The Canadian Art Database

Victor Coleman

The Fig Leaf is Alive and Well
Al Razutis / Ontario Censor Board

Canadian Forum, June, 1981
[ 869 words ]

Four recent actions taken by the Ontario Board of Censors against films and videotapes by artists greatly diminish the freedoms of Ontario's citizens:

— Sexually explicit sections of Michael Snow's Rameau's Nephew by Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen were ordered cut by the Board before showing in the Snow Retrospective co-sponsored by The Art Gallery of Ontario and The Funnel Experimental Film Theatre.

— A small artist-run cultural centre in Peterborough called Artspace, in conjunction with Trent University, decided on March 13 to contravene the law by screening a short film by Vancouver's Al Razutis called A Message from Our Sponsor, which also contains sexually explicit moments which the Board had ordered excised.

— A video series sponsored by FUSE magazine in Toronto was postponed, also in March, because FUSE preferred not to submit their tapes for licensing or certificates of approval. Called 'Less Medium, More Message', the series is said to contain no explicit sex; rather, it is a left leaning survey of video with social themes.

Vie d'Ange, part of Harbourfront's Quebec cinema festival, Entre Nous, contains an overhead shot of the director and star, Pierre Harel in 'copulatory movement' with Paule Baillargeon which the board found objectionable and ordered cut. Harbourfront has appealed.

Mary Brown, recently appointed head of the Ontario Censor Board, feels that she ably represents the views of 'the majority of the people in this province'. In a letter dated April 1st to the National Spokesperson of the Association of National Non-Profit Artist-run Centres (ANNPAC) Mrs. Brown had the effrontery to state the following: 'The "inappropriate publicity" attendant on a routine Board decision was certainly not invited by the Board. It is interesting to note that the "publicity" has drawn public attention to Michael Snow, Razutis and the Funnel Theatre, which is currently struggling for recognition.'

I detect the maternal nod of preconception, and no little ignorance of art and how it works on film. I don't think that The Funnel, or Michael Snow, or Al Razutis, or Canadian Images (the Peterborough festival that screened Razutis's film), or FUSE magazine are being opportunistic. They are not, suddenly, appealing to the raincoat brigade to swell the ranks of their small audiences and fill their relatively empty coffers. Understandably, they are all deeply disturbed and incensed by what they interpret to be proto-fascist actions on the part of an uninformed staff of censors appointed and hired by conservatives determined to protect our children from a clear view of sexual intercourse.

As if they couldn't get it at home.

In a summary report of Snow's Rameau's Nephew the Censor Board made the startling decision to 'set aside' the guidelines of the law for a screening of the film at the respectable Art Gallery of Ontario but not at the 'struggling' Funnel. Presumably they expected the Gallery to provide brownshirts to weed out the underaged. This decision so angered the arts community that statements deploring the proposal were published almost simultaneously by Michael Snow, The Funnel, The Canadian Filmmakers' Distribution Centre, and The Art Gallery of Ontario.

In his 'Manifesto: Cinema Art,' [ Parallelogramme Retrospective No. 4, ANNPAC 1981), Al Razutis writes:

Art as economic commodity is a familiar condition. Film-artists are manipulated by cliques of producers, bankers, gallery owners, and pseudo-critics to aspire to fortune via fame ...

Art as cultural commodity is a more subtle condition. The determination of 'value' (and hence fame) is in the hands of quasi-curators, media sympathizers, government bureaucrats, and art historians with an outlook for historical precedents and cultural 'patterns'. ...

Art as ideological commodity is a currently fashionable preoccupation ... [which] commodifies art into an object/tool applicable to the selling of a lifestyle ... All the above systems are basically self serving, monopolistic, and engage in varying forms of censorship; all of the above systems operate under exclusive ideas as to what constitutes culture and the 'masses' and what their diet ... should be.

Mr. Razutis goes on to call for an end to this repression!

Mr. Snow is not interested in 'penetration' or sexual intercourse as anything but integral parts of a film that 'concerns itself with dialogue, with discourse, with intercourse between the sound and image, between the people depicted on the screen, between the spectator and the film.' Michael Snow is interested in communication. And whether you like it or not, 'fuck' is a verb. Just one verb in a herd of verbs, some of which soothe, some of which disturb; the context is all important.

Mary Brown is not interested in the context. Her role is to excise only certain images from the movie and video screens of Ontario. She and her censors work nine to five looking for images of sexual penetration and unacceptable violence. They are not looking at films.

Michael Snow is laughing, but not all the way to the bank. It's the uneasy laughter of a free man harassed and embarrassed by the prurient focus of a disinterested government Censor Board. As an artist working in Ontario, he must feel doomed — doomed by a handful of people who think they are the protectors of 'community standards'.

Canadian Forum, June, 1981

Text: © Victor Coleman. All rights reserved.

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