED COUPLE was programmed to screen at The 1970 Sydney Film Festival on June 15 and the Melbourne Film Festival on June 18.
For the last three years the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals have been granted special consideration by the Minister for Customs and Excise in relation to films temporarily imported by them for screening at the annual Festivals.
The conditions governing the importation and censorship of these films were, and remain the subject of annual review.
Film Festivals throughout the world enjoy privileges in their own countries enabling them to screen films untampered by local censorship authorities. These authorities recognise the contribution to the art of the cinema of these Festivals. We are disappointed that despite vigorous representations by the Festival Committees the Australian authorities cannot see their way clear to giving similar consideration to our Festivals.
All entries into the Festival must be submitted for censorship in the normal manner, subject to the considerations outlined by the Minister in his letter printed below.
At the time of going to press we were not in a position to assess how these considerations would be applied. In view, however of the merit and undoubted integrity of all films selected for screening and the minimum age restrictions which are enforced we are confident that no film will meet censorship difficulties. It remains a necessary part of Festival policy that no film will be screened if cut by Australian censors.
For the first time this year the Minister for Customs and Excise indicated that he required any submissions to be made jointly by the organisers of the Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide Festivals. It was in response to the written and verbal submissions of these Festivals seeking, inter alia, total exemption from censorship that the following reply was received from the Minister (omitting formal parts).
“I [Don Chipp] have now had the opportunity to consider the representations included in your joint submission and the points you raised at our meeting. As a result the following conditions will apply to films imported under Section 162 of the Customs Act for the 1970 and subsequent festivals:
1. The Chief Film Censor will be instructed to take Into consideration the fact that the festival is restricted to persons over the age of 18 years (subject to this variation normal censorship conditions will apply).
2. Films must be re-exported or returned to Customs bond with a view to exportation. within 28 days of the conclusion of the festival.
3. Attendance at film showings must be restricted to festival members.
4. The form of application for membership of festivals must clearly state that membership will not be granted to persons under the age of 18 years and this requirement must be policed by the festival organisers.
5. Except with my written permission applications for membership must not he accepted at the theatres. Each request for this permission will be treated on the full merits of the case and one of the requirements will be that festival organisation be on a total voluntary basis.
6. Films may be shown twice to festival members provided it is in successive programmes and on the same day. Where this concession is not availed of a special showing may be arranged after (sic: read ‘before’) the screening for members for not more than 15 persons.
7. Arrangements may be made for showing on television of short excerpts from festival films. Such excerpts must be made from only those films which have been classified as non-restricted for television, be of no more than 3 minutes duration from any film and the total time for any festival must not exceed one hour.
In approving these concessions I have tried to meet as many as possible of the requests of the festival organisations while keeping in mind my responsibility to ensure that no section of the community is granted concessions which may be regarded as discriminatory. It is important that you co-operate with the Chief Film Censor by ensuring that films are submitted to him for registration at least one week before you require them for showing at your festival.”– The Festival & Censorship
– Ross Tzannes
– 17th Sydney Film Festival program
Aborted festival screenings
The festival’s confidence that ‘…no film will meet censorship difficulties’ proved over-optimistic.
In June 1970, the Film Censorship Board banned the 8965-feet (99:36) print of A MARRIED COUPLE due to ‘indecent language’.
June 8, 1970
The Minister for Customs and Excise referred today (8 June 1970) to the decision of the Commonwealth Film Censorship Board to prohibit the Swedish film LIKE NIGHT AND DAY and the Canadian film A MARRIED COUPLE, entries in the Sydney Film Festival.
The Minister said: “The films have been examined within the terms of the liberal conditions agreed for festival films.
“I believe that the Board’s decision to prohibit the films was correct.
Mr Chipp said that the Commonwealth Film Censorship Board was firmly of the opinion that because of the continual and sustained use of four-letter words throughout the length of the film A MARRIED COUPLE, it was unacceptable in terms of prevailing community standards. The offensive language was used by a husband and wife, frequently in the presence of their young child.
The Minister said that the Board had not banned the films outright; however, the Festival authorities had stated that they would not show at the Festival a film which had been cut in any way.
