Q&A

An insider’s snip at censorship

August 4 1980
Q&A

An insider’s snip at censorship

August 4 1980

An insider’s snip at censorship

Q&A

Maclean’s: You've had your troubles with censorship. Last Tango in Paris was banned completely in your own country and Luna had its problems too, notably in Ontario. How do you feel about being censored?

Bertolucci: It depends which kind of censorship we’re talking about. There’s the kind of censorship that sometimes kills movies, like they did in Italy with Last Tango in Paris. It will never be shown in Italy. It was condemned to be burned. Sometimes that kind of direct censorship, instead of killing, tortures a movie, castrates a movie. Like they did with Luna in Ontario, cutting a few metres here, a few metres there. They cut the moment when the hand of the mother goes on the sex of the son, touching him. From what I understand they tried to make the cut as short as they could, but now the scene is much worse. It makes it seem as if something more terrible happens. [Then] there’s the censorship of the marketplace. That’s a censorship that hits even before a movie is born.

Maclean’s: Films that don't get made because it's felt they won't be commercial?

Bertolucci: Yes. And that’s very shortsighted, narrow-minded. Even commercial cinema needs different kinds of experiences, otherwise it will die. Cinema has to be fed with cinema. Sometimes younger, unknown directors give new ideas for big commercial movies. The old American tycoons knew that. They used to promote new experiences. But there’s still another, more subtle kind of censorship, self-censorship. It’s difficult to define self-censorship. When I realize I’m censoring myself, I’m able to

Bernardo Bertolucci, at 39, is one of the most accomplished directors of the young generation in Italian cinema. A published and honored poet at 20, he made his first film at 22, won prizes and critical acclaim with Before the Revolution before he was 25 and settled into directorial stardom with The Conformist when he was barely 30. Since then, hits such as Last Tango in Paris, 1900 and Luna have secured his reputation, shocking some, irritating others, but pleasing many more—and giving him a strong taste of censorship. Brought to Canada recently by the National Film Board for professional workshops and a retrospective, Bertolucci spoke with free-lance writer Wayne Grigsby in Montreal.

avoid it, but sometimes I am not conscious of it, because it’s something your subconscious manages to systematize. Maclean’s: An actor who doesn't do certain things, or won't try certain roles because he’s afraid it won't work, or feels he can't do it—is that selfcensorship?

Bertolucci: Oh yes. This is a kind of selfcensorship that is especially a part of the star system. Very few stars would have the courage to play the character

4Maybe the whole community is wrong ’

of the mother, Caterina, in Luna [played by Jill Clayburgh].

Maclean’s: What would you say to a community, like Toronto, that is very sensitive to the whole issue of sexuality and the young because there have been cases of sexual abuse, rape and even murder of young people? That creates very strong pressures for censorship in order to protect the young.

Bertolucci: This is the grande équivoque, the big ambiguity. I think there must be a kind of ... I don’t want to use the word censorship, which I hate ... a kind of protection of minors. There must be. That’s very important. But when a person is a grown-up, I think he has the right to see all he wants to see, even if he is a super-perverted person. Otherwise, where is freedom?

Maclean’s: If I turned to you and said, “I don't want that kind of freedom because I feel it’s going to lead to more cases of abuse____”

Bertolucci: If somebody doesn’t want this kind of freedom, it is very simple, he doesn’t go to see the movie. But I don’t think any movie caused those attacks. Porno movies are about girls with big tits and deep throats. Why is Luna

cut and not the films with violence? You see, in general, censorship is much more active against movies that are transgressive in a serious way. That’s why censorship exists—to stop people from seeing movies that push us to think about life, about the hardness of life. Maclean’s: If a community had a referendum or took a vote and still said, “We don *t want that film, ” how would you argue?

Bertolucci: Let’s turn it this way. If, in 1936, the whole Italian nation was convinced to go to Spain to help Franco, and to support Mussolini, how could you think that the few people resisting fascism were wrong? It’s the same thing. Maybe the whole community is wrong. Maclean’s: You've worked with Robert DeNiro, Marlon Brando, Jill Clayburgh and Donald Sutherland in films you 've made. Are there differences between North American and European actors? Bertolucci: I think they are different, not from European actors, but from what they are like when they are shooting in the United States. They allow themselves different things. Maybe it’s the atmosphere of the crew, the atmosphere of the shooting. For example, with Marlon Brando, before I asked him to do the movie [Last Tango] and right through to the last day of shooting, people asked me, “Are you sure?” It was just before The Godfather came out, and everybody was saying he was fat and old and fed up. I found him to be one of the easiest actors I ever worked with. Maybe because,coming onto my set, he found some excitement in doing something a bit different from what he was used to. Maybe because his character, Paul, was being built in a way much closer to the cinéma direct canadien style [a personal documentary style introduced to Canada by the National Film Board in the mid ’50s—somewhat like cinéma vérité] than the actor’s studio.

Maclean’s: Let’s imagine for a second that I'm a 10-year-old kid. I come to you and I say, “What do you do, what 's your job on the film?” How would you describe it?

Bertolucci: I would say I am the captain of a pirate boat. I say pirate boat because that is the feeling. You get on the boat, you know where you’re leaving from, but I don’t know where I’m going. That’s why it’s so exciting to make a movie. It’s terrific. Like on a pirate boat I always try to attack, to see the excitement.