The Evils of Censorship

     Literature has undergone a new era of censorship, one that has only started in this century. This censorship is due to the discriminating eye of the professional film industry, both intentional and unintentional. Both are just as potentially destructive to the stories they edit.

     Unintentional censorship occurs when a scriptwriter, director, producer, or editor fails to see the value of a certain aspect of a book or play and decides to remove or "soften" it. For instance, in the 1839 script adaptation of Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel Wuthering Heights, the script called for Heathcliff to beat his dogs with a poker. However, in the William Wyler film, this scene was omitted. This was probably done because the director or editor felt that this scene would make Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier), the hero of the movie, look bad. The problem with this was that it helped change the entire focal point of the movie, giving the public the notion that Wuthering Heights was some sort of romance novel.

     Intentional censorship is for more direct and far-reaching. Intentional censorship is usually forced by a scriptwriter, director, producer, or editor in order to directly change a point in a story. This is usually the case because the censoring persons felt that the audience would prefer an alternative, or they felt that the point was too controversial to mention. For instance, in the 1938 film Pygmalion (adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play), directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, no one wanted to see Eliza (Wendy Hiller) leave Higgins (Howard) even though this was the way the book ended. Therefore, they simply changed the ending to fit what they felt should happen. On the other hand, in the 1939 screen version of Wuthering Heights, the film makers were forced, due to censorship, to ignore the fact that either Catherine or Isabella were pregnant in the book. This censorship was self-imposed by Hollywood, which felt that audiences did not wish to hear about certain topics, especially sex and sexuality in particular.

     Film makers have taken over the age-old role of the storyteller in our society. Along with this role comes the responsibility of presenting the story clearly and effectively, with a responsibility. We need to determine whether the film maker’s intentions are the same as the author’s. If they are different, we need to discern what the reasons were that the changes were made, and if they harm the original story’s message. If this is so, then the film has wasted the story, and we should consider it a trite attempt to purely please the masses without conveying any real message.

Joseph M. Pence

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