the guardian Fri 24 October 2008
Can censorship spur creativity? That uncomfortable possibility ghosts through this volume by the eminent Observer film critic, Philip French, joined by Petley. They write: "Censorship has shaped the course of movie history and played a part in determining the language of popular cinema"; and later on we are invited to admire how John Huston smuggled an obscure word for "catamite" past the censors for The Maltese Falcon. Would an absence of censorship have deprived audiences of inventive innuendo and metaphor in the golden age of movies? The question is not tackled directly.
We learn instead that among the things banned by the British film censor for the first half of the 20th century were scenes of "white men in a state of degradation amidst native surroundings". The UK film industry since is bracingly denounced as collusive in its censorship. Most interestingly, the authors point out: "The least censorship [...] is usually found in confidently democratic countries that have recently experienced authoritarian regimes". As BBFC director David Cooke points out in an appended interview, though, the real culprit is not his organisation but our obscenity laws.