A Long Way from Mid-Century New Orleans to Millennium New Jersey

         If for nothing else, Elia Kazan's 1951 film version of Tennessee Williams' 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire should forever be remembered as a mark for how far the film industry has come as far as censorship is concerned. Though it is considered tame by most modern viewers, the writers, producers, and director had to constantly fight and compromise in order to give the film everything they felt it needed in order to be successful. Modern writers, producers, and directors are spoiled compared to the pioneers of the industry.

         They no longer have to scratch and claw for their film to be allowed to follow its original version. Of course they still have to make compromises along the way, but most of this pressure probably comes from outside corporate sponsorships instead of a film board in charge of rating decency. With the modern motion picture rating system, they can now take their rating and get along with their lives as long as the rating does not prohibit their target audience from viewing the film.

         Modern film and television have changed drastically from a lack of censorship. I would love to watch an episode of The Sopranos with someone like Elia Kazan. In season three, episode four, "Employee of the Month," mob boss Tony Soprano's (James Gandolfini) psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Braco) is raped in the parking garage close to her office. Obviously the producer, writer, and director of The Sopranos were able to portray the rape in a much different way from the way it was depicted in A Streetcar Named Desire. In A Streetcar Named Desire, the actual rape is only implied. The scene is cut at the exact moment Stanley (Marlon Brando) begins the actual physical assault upon Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh). A younger viewer could easily watch the film without ever realizing there was any sort of sexual assault involved. The ones involved with The Sopranos, on the other hand, were able to show the entire rape sequence. There was no nudity involved in the scene, but there would never be any question of whether the violent act had taken place or not.

         Censorship is a double-edged sword in entertainment. The rape scene in The Sopranos leaves an emotional impression on the viewer. It was by far the most horrifying thing I have ever seen on television because the viewer is forced to see Dr. Melfi's expression throughout the scene. This is something a viewer could never take away from A Streetcar Named Desire; but, at the same time, there are some people that should not be able to see the same scene.

         In the end, I believe that lessening of censorship was a necessary step for film and television. The art is given more power when it is free from restrictions, and I believe all art forms should be given the freedom to portray the real world, or the world as the artist sees it. Horrible things happen all the time, but we as a society would be unable to progress if we pretended that the world was a different place from what it really is.

Kevin Kraus

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