There are those of us among the film geek community that like to search out the extra features on home releases so that we can get a peak behind the film making curtain. For us, a shot of a familiar actor relaxing on set, a clip of raw footage, an incomplete effects sequence or a wide angle capturing the action as well as the cameras capturing the action is a proper treat. Rather than ruining the magic, this is the magic and the older the film and the techniques in question the better.
Then there are the actual movies that effectively do the same thing within the narrative. Take The Artist, Hail, Caesar!, Singin’ in the Rain, Shadow of the Vampire, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood!, Hooper, Hitchcock, Dolemite is My Name and Hugo, to name a just few.
For me though, best of all are the movies that do all of this as well as ultimately becoming examples the movies they are showcasing. The Player is probably the most obvious of these but see also Ed Wood, Adaptation, Hellzapoppin’, Get Shorty, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and Mank, which all do this to one extent or another. The meta the better.
Censor definitely falls into this latter category. The story tells of a film censorship worker in the 1980s who has to pass, reject or cut submitted movies at the absolute hight of the video nasties era. She spends her days impassively watching beheadings, gougings, eviscerations, slicings and guttings until she eventually views something that reminds her of a traumatic event in her own childhood and starts to lose her grip. Soon she is living a waking nightmare.
The poster strap line for the film is ‘you can’t edit reality’ but this is exactly what she ends up doing as her own interpretation of events begin to divide from other people’s and as her imaginings become more stylised, influenced by all of those films she has watched, so too does the film we are watching. Of course, it is true; you can’t edit reality and in reality neither can she. There is wonderful ambiguity in how everything plays out but it also pretty clear that beneath the stylings there is real horror and isn’t this the message that the small c conservatives were trying to push at the time?
This is another way in which Censor fascinates. It is demonstrably a love letter to this extreme genre but it also seems to be quietly condemning it. There is no mistaking that in this case the protagonist is prompted toward violence, at least partially, by the violence she has seen on screen. The defence of the producers of these movies, and the censors that passed them, is that none of it was real but this movie tests that theory, even as it becomes less real. There is a masterfully handled dichotomy here.
While parts of Censor are a bit unpleasant (there are clips from the real video nasties as well as recreations) it isn’t that scary. For me this is a bit of a shame as some well managed tension could really have added to the power, but it isn’t a criticism as writer director Prano Bailey-Bond has other things on her mind. Censor is a smart and tight movie (84 minutes) that showcases a particular type of cinema and deftly dissects it to examine what is underneath.
The Ripley Factor
There were seventy two films on the banned video nasties list. Titles such as The Werewolf and the Yeti, Mardi Gras Massacre, Zombie Creeping Flesh, Prisoner of the Cannibal God, Don’t Look in the Basement, The Driller Killer and of course The Evil Dead.
Guess how many of them were directed by women?
I’m sure that’s not a question I need to answer. There were films that centred on a female lead, most famously I Spit on Your Grave, but this was a very male dominated that often objectified and exploited women. Censor reclaims the genre for the opposite gender and gives it a feminist spin.
At no point is the lead Enid presented as a victim, in fact she rallies against this, and there are no moments of hysteria or excessive screaming. She is damaged but strong and for good or for bad she has her own agency. As such she is the absolute antithesis of her forbears.