A Censor Speaks | Letters | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

A Censor Speaks 

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As a former “film censor” (in another life, as an Italian instructor, I used to view the films, especially the Italian ones, that came to BYU’s International Cinema to help slice out “offensive” material), I can speak from both sides of the film-editing aisle [“Scrubbed to Death,” Nov. 4, City Weekly]. I was an active Mormon at the time and felt that by eliminating the overtly sexual material and language I was helping to preserve the moral rectitude of the student body.

Perhaps I was, to some degree, even if the main “benefit” was to keep from upsetting someone and even if some cuts (but certainly not all or even most) did compromise the plot development in some way. Then, as a concerned Mormon parent, we purchased one of the early dubbing devices that scanned the subtitles, shut off the audio and substituted a written word in a subtitle for the offending verbiage. I have to admit that it worked rather well—with some notable exceptions. For any religious film, the device had to be turned off because any mention of “God” or “Jesus” (in anticipation of a blasphemy) would be bleeped. Another item in our family funny-memory lore is when the device spotted “Butte” in a film and made it “Rear, Montana.”

Several years ago, I made a transformation. I made my way out of the LDS Church, and part of that decision was because of its slavish devotion to the movie-rating system. I wondered why Mormons abdicated their right to receive their own divine inspiration to the MPAA, and I began to realize that LDS leaders appreciate having authoritarian folks making decisions for their members as they don’t have time or resources to evaluate movies themselves to direct their flock.

Nevertheless, I defend the right of the viewer to watch a cleaned-up movie if that’s his or her choice. Philip Gordon wrote in his piece: “If you don’t want to see the movie, don’t see it! But, taking something out? It’s crazy. You’ll miss something important. The narrative will have a hole in it.” Two words completely invalidate that argument: director’s cut. If directors really did possess such high artistic integrity, there would be no such thing as a director’s cut. They simply would not release a film for viewing if they felt that the more complete story was yet to be told and that the theatrical release had a “hole.” That’s why people should be able to have their cleaned-up version if they want. They should even be able to get a CliffsNotes version (maybe something like an extended trailer) if they want to catch the gist of a film and see the highlights.

This is America, dammit, and the strength of our society is being able to have it our way. I just don’t want to hear a bunch of sanctimony from a director or a studio opposing a “clean” version while being willing to have a director’s cut come out later (or a TV or airline version, for that matter). That’s blatant hypocrisy ... the only real “sin” in my book.

Jim Catano
Salt Lake City

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