6 Brilliant Ways Movies & TV Shows Stuck It To The Censors
You're on the Internet, so you're but one errant mouse click away from watching all the horrific violence and perverse sex you can stand. It's hard to remember a time when that wasn't the case -- when there were powerful people between you and legally acquiring your choice of sleaze. But back in the day, putting filth up on a screen was ridiculously hard. So it's kind of appropriate that the ways to thwart that censorship were utterly ridiculous, too.
Stanley Kubrick Convinced The MPAA That The Tsunami Of Blood In The Shining Was "Rusty Water"
Blood has always been a vital element of horror movies, action movies, and living in general. There's just one problem: The Motion Picture Association of America (the name you see on the green screen before every movie trailer) specifically forbids showing "blood or open wounds" in any type of advertisement that might be seen by the general public.
Seriously, think back to any particularly bloody film. Doesn't Uma Thurman spend like half of Kill Bill covered in red? Nope: According to the trailer, she was fixing a car and got some motor oil on her track suit.
"Sorry, we meant Have A Strong Argument with Bill."
Similarly, this zombie from the Shaun Of The Dead trailer doesn't have blood on his face -- he simply hasn't shaved in a while.
He even grew hair on his collar.
So you might be wondering: If even Tarantino can't get away with showing too much blood in a trailer (it's why the vampires in From Dusk Till Dawn were apparently filled with green juice), then how the hell did Stanley Kubrick put this in a trailer all the way back in 1980?
It seems the elevator was full of horny anime characters.
That's pretty much the whole trailer for The Shining, by the way: a static shot of an empty lobby filling with blood. How did Kubrick convince the censors to let him do that? By being full of shit, essentially. When Warner Bros sent the trailer to the MPAA, they called back to ask what the literal bloody hell they'd just seen (and presumably to tell Kubrick that if he needed anyone to talk to, they were there for him). WB's response: That wasn't blood, it was merely "rusty water." Obviously, the MPAA bought it, because a wacky comedy about a hotel with poor plumbing sounds exactly like the sort of movie Kubrick would do.
"HEEEEERE'S JO-- holy shit, Wendy, did you clog the toilet again? God damn."
Audiences weren't fooled so easily, and a furious MPAA pulled the trailer from theaters. Dooming that poor movie about shiny stuff or whatever to total obscurity.
The Fonz Could Only Wear A Leather Jacket If He Was Near A Motorcycle (So He Always Was)
The Fonz was basically a cool leather jacket that gained sentience. And yet, if you look at his earliest appearances, you might notice there's something important missing:
Namely, 90 percent of his personality (the other 10 percent is his hair).
When he was first introduced, Fonzie was only allowed to wear a windbreaker, making him look as dull and unassuming as ... well, Henry Winkler. The executives at ABC forbade the show's producers from showing Fonzie in a leather jacket because they thought it made him look like a criminal, and shows starring morally bankrupt characters could never do well on American television. Article continues after the ad ...
Show creator Garry Marshall happened to think that this cool biker character would do better dressed up like a biker, instead of like a biker's disapproving conservative roommate, Dwayne. So he came up with a plan. First, he sent the executives a memo pointing out that Fonzie couldn't ride a bike in that shitty windbreaker, because he could catch a cold. Worse yet, what if fans imitated him, and then they fucking died? Dead viewers means lower ratings, so the network agreed to let the Fonz wear the jacket if and only if he was near his motorcycle.
That's when Marshall sent another memo to the people who worked at the show: Fonzie was to be near his motorcycle at all times. And we mean at all times. Even indoors.
"That's weird, I just ran into another bike in the bathroom. Anyway ..."
That's why whenever you saw the Fonz in those early episodes, he was always leaning on, straddling, or standing near a motorcycle, as if he had some sort of bike fetish. Eventually, Fonzie became so popular that the executives wanted to rename the show Fonzie's Happy Days. At that point, he was making them so much money that he could wear a shirt that said "I KILL CHILDREN" for all they cared, so the motorcycle rule was dropped.
Directors Have Been Saying "It's Art!" To Show Boobies For 100 Years
The transparently bullshit "No no, these titties are necessary -- for the art!" excuse is part of proud tradition that goes back to the early days of Hollywood. This is from A Daughter Of The Gods, back in 1916:
So Titanic was historically accurate.
A year earlier, the makers of a movie called Inspiration had justified its boobage quotient in front of the law with the fact that it was a biopic of Audrey Munson, the model behind several famous statues. This opened the door for a whole subgenre of artsploitation movies, such as the million-dollar skin flick above, in which Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman could be seen walking around covered in nothing but her own hair for absolutely no reason.
Starting in the '30s, it was harder to get away with stuff like that because of stricter censorship codes, but the human urge to look at big gazongas found a way. Like painting topless white women in blackface and pretending they were ritualistic gorilla-fuckers in Africa -- as in the hit "nature documentary" Ingagi, which was actually shot in a Los Angeles zoo.
"And here comes the majestic silverback gorilla, carrying a pizza box. Wonder what he-- oh, dear."
By the 1950s, America was all good and repressed again, but then came Russ Meyer. A recent change in legislation had specified that nakedness wasn't the same as obscenity, leading to the predictable onslaught of flimsily-disguised pornos set in "nudist camps." It was Meyer, however, who brought boobs back to the mainstream with his first masterpiece: The Immoral Mr. Teas, about a delivery guy who goes to the dentist and thus is able for the first time to imagine women naked. By simply having the main character watch naked women without doing anything sexual, Meyer was able to slip his boob-filled movie into respectable theaters (that is, ones without mysteriously sticky seats).