Mr Chipp said: “When making the special arrangements for the film festivals I undertook to liberalise censorship. This I have done. Material contained in some of the films released for festival showing would not normally have been passed.
“The festival film censorship was for adults-only audiences – in effect, ‘X’ or ‘R’ certificate censorship. It should be remembered that in countries which already operate the ‘X’ or ‘R’ classification it is by no means unusual for films to be cut before being granted one or other of those restricted certificates.”
The Minister said that in response to a request by the Sydney Film Festival authorities, he had arranged for the two rejected films to be shown in Sydney on 19 June before an invited audience.
He said: “However I have extended the original request of the Festival authorities, who asked that the film be shown only to the members of the press accredited to the Festival, and I am inviting also all Members of the New South Wales Parliament, New South Wales Federal Members of Parliament, and representatives of all major public media.
“The showing is in accordance with my policy of bringing censorship decisions into the open and of promoting public debate through the press and through elected representatives, on the subject of censorship.”– Sydney Film Festival Films Prohibited
– Don Chipp (Liberal)
June 9, 1970
…Mr. Chipp has upheld the board’s decision — rejecting appeals from the Melbourne and Sydney organisers. Last month Mr. Chipp said that more liberal censorship would apply to the festivals. He agreed to “special censor-ship arrangements” — provided everyone in the audience was over 18. Yesterday the directors of both festivals criticised him.
But last night, in Melbourne, Mr. Chipp was unrepentant. “I’m game,” he said “They can see what I’ve done and then knock me if they like.”
In Melbourne, festival director Edwin Rado said: “The festival is surprised and disappointed at the banning”– Chipp bans festival films – and tells why
June 9, 1970
Mr David J. Stratton, director of the [Sydney Film] Festival, said last night he understood A MARRIED COUPLE had been rejected solely because of strong language. TIME magazine had described the film as “a perfect model of documentary film making,” he said.
Attendance at the Sydney festival was restricted to people over the age of 18 years and the organisers rigidly enforced this rule, Mr Stratton said.– M.P.’s to see banned films
Chipp’s Reel – The sequel
In April 1970, Don Chipp (Liberal) presented a collection of censored scenes for MPs and journalists in Canberra. This became known as ‘Chipp’s Reel’ and was a way of building support for the introduction of an R-rating.
His June 19 screenings of A MARRIED COUPLE and LIKE NIGHT AND DAY (1969) were a continuation of this effort.
June 27, 1970
Mr. Chipp, the Minister for Customs, has decided to show banned films to ‘special people.’ To my flattered surprise, this included me; but apart from the compliment, all I got out of it was a long and unsatisfactory afternoon in which I was often bored and never once shocked.
Studying the Film Festival program before the banning was announced, I had marked down these two movies as lacking in interest, a quite unjustified sight-unseen opinion which turned out to be correct. If you don’t see them, you miss little; on the other hand neither contains anything that should prevent your being allowed to see them. Boredom, even annoyance — neither could inspire any more definite emotion — can be dealt with by leaving the theatre, or not going in the first place.
A MARRIED COUPLE, another of Allan King’s cinéma-vérité documentaries, was made by setting up a camera team in the house of a squabbling pair and hoping that the result would show “the truth about modern marriage.”
… the couple involved are a noisy, complaining pair, whose troubles arouse little interest or sympathy. Their brush with the censor arises from their use of “four-letter words,” but this is so constant and repetitious that it loses all impact.
I can honestly see no valid reason for cutting either of these films in any case, particularly since they were to be screened for restricted festival audiences (so far as I know, there were no plans for either to have any commercial release).– Banned films for special people
– Beverley Tivey
– The Bulletin via Trove
July 15, 1970
Mr Chipp gave a brief introduction in which he reiterated the view of censorship outlined in some detail in his recent address in Parliament. He said that he believes censorship is a necessary evil, and that it should be subject to close scrutiny. He wants to gain an accurate picture of what are current community standards, in order to keep censorship in pace with these standards. He defended the censorship of the two films involved, even to an adult audience, pointing out that although the Festival audience was restricted to those over 18, “R” certificate films in Britain and New Zealand are cut more than those in other categories.
