Friday, February 18, 2011

the Hastings ban

if ever a film truly deserved to be described as "infamous" then surely it would be Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of the novel A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. it is a film that Kubrick made after the disappointment of not being able to get funding for his ambitious film about Napoleon, and would be the film that would cast a shadow over his entire career.

now, the world is awash with articles, books and documentaries surrounding the, and there can be no other word for it, controversy created by this film, so you will excuse me for not repeating large amounts of it. i did, however, feel that it was worth mentioning today as this marks the 38th anniversary of "the Hastings ban", one of the pivotal moments in the history of this film.

movies were not given the widespread release they are these days back when A Clockwork Orange made its debut. despite being released in late 1971 in the USA, and a limited run in London in 1972, it was only towards the end of 1972 and the start of 1973 that the film started being prepared for a wider release in the UK. it was really around here that the controversy surrounding the content of the film started to surpass any critical praise heaped upon it, and indeed when actions against the film commenced.

despite national laws and regulations being in place, local governments and councils within regions of the UK can pass laws and take actions irrespective of what the national ruling is, and this is particularly true in the case of movies being screened within their area. theoretically, any movie passed by the censors could go on general release in the UK, but councils reserved the right to refuse permission to screen the film in their area if they objected. it was really only when A Clockwork Orange was put out by Warner Bros for a release beyond central London that councils opted to exercise this right.

the ban placed on the film by the council in Hastings set a precedent for other regions. rather than simply just refusing to allow the film to be screened at cinemas within the borders controlled, the council took the decision to pass comment on the film and in some way explain the ban, claiming that A Clockwork Orange displayed "violence for it's own sake" and further had "no moral".

it's not often the case that local authorities get to flex their muscles, but A Clockwork Orange gave them, if you will, an excuse to do so. certainly it is the case that the film is not for everyone, but that is exactly why the British Film Censors passed it with a restrictive "X" certificate. by over-riding the national censor, local authorities like Hastings could show that they did indeed have some sort of power, and indeed appeal to the "moral majority" of their electorate by acting "in the best interests of society".

it would be fair to say that the Hastings ban is widely seen as the starting point of Kubrick quietly deciding to withdraw the film entirely from the UK, with the film remaining legally unavailable to see or be screened until after the sad passing of the director in March 1999. a number of local authorities followed the path of Hastings in banning the film "on moral grounds", with a roughly equal number declining to do so, either just trusting the decision of the national censor or, in isolated cases, appreciating the artistic content over the controversy generated.

i suppose i should encourage my readers to see A Clockwork Orange to judge for themselves what all the fuss was and indeed is all about, but i am reluctant to do so. the truth is, as much as i admire this film and rate it as one of the greatest works of cinema ever, the controversy is both warranted and justified. it is brutal and bold in its depiction, and certainly not for all tastes.

i am pretty sure that something else happened in February 1973 around the time Hastings council decided to ban A Clockwork Orange from being screened, but it escapes me at the moment as to what it could be..........

be excellent to each other, or if you will, viddy well...........
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