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What is censored in movies and why?

Film censorship has always been a “cross and delight” for rampant productions

By Gianfranco Gatta

It was inevitable that this would happen, two great “churches” like DC and PCI, strongly Catholic and still substantially misogynist, full of beguines and bigots, would find their first point of agreement in introducing, in the Constituent phase, Article 21 in the Republican charter, which deals with the prohibition of “obscene publications”, also referring to cinematographic creations. It began in the year 1948.

Film censorship has always been a “cross and delight” for rampant productions, it has been a terrain of ideological clash between politics and the authors of neorealism, above all, as Andy Warhol said, “The fifteen minutes of fame” of many provincial praetors who, in the name of the common sense of modesty, seized the films considered itchy from the hall in order to win merit at the various bishoprics.

The most sensational case of cinematographic censorship, which ended with the stake is: “Last Tango in Paris”, by Bernardo Bertolucci. Well, in this case the censorship was the real fortune of the film. We are talking about a banal, boring film, with improbable dialogues that mimic those of the darker Antonioni; a film, which if it had remained in the theater would hardly have covered the costs.

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A photograph that “its author” (?) Vittorio Storaro will repeat endlessly for all of his subsequent films. And then they call themselves Authors!

Only two positive notes: the splendid cashmere coat worn by Marlon Brando (taken years later by Alain Delon in “La Prima Notte di Quiete”, by Valerio Zurlini) and the poignant music played by the sax of that genius by Gato Barbieri. For the record, the stake was a drama that saw a counter-type of the negative burn and not the original negative.

The one who passes for being the greatest censor of Italian cinema is Giulio Andreotti, then a very young undersecretary to the Prime Minister in the executive heads led by Alcide De Gasperi from 1947 to 1954.

In reality Andreotti loved cinema, it is said of a violent crisis of jealousy of his wife towards Anna Magnani and it was thanks to his law, of 49, that with the tax imposed on American productions in Italy, he found a way to reconstruct the rubble of Cinecittà and to favor Italian Productions. Of course, he had to take into account the prudery of Vatican circles, he tried to do it with self-irony and always played down the conflict with the authors.

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Those were times when even the Tango was considered an obscene dance and in Vatican circles, there were those who pushed the Pope to pronounce himself for excommunication. Pius XII decided to attend a live performance of the dance and after seeing it he decreed its lawfulness. When it is said to be “More realistic than the King”!

Even the most devoted Alberto Sordi was summoned to “camera caritatis”, in the Vatican, in the presence of an influential Monsignor who reproached him for the character played in “Mamma mia, che impressione”, by Roberto Savorese, in which Sordi ridicules a young man from Catholic action.

Too bad that while the Monsignor was explaining to the actor that the young people of the association were not as he had represented them, a young cleric entered the room, breathless, a true copy of the character played by Deaf. The two parted with a look of resignation.

The real great clash between Andreotti and neorealism was ideological and concerned a film in particular: “Umberto D”, by Vittorio De Sica. In this case, the young undersecretary was strongly convinced that the film was devastating for the image of Italy abroad.

Legend has it of a decisive sentence, pronounced in private: “The dirty clothes are washed in the family”. It is clear why Guareschi's films, the famous “Don Peppone” received much more financial aid than De Sica's films.

A separate discussion concerns the story of the French film “Rififi”, by Jules Dassin and based on the novel by Auguste Le Breton, who collaborated on the screenplay. In this case it was a matter of public order; the cuts concerned above all the scene of how the rubble caused by the “hole” was collected with the umbrella, without making noise. In short, they didn't want to teach thieves to steal.

The "more Garibaldinian" Italian productions played with censorship like cat and mouse. Obtaining”the 14 years forbidden stamp, limited the damage to the parish halls only, provided excellent publicity for the alleged itchy scenes, thus allowing excellent revenues in second and third viewing cinemas.

For the rare films labeled with the 18 Years Forbidden, it became an “Artistic”"question, with the inevitable, cloying cultural debate.

The very Catholic province of Italy has always been the base and the "start up", as they say today, of Italian cultural innovation, what has developed in large cities was born in the province. But it was also the social model of “private vices and public virtues”, or the eternal hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie.

It is in this terrain that many praetors put themselves on display, seizing the films that they considered “risque”, contrary to “morality” and dangerous for consciences. Sex as a devil, as the Holy Roman Church commands. The year 2021 runs.