Dir: Gaspar Noé
At the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Thailand a while back, the issue of censorship was debated.
At least two of the panelists said that they could not agree with censorship under any circumstances.
When films get banned or cut in Thailand, it is usually for political reasons, and the act of censorship is merely those who have power trying to restrict those who don't have power from bringing a message to the public that might undermine their power.

But the arguments for banning films for political reasons and banning them for reasons of obscenity or any other reason usually follow the same basic logic.

Films are banned because a group of people who have been given the authority to do so, decide that for whatever reason, the contents of a scene or an entire film might damage society.

It is not only films that suffer censorship. Newspapers, novels and songs have all been censored at various times in various societies.

However, it is probably true that in the modern world, the key battles of censorship are on the internet and in the cinema.
But censoring the internet is next to impossible.
Censoring cinemas is much easier.

So, when we read about censorship in the western world it is often in the context of film censorship.

Perhaps one of the reasons that films so often attract the scissors is because of the immense emotional power of cinema. Anyone who has been in a crowded cinema watching a big screen and laughed, cried or screamed along with the audience must surely understand the impact that only cinema can have.
Firstly, the film medium is probably the most efficient way of stimulating an emotion. It is certainly true that books can make us cry and laugh in the same way, but to get involved in a book normally takes a greater investment of time. Not many readers can finish a book in ninety minutes.

The experience of seeing a film on the big screen enhances the power of the film, where there are no distractions, where no-one checks their smartphone (unless they want to risk getting shot by other patrons), where the film is our entire focus, virtually filling our field of vision.

Moreover, the process of watching a film in a room with other people enhances the emotional impact. Anyone who has ever been to a live music concert has surely felt the power of the group experience. One could see and hear the band far better on a big screen with good speakers in your living room, but it would not have anywhere near the same force as seeing the band with thousands of other people.
Films have the power to cause us to respond emotionally to a flat projected image. Our thoughts and feelings are manipulated by a commercial product.
Very few politicians have the talent and power to give a speech that can create the same response as a film. Those that have the talent sometimes end up controlling entire nations.

Thus is the power of film.
Governments, bureaucrats and moral crusaders understand that power, and it frightens them.

What if this immense power is used by those with a different view of society? What if the film medium is used to alter people's thoughts, feelings and beliefs in a way that is contrary to what the guardians of our society want for us?

That's when the logical response is to take away that power through censorship.

And we mustn't just think of censorship as a tool for fascist tyrants.
Censorship comes from all ends of the political spectrum, and is just as likely to come from a young liberal as an old prude.

So, I ask you, right or wrong?

When re-releasing 'E.T.', Spielberg digitally replaced the government officials' guns with walkie-talkies. He later said that he regretted the move.

When the series 'Fawlty Towers' was shown recently on TV, a line from the old major was cut. He says, ‘The strange thing was, throughout the morning she kept referring to the Indians as niggers. “No, no, no,” I said, “the niggers are the West Indians. These people are wogs”.

You have probably never seen the character Sunflower in 'Fantasia'. That's because the cartoon black servant was edited out in the 1960s.

The strangely-named SWANK motion pictures produces lists of feature films that have been edited to eliminate profane langauge, nudity, violence and sexual situations from the original version so that they can be shown by religious organisations.

The Disney film 'The Song of The South' has never been released on home video because of its racist depictions. Roger Ebert, who normally disapproved of censorship, supported this decision.

In the film 'Parenthood', a brief scene where a toddler is shown naked wearing only a gunbelt is often cut from TV showings, along with many scenes of skinnydipping that were acceptable in years gone by, but now considered to be inappropriate.

Are there things that shouldn't be shown at the cinema? Are there messages that are too dangerous for humans to bear, sequences that will corrupt us, images that will cause harm to those who see them?

Psychologists have not really helped clarify this, and continue to debate the effects of films upon an audience.

In the last month, we have viewed some films that have caused controversy and inspired a debate on censorship. Was 'Salo' a work of creative art, or just obscenity? Was Kubrick justified in removing 'A Clockwork Orange' from distribution? Did seeing a pedophile tortured by a young girl in 'Hard Candy' inspire us in some way to empathise with him in a dangerous way?

Tonight's film 'Irreversible' was named by 'Newsweek' as 'the most walked-out-of movie of 2003'. Roger Ebert said that it was "a movie so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable."

It was shot with tiny Aaton Minima cameras in long takes.
The entire narrative is told in reverse.
But it is not its innovative cinema technique that caused controversy. It is the subject of two men seeking to avenge the brutal rape of a girlfriend, which occurs in a long unbroken, brutal and quite horrific scene.

Does it inspire thought? Does it force us to confront the brutality of the world? Or does it glorify and sexualize the act of rape?
Should it have been made, and should it be seen?
Over to you.

Paul Spurrier