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COLLATE: Source edition - Introduction

Film and Censorship: Relevance of Topic

Cinema is deeply involved in the (cultural) politics of a nation. Each country has developed its own censorship history embedded in its particular artistic, political and economic history. However, moving pictures have never been confined within national borders. Films were not only often co-produced by several countries; they also are usually distributed worldwide – from the beginning of film production. Nevertheless a fundamental constraint for the international nature of film has ever existed: Before showing their films, each production company (or the importers of foreign productions) had to submit their films for approval at the (national/local) censorship authorities, which decided about permission or ban as well as about age restrictions or cuts.

The domain film censorship not only demonstrates how politics and aesthetics merged, but also connects these national / international issues in an impressive way. Working in this domain, the question arises very soon if it is possible to determine regularities in the worldwide enforcement of censorship. Moreover, of which kind would these regularities be: Are they conditional upon political issues? Are they a matter of aesthetic problems? Or perhaps determined by depth psychological aspects of human being?

Instead of drawing upon an extensive theory we decided to concentrate our efforts by looking closer at the primary sources and trying to incorporate the contradictions and inconsistencies which eventually emerged into our work.

We presumed – more than we really had known – that an in-depth comparative analysis of the censorship practice in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany would yield a wealth of new knowledge. The following case studies allowed us to check the validity of our assumption.

Case Studies in COLLATE: Study and Edition of Sources

Joint editorial work on selected topics is the background for an in-depth comparative study of the censorship practice in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany. The focus was to analyse temporal and spatial relationships (and its changes) in the handling of films by the censors across different countries.

Actually, the aim of the source edition is not only to improve knowledge in the domain of film censorship – although this was surely a fundamental issue for the film archivists and researchers in COLLATE. The intended purpose of this web site is also to show the different possibilities that are inherent in such a collaboratory. Correspondingly to this aim of „ demonstrating possibilities“ we decided in favour of two different approaches.

On the one Hand users will find here a classic comparative case study on the censorship history of Sergey Eisenstein's BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN. Classic means different things in this case. It means that BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN is considered to be classic in film history, that its high artistic merit is acknowledged and that film scholars like to deal with such works. What is also classic is the fact that BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN is an absolutely political film and that censorship disputes have always been associated with explicit political conflicts. Last but not least, classic also means that our approach, which is widespread, is film-centric.

The second part of the source edition, however, does not only deal with the single film but also the relationship between censorship and genre. We thus avoid attempts at explaining and reasoning on the basis of current politics and focus more clearly on the structural aspects of film and censorship itself. We have chosen the genre of horror films as our second case example. Horror films are entertaining and are, to a certain extent, considered to be inferior and kitschy: they are seen as mass-produced products and labelled as "B- movies". Horror films are still often not fully recognized for their artistic merit. In the 1980s, film scholars began to deconstruct the established distinctions between major/minor works, entertainment/enlightenment, centre/periphery. Since then, numerous dissertations, monographs and collected editions on the subject have been published. Nonetheless, the reputation of horror films is still blemished by the suggestion of superficiality and insignificance.

These are precisely the major differences in both cases: aesthetic differences, differences relating to production interests, the historical and present-day evaluation of the selected films. It is important to consider these factors when trying to convey a full, expressive image of censorship and censorship practices.

In order to do justice to the complexity of this subject, we have expanded the selection by two films that are seemingly unfitting: VAMPYR and FREAKS. This way, fundamental questions and objections regarding genre theory can be integrated and can act as a central theme.

There are other reasons why VAMPYR is an atypical case within this selection. It is the only one of the selected films to have been produced outside the American studio system. VAMPYR was made by a small French production company and is the only European film in our selection of horror films. Furthermore, the film's director, Carl Theodor Dreyer, a Dane, is viewed as one of the fathers of independent, avant-garde cinema and is more reminiscent of European auteur cinema than American studio productions.

Research Conditions

This broad range of approaches corresponds not only to the goals of the project, but is also consistent with the varying research methods in three different nations and the specific conditions at the respectively involved archives. There are numerous publications on film censorship in Germany: the Deutsches Filminstitut (DIF – German Film Institute) has been working on the subject for a long time and has a correspondingly large inventory of censorship documents in its possession. Research on censorship has also been conducted in Austria, however, not on the time period being examined in this case. Furthermore, no relevant censorship documents are available at the Filmarchiv Austria – FAA (Film Archive of Austria). Conditions in the Czech Republic are quite different: the results presented there for the first time show pioneering qualities. Research conducted at Národní Filmový Archiv-NFA (Czech National Film Archive ) on Czechoslovakian censorship has brought to light new facts and valuable insights. Their relevance transcends national borders.

Here is an example: Sergey Eisenstein's BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN is considered to be one of the most important films in the past century. This silent film, which caused a massive international sensation, still reaps enthusiasm from audiences for its modern and clear style. What is less known, however, is the fact that a sound version made in Germany already existed in 1930. This version is unfortunately no longer available.
A German permit card, long considered to have been lost, was found by the NFA-Team in the archive collection "Cenzurní sbor kinematografický pri ministerstvu vnitra 1919-1939 (1940)" of the State Central Archive in Prague (Státní ústrední archiv v Praze). The discovery of this permit is marked with exceptional significance in film history because it is one the few existing documents that provides information about the dubbed version of the film. It can support reconstruction work on the sound version of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN. Moreover, the DIF analysis showed that it is an unusually concrete example of the extent to which the results of censorship and self-censorship could change fundamental aspects of a film.

NFA research provides an exemplary illustration of the myriad of censorship links between Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria, thus demonstrating the concrete possibilities of collaboration through networking.

by Laura Bezerra and Jürgen Keiper


Source Edition urrogat Production Introduction Censorship Regulations Battleship Potemkin Horror Films Conclusion Bibliography