A Streetcar Named Censorship

         Certain issues have never made much sense when it comes to the history of the entertainment industry. It remains a mystery to me why there was a time when it was acceptable to do certain things on stage and to not do those same things on film. Is it the case because the former medium reaches a smaller audience? Where is the logic in that? Are things considered bad due to what scale they are on? One must wonder. Censorship has reared its ugly head throughout history. From book burning on, censorship is the arch nemesis of art. The only good thing about censorship is the fact that it gets people to yearn for what they are not allowed to have. Banning books creates readers. The same is true for all forms of censorship, including the butchering of plots.

         An excellent example of such butchering is found in one of the most acclaimed films of our time. The hardships faced by the production of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951 Elia Kazan), adapted from the Tennessee Williams play of the same title, exemplify my thesis nicely. There were some topics simply too hot for the audiences of the early fifties. At least that was the consensuses reached by "The Catholic Legion of Decency," an organization dedicated to the morality of film. There were some scenes cut and dialogue changed for the Oscar Saul film adaptation.

         References to homosexuality were a major taboo in the early fifties. In the play, staring Jessica Tandy, also directed by Elia Kazan, the story of Blanche's late husband is told outright. He had been caught by Blanche with another man. She had told him that she was disgusted by him, which led to his suicide, in which he placed a revolver in his mouth like a phallic symbol. In the film, Blanche (Vivien Leigh) gives a speech to Mitch (Karl Malden) in which she talks about her young husband as being sensitive, and a poet; when Mitch says "I don't understand" she responds "Neither did I." Those people who were very perceptive and/or were aware of the play could surely read between the lines. Most cinematic audiences of the day, however, were too naïve to make such a connection.

         There is also the ending. Stella (Kim Hunter) leaves Stanley (Marlon Brando) in the film, whereas she goes back to him on stage. This is an immense injustice to the integrity of the story? It completely changes the Stella character. She has a twisted desire for Stanley. He gives her something that she cannot resist. She does not leave him even after he rapes her sister. It is his rage that turns her on, and it is an important aspect to the plot. However, the censors figured he would have to be punished for this intolerable act.

         Censorship simply lessens art. This picture was hurt by leaving out important aspects to the story. There was a re-release in 1997, which includes a more sensually aroused Stella coming down the stairs as Stanley bellows, "Stellaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah," at her. However, the story remains only half in the movie, no thanks to the censors.

Andreas Shabaan

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