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Good, Wholesome, Plane Movies – in defense of amusing squeamishness.

August 6, 2015


Traveling across the Atlantic the other day, our charter airline offered a reminder of the dying art of the airline-censored movie.  Most of the larger airlines now offer individual screens for all passengers, which means of course that you have the chance of finding something decent and interesting to watch.

But there is a perverse streak in me that misses the airline experience of being forced to watch something one would never under any circumstances have chosen for oneself.  Somehow or other, if there’s something playing on a largish screen I find it hard to give up and read a book.  The film will nag at me until I put my headphones on.  Sometimes of course, the film is so execrable as to be discomforting.

In the name of full disclosure I must at this point confess to having watched Charlies’ Angels 2 on my way to Vancouver some years ago, and I still regard my failure to walk out as something of a moral lapse on my part – even at 30,000 feet.

Despite such atrocities, I found it interesting, the other day, to be forced to watch stuff I’d never decide to go and see at the movie theatre.  Or pay for view at home.  Or even bother to change channels to watch free to air.  And since none of the movies involved Adam Sandler in any way, I decide to embrace my fate without prejudice.

On this flight I watched three censored movies.  I was, however, asleep for much of the second one and cannot say much of anything about it.  All I remember was that it started off with Mila Kunis cleaning toilets in Chicago, and when I woke up she’d become Empress of Jupiter.   I still have no idea how she got from point A to point B.

The first movie was called Focus and starred Will Smith and Yer One From  Wolf Of Wall Street.  It was one of those crime caper affairs where all you’re sure of is that nobody can be trusted at any point – friends can’t be trusted to be friends and enemies cannot be trusted to be enemies.  At its best, the movie is at least aware of the paradox that a gang of pickpockets and swindlers needs trust within its ranks at the same time as they exploit trust outside it.  Plunder needs to be passed down the line, to pass quickly from the original point of theft or deception to some untraceable point of safety.  Unless gang members can trust each other to pool everything, the security of every operation is compromised.  How can you sustain a community of trust that is based on the abuse of trust?

But I was mainly interested in the swearing – or rather the unswearing in an airline censored film.  It’s a long time since I’ve heard people actually say “eff off”, or “what the fun”, or “you scared the stew out of me” or “you’re such an ashtray”.  Oddly enough, I prefer these implausible exclamations to be frequent and obtrusive rather than subtle and unremarkable.  I have a kind of strange affection for whoever it is has to come up with these desperate alternatives and I wouldn’t want to live in a world so coarsened by habituation to profanity that there was no longer any work for such people.

The third movie was The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film I’ve seen a great many times in its entirety but never the censored version.  The most intriguing cut was visual rather than verbal.  When the “priceless” (but fictitious) Boy with Apple painting is appropriated in the movie it is replaced by a rather graphic work of erotica by Egon Schiele.  But the airline version replaces the boy and apple masterpiece with a completely blank white canvas creating a wonderfully obtrusive effect.

I won’t defend every bizarre effort of censorship.  I recall once seeing on television a version of The Godfather that claimed to be “uncut” but which dealt with Apollonia’s wedding night breast exposure by unpixelating the offending torso so that she looked like a mutant Minecraft character.  Why Michael Corleone did not recoil in horror at this spectacle was hard to credit.  For sure they did not, technically, “cut” the scene but I was left screaming “cut, cut, cut the scene – better to cut this bedroom scene out  altogether than devise this unholy mutilation of a supposedly innocent character”.

Censorship, or more generously interpreted, squeamishness has its own pleasures.  The pleasures of extrapolation and the pleasure of seeing artifice laid bare.   Long live it, in its proper place, and only up to a point.


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