The only scene in the movie that was censored (in Los Angeles, of all places)? One with a (clothed) wife nibbling on her husband's ear.
"Yep, nothing but a therapist doing her job."
"Gah! Not in my nudist comedy!"
Hitchcock Gets Around "No Long Kisses" Rule By Showing Only Short Ones ... For Three Consecutive Minutes
Among the many ridiculous rules that classic-era Hollywood films had to follow in the name of decency was one forbidding "prolonged kissing" -- the rule of thumb was that if you had a kiss that lasted more than three seconds in your movie, the censors would send it back and label you a deranged sex maniac. The prevalent question among the directors of the era, naturally, was "How am I supposed to give someone a boner with that?" The daring, genius, and insane Alfred Hitchcock replied, "Leave that to me."
"You'll be THIS big by the time I'm done."
In 1946, the script for the Nazi-hunting thriller Notorious called for a kiss between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. With two of the sexiest human specimens in the planet at his disposal, Hitchcock decided to make the most of what he had by having them kiss for about three seconds ...
And then, a few moments later, for another three seconds ...
And then another three seconds ...
And so on, for over two and a half minutes, all in the same tracking shot. In between smooching, they stop to talk, answer the phone, and occasionally breathe. Movie audiences at the time were so sex-starved that Notorious became famous for having the "longest kiss" in movie history. Considering that the film came out in 1946, it's quite possible that Hitchcock, and not the end of World War II, caused the baby boom.
And the best part? There was nothing the censors could do to stop this open display of depravity, because Hitchcock and the actors made sure that nothing in the scene could count as "prolonged" except the anatomies of the men watching. As Roger Ebert pointed out, in the end, the rule worked for the best, since an uninterrupted kiss of that duration would have been an "exercise in slobbering." We'll have to check that out; thanks to the Internet, we're reasonably sure we've seen An Exercise In Slobbering volumes three through seven already, and it would be nice to see how the series started.
A BBC Show Popularizes Homosexual Slang In Homophobic Britain
In mid-20th-century England, one of the most dangerous things you could do was be gay and exist at the same time. Simply liking dudes while being one yourself was illegal for decades -- and we don't mean the "OK you guys, cut it out" type of illegal, but the "We'll seriously castrate you with chemicals" one. Just ask Alan Turing.
It was in that environment that the writers of the popular BBC show Round The Horne decided to unleash a whole bunch of unlawful fabulousness to an unsuspecting audience which averaged around 15 million people a night. How? By using a secret gay language called Polari, introduced to the masses through two characters named Julian and Sandy.
Good thing you couldn't see how they were dressed through the radio,
or the authorities might have caught on.
Polari dates back to at least the 19th century, and is the source of phrases like "drag" meaning dressing in clothing that traditionally was from the other gender, "butch" meaning lesbian, "camp" meaning showy or effeminate, and "cafes" meaning trousers (OK, not all of these caught on). Polari went from being an underground secret whispered about in corners to being screamed in polite society when Round The Horne presented Julian and Sandy -- who in retrospect sound kinda like Will And Grace characters speaking in their own version of Klingon. See if you can listen to them for three minutes:
Nevertheless, audiences back then ate that shit up, and as the show went on, Julian and Sandy got more transgressive with their jokes. Like in this sketch, in which they play lawyers:
Get it? Because they could get arrested and castrated at any time? Hilarious.
The show went a long way to help introduce/normalize gay culture to the UK public right as it became legal in 1967. Understandably, though, gay people in Britain were almost immediately embarrassed to have campy characters screaming Polari gibberish on the radio, so the whole thing quickly went out of fashion. We're just sad Turing never got to use it as a code against the Nazis.
Hollywood Actresses Wore Stomach Jewelry To Cover Their (Highly Erotic) Belly Buttons
For a good chunk of time, American censors were determined to remove anything that could be considered remotely sexual from movies and TV shows. If someone, somewhere could use it to masturbate, it was out. This, of course, included the most sensual of bodily orifices: the belly button. (The censors must have been into some freaky shit back then.)
Filmmakers came up with several ways to get away with midriff-bearing, like this modesty-preserving outfit Marilyn Monroe wore in Some Like It Hot:
And yet, somehow, she still got a reputation as a sex symbol.
An alternative was using belly button bling. Using jewels to get away with showing that searing hot abdomen started in 1955, with Joan Collins gluing a ruby into hers for the movie Land Of The Pharaohs.
Actresses with outies used diamond rings, presumably.
One television artist who felt particularly burned by banned belly buttons was major pervert Gene Roddenberry. An actress wasn't allowed to show hers during the 1969 Star Trek episode "All Our Yesterdays." His retaliation? Putting two belly buttons on the same actress for his 1973 movie Genesis II.
We have to assume she has two of everything else, too.
But shockingly, it wasn't this valiant move that finally toppled the dictatorship of the belly-coverers. The first time of note that someone got a belly button on TV was Cher herself on The Cher Show in 1975, a move that caused consternation and sparked protests. It was only allowed at the time because, as producer George Schlatter, an avatar of sensitivity, put it: "... at her weight it's not sexy." Something to consider the next time you hear somebody explain that healthy women were considered more attractive back in the day.
Adam Koski highly recommends you check out Chilling Tales for Dark Nights, which doesn't have a hint of censorship in it.
If you enjoyed the ingenuity here, you'll love some more. Like how The Maltese Falcon got gay all over the place. See what we mean in 6 Sneaky Ways Movies And TV Shows Outsmarted The Censors. Or see how censorship made Eminem into a goofy white kid in 4 Cases Of Censorship That Totally Changed The Message.
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