Bye to Censorship – and Hello

Bye to Censorship – and Hello.

About censoring movies, by Stefan Stenudd


Sweden stops censoring movies. It's the last of the democratic countries to do so, and it was one of the first countries to start it in 1911. Swedish tradition is one of government control in order to “protect” its citizens from bad influence – but the last few decades of censoring movies have dealt with excessive violence, and not sex scenes. That makes some sense.



       Although the law until now allowed for censoring movies, it has not been done since 1995. The last one was Martin Scorsese's Casino, where three violent scenes were cut out.

       Statens Biografbyrå (the State Cinema Agency) has been handling the censorship through the years. Since the 1960's, they have mainly struck at excessive violence, whereas explicit sex scenes have been accepted to an increasing degree – even to some extent when combined with violence.

       Here is their own search list of all the 38,000 films they have inspected since 1956, and what they decided about them. Earlier records are probably not computerized.


Adult at Fifteen

After 100 years, from January 1, 2011, the law will not allow any censoring of movies for an adult audience. But the categorization of movies according to the age of the audience will continue. There are four categories: accepted for all audiences, allowed from seven years, from eleven years, and from fifteen.

       When you go to the cinema, you're an adult at fifteen. That also happens to be the age of consent in Sweden, but I doubt that there is any connection between the two – at least not nowadays. Maybe in past years, when sex scenes were considered for censorship, they thought that at fifteen, you were expected to handle them, since you were free to have sex.

       Personally, I've never been a fan of excessive violence in movies. That was true also when I was fifteen, so when growing up I was kind of pleased with the censors cutting out the most brutal scenes of the movies. The problem was that they sometimes also cut out scenes of other kinds, and they always did it recklessly, so that the remaining movie could become erratic and hard to follow.


Chain Saw Sale

I wouldn't have minded if they used their scissors in films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, 1974, and its sequels. But in Sweden these films were completely censored. That's overdoing it. Kind of a fun fact is that when this was debated heavily in Sweden, chain saws were on sale at a Swedish department store.


Warriors, 1979.


       When The Warriors was released in 1979, there was a huge and heated debate about censoring it, since there was fear that it would inspire gang violence in Sweden. But the movie was released to cinemas, without a single cut, and nothing much happened.

       Not that any kind of censorship is healthy at length, but Svenska Biografbyrån has done a reasonable job, considering the circumstances. They have focused on age limits, and on elements of excessive violence, but they have not worried much about sex.


Sex Again a Sin?

In Swedish TV, on the other hand, there seems to be an increasing hysteria about sex, although no censor demands it. The producers censor themselves. This is also true, lately, about Swedish movies. It seems to be a world trend, probably caused by all kinds of moralists and religious fundamentalists raising their voices.


One Summer of Happiness, 1951.


       Swedish film was once famous for daring sex scenes in movies. That fame started with One Summer of Happiness (Swedish title: Hon dansade en sommar) in 1951, where an actress showed her breasts in a love scene.

       In 1967, I am Curious (Yellow), with explicit sex scenes, was released. It created a lot of noise around the world, and next year had a (Blue) sequel. Its director, Vilgot Sjöman, ten years later released the movie Taboo, where he examined what the title states, including sexual orientations all the way to necrophilia. But in 1977, it was not that much cause for alarm.

       Since the 1970's, though, Swedish film has become increasingly hesitant regarding love scenes and sexuality. Not that the subject is avoided, since that would leave little else to attract adult audiences, but the love scenes have become quite innocent – skipping nudity and sweaty bodies almost altogether.

       But such censorship is voluntary, already done in production, so there is no law to either decrease or increase it. That's the real danger of censorship, spreading like a plague today. Controversy is avoided by simply not provoking anybody. If it keeps on, the world will become increasingly gagged – and very, very boring.

Stefan Stenudd
December 15, 2010




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