Censorship


Censorship
   Film censorship regulations were first introduced in Italy in 1913 by a law that established the requirement for all films to be furnished with an official written release (nulla osta) from the Ministry for the Interior, granted on the basis of the film's having been viewed and approved by a designated police commissioner. Henceforth the release of any film, and thus the possibility of its being screened in public, was made conditional on the attested absence of any material that could be deemed offensive to public morality, national decorum, international relations, or any official state institution (including the police). These provisions were reinforced by a new decree in 1919, passed into law in 1920, that reassigned the responsibility for recommending or withholding the award of the nulla osta to a commission composed of a magistrate, a teacher, an artist, a publicist, a mother, and two members of the police force. The new law also imposed the further requirement that the subject or screenplay of any prospective film be submitted to, and approved by, the censorship commission before any actual filming was begun.
   The incoming Fascist government thus found itself already provided with a fairly strict censorship regime when it came to power in 1922, and the first Fascist law regarding films, promulgated in 1923, merely reaffirmed the provisions of the previous two laws, while stipulating a further prohibition against the inclusion of any scenes that might incite conflict or hatred between the social classes. A number of subsequent Fascist laws and decrees introduced a requirement for the commission to indicate whether a film might be deemed unsuitable for minors (below the age of 16) and progressively modified the makeup of the censorship board itself, which, by 1931, came to be composed of a representative of the Fascist Party, designated members of the police force and of the Ministry for Corporations, a judicial magistrate, and a mother. In addition, from 1933 onward, all foreign films, as well as being subject to normal censorship regulations, were required to be dubbed into Italian (in Italy) in order to obtain a general release. In 1934 the responsibility for preventive censorship over prospective films, together with all other aspects of film production and exhibition, was assumed by the newly formed Direzione Generale per la Cinematografia (General Directorate of Cinematography), headed by Luigi Freddi. In the same year the Vatican also established the Centro Cattolico Cinematografico (Catholic Cinema Center, CCC), which regularly published its own moral evaluation of films that might be shown in the church's extensive network of parish cinemas, thus also effectively exercising a censorial function. As war loomed in 1939, further and more restrictive forms of censorship were promulgated, granting the government the power to prohibit and withdraw from circulation any film that might be regarded as in any way "socially dangerous," including films that had already been granted a nulla osta.
   Immediately following the war, in October 1945, a legislative decree from the new interim government summarily abolished all Fascist regulations relating to the film industry but retained the basic censorship prescriptions of the 1923 law. In 1947 the Constituent Assembly, by the same act with which it instituted a Central Office for Cinematography under the direction of the undersecretary of the Prime Minister's Department, also reconfirmed the censorship provisions of the 1923 law. Although presenting the screenplay before commencement of filming was no longer stipulated as a legal requirement, producers were nevertheless strongly encouraged to do so in order to avoid the risk of the film being eventually refused a general release by the censorship board, which would now be composed of only a member of the Central Office for Cinematography, a judicial magistrate, and a delegated representative of the Ministry for the Interior. As a result, film censorship during the early years of the Italian Republic came to reproduce quite closely the previous situation under Fascism, with the state and its bureaucracy exercising a determining influence over what sorts of films were produced and shown.
   One of the first films to fall foul of the new censorship regime was Pietro Germi's Gioventuperduta (Lost Youth, 1947) due to what was alleged to be its "social pessimism." Three years later the release of Germi's Il cammino della speranza (Path of Hope, 1950) was similarly held up by the censorship commission on the allegation that a number of the scenes set in Rome presented the police force in an unfavorable light. It was during this period that Undersecretary Giulio Andreotti, in his role as head of the Central Office for Cinematography, frequently took the opportunity publicly to reprimand neorealist directors like Vittorio De Sica for their negative portrayal of Italy, with a number of neorealist films consequently having their export permits withheld. At the same time Mario Monicelli's Totd e Carolina (Toto and Carolina, 1955), a film in which the great comic actor Toto played a warmhearted police sergeant willing to bend the rules in order to help a young unmarried pregnant woman, was held up for almost two years and only released after 32 cuts had been made to attenuate its alleged poor reflection on the forces of law and order. By far the most glaring intervention by the censors during this period, however, occurred in 1953 when filmmaker Renzo Renzi and editor and film critic Guido Aristarco were arrested, tried, and given prison sentences for having published the screenplay for a prospective film about the Italian invasion of Greece during World War II, in which the Italian army was shown to be more interested in chasing women than in fighting the enemy. In April 1955 a group of film writers and directors, including Sergio Amidei, Michelangelo Antonioni, Alessandro Blasetti, Giuseppe De Santis, Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, and Carlo Lizzani, among others, issued a manifesto calling for an end to repressive film censorship on the part of the Italian state. Nevertheless, the next major law regulating the Italian cinema, passed in 1956, merely reiterated the provisions of the earlier law, and a revision of the entire system of film censorship, frequently promised by the ruling center-right government, was end-lessly postponed in all the other film legislation enacted during the following six years.
   The long-awaited new law, finally promulgated in April 1962, transferred responsibility for issuing the nulla osta to the Ministry for Tourism and Spectacle and provided for a much greater representation on the censorship boards of qualified academics and members of the film industry. More importantly, under the new legislation, films could only be denied a general release on the grounds of seriously offending a generically defined "common sense of decency." In addition, the new law gave the censorship boards the option of classifying a film as either for general release or as unsuitable for minors (under 18 years of age), in which case the film could not be shown on television. These censorship provisions were largely reiterated in the next major piece of legislation on the cinema, the socalled Corona law, passed in 1965. One should note, however, that films granted a general release by the censorship commissions could still be denounced as offensive to common decency by both members of the general public or by police or magistrates in the place where the film was first shown. The most acrimonious censorship struggles of the following decade were all, in fact, the result of such denunciations, the most glaring case being the long-running battle over Bernardo Bertolucci's Ultimo tango a Parigi (Last Tango in Paris, 1972), a film that had been granted its release by the censorship commission but that was subsequently arraigned and condemned for obscenity by a court of appeal, which took the extraordinary step of ordering all copies of the film in Italy to be burned. After a long legal saga Bertolucci's film was formally exonerated in Italy only in 1987. The abolition of the Ministry for Tourism and Spectacle in 1993 prompted a new law in 1995 that reallocated responsibility for the vetting of films and the granting of the nulla osta to the Department of Spectacle, located in the Office of the Prime Minister. The same law restructured the censorship commissions by reducing the representatives from the film industry to two but including a practicing psychologist and two representatives of interested family organizations.
   In 1998 responsibility for granting the nulla osta was transferred to the newly established Ministry for Culture. In that same year, Toto che visse due volte (Toto Who Lived Twice), a film by the provocative filmmaking duo Daniele Cipri and Franco Maresco, was refused a general release on the grounds of obscenity and blasphemy. When the film was finally granted a release on appeal, the ruling center-left government put forward a proposal to withdraw the power of the censorship commissions to block the general release of a film, retaining merely the possibility of awarding either a general release or an unsuitable for under 18, or under 14, classification. The end of film censorship in Italy, however, effectively occurred only in 2007 when a different center-left government abolished the censorship boards altogether in favor of a system of film classification to be carried out by the producers themselves, whereby films should be designated as either suitable for the general public or as unsuitable for either under 18, under 15, or under 10 years of age.

Historical dictionary of Italian cinema. . 2010.

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