The director of the Sydney Film Festival, Mr David Stratton, then spoke briefly, in order, as he put it, to place the films in some sort of perspective and give the view of the Festival about the (effective) banning of the films. Mr Stratton pointed out that the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals are among only 25 internationally recognised festivals, having the official recognition of FIAPF, a body representing the interests of film producers and film makers. Australia is the only country where films submitted for screening in an international festival are subject to the same censorship as commercially imported films. A MARRIED COUPLE and LIKE NIGHT AND DAY could be shown uncensored in Cork, Moscow or San Sebastian. The status of the Sydney Film Festival is jeopardised by the censorship of Festival films.
A questionnaire was distributed by the Customs Department dealing with censorship generally, and with the cuts demanded in the two films being screened. The main point at issue was, was the Censorship Board right to reject these films in their original form?
I feel they were wrong. Festival films should be exempt from censorship because of the special circumstances under which they are shown, and the small adult audience to whom they are shown. The same is true of films imported by Film Societies such as the National Film Theatre, whose whole raison d’etre is to show films to those seriously interested in films as an art. While I believe that the censorship of commercial films is also in want of much liberalisation, I feel that censorship of Festival and NFT films is entirely indefensible.
Because of my conviction that film censorship for adults is an unwarrantable imposition. I could not support the demand for cuts in the two films concerned, no matter what their quality.– Peter Boyes
– Tharunka via Trove
The following comment appeared directly after the article. It demonstrates part of the debate that was taking place at the time and could equally apply to Beverley Tivey’s comments in THE BULLETIN.
To be fair, the campaign for censorship reform was driven by film festivals, while commercial distributors appeared lukewarm or happy with the status quo.
July 15, 1970
All Peter Boyes is asking for is special privileges for Film Festival audiences; that because Film Festivals are “officially recognised”, and the audiences of Film Festivals and Film Societies are composed of “responsible adults”, the films shown there should therefore not be subjected to the same censorship as those shown in commercial theatres.
This smacks of elitism and moralism. It implies that these audiences are a class above the rest of the community and therefore are not going to be degraded and corrupted whilst the ordinary person surely will be.
This is just another case of slimy special pleading for special interests (his own).– Comment by Eds. & others
– Tharunka via Trove
Cathy Hope and Adam Dickerson revealed how both festivals played down the bans while Don Chipp worked on introducing an R-rating.
In this intervening period, Chipp was careful to prepare the ground for his meeting with the States, by avoiding any further scandals over censorship. When the Commonwealth Censorship Board decided to ban not one, but two films from the 1970 Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals (A MARRIED COUPLE and LIKE NIGHT AND DAY), Chipp refused to overturn this decision.
When he wrote to the Film Festivals informing them of this decision, he also requested that they not cause any controversy over the incident. Unlike the Bjorkman incident [I LOVE, YOU LOVE (1968)], hardly any discussion of this banning occurs in the minutes of meetings for either Sydney or Melbourne – a good indication that this was a tactical compromise that the two organizing committees were prepared to accept.– The Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals, and the Liberalisation of Film Censorship in Australia
– article @ screeningthepast.com
What was so indecent” about the language?
Criterion Collection/Eclipse (us) – 2010 DVD – 96:21
Part of THE ACTUALITY DRAMAS OF ALLAN KING box set
There are numerous utterances of ‘fuck’ or ‘fucking’, mainly by Billy. The harshest line come at 70-minutes when he scolds Antoinette with ‘You stupid cunt for Christ sake, what the fuck is the matter with you?’.
Some frontal nudity went unmentioned by the Film Censorship Board. This includes Billy getting into bed (10:45) and the family in the lake (60:00).
The Board lists it as running 99:36. However, the 1970 Sydney Film Festival program has it at, the generally agreed, 97-minutes.
Directed by Robin Spry / 1970 / Canada / IMDb
November 1970 / Rated: SOA / Length: 7907 feet / Time: 87:51 / Censored by 00:07 / Reason: indecent language