Famous banned artwork: the CW edit
Following the furore over the Eva Green banned poster (Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For) Flora Hughes-Onslow profiles famous censored art through the ages
With Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For just hitting the big screen, perhaps the most famous thing about the movie so far is the apparently dubious semi-nude film poster featuring Eva Green which was banned in the US as too explicit (interestingly, while Green's breasts were censored, the gun still features prominently). The Motion Picture Association of America ban continues a long tradition of censorship in art. Here then are some of our favourite censored artworks, from Ai Wei Wei to Noel Coward.
- Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin, Je T'aime Moi Non Plus
The breathy, suggestive and shamelessly seductive style of Gainsbourg and Birkin 's late-1960s hit led to it being banned from radio in the UK, Spain, Italy, Spain and several other mortified European countries. Originally written for and recorded with Brigitte Bardot (their recording session apparently involved "heavy petting", in classic Gainsbourg style) before he traded her in for the Birkin model, the lyrics 'Je vais et je viens, entre tes reins' are interspersed with sexual groans and sighs culminating in the sound of an orgasm. When the Vatican publicly denounced the song for its apparently offensive eroticism, Birkin says Gainsbourg called the Pope 'our greatest PR man' .
- The teachings of Menocchio (16th century Italian miller), Il Formagggio E I Vermi (The Cheese & The Worms)
Although the teachings of Menocchio , a humble 16th century Italian miller, weren't technically banned , it would be fair to say that the powers that be didn't approve, given that he was burned at the stake for heresy in 1599 . Though history does not account for Menocchio's literacy, nor for the books he may have read to influence his view of the cosmos, we do know that he somehow managed to concoct – from the small, relatively remote village of Montereale – a remarkably insightful theory on the formation of the earth. When initially questioned on these blasphemous ideas, Menocchio spoke freely as he did not see how he had done anything wrong, simply saying; 'In my opinion, all was chaos, that is, earth, air, water, and fire were mixed together; and out of that bulk a mass formed – just as cheese is made out of milk – and worms appeared in it, and these were the angels.'
- The Devils, directed by Ken Russell
Starring Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave , Ken Russell' s historical drama slash horror film garnered more than its fair share of criticism upon its release in 1971, receiving an X rating in both Britain and the US and being banned in several countries. The film follows the historical account and story of Urbain Grandier , a 17th century Roman Catholic priest who was executed for witchcraft in Western France, exploring his strange connection with Redgrave's character as a sexually-repressed nun. Featuring disturbing, violent, sexual and religious content, the film couldn't really have been more ripe for censorship and in fact was initially so unpopular that it is still largely unavailable in the home video market.
- Howl, Ginsberg
Possibly the most iconic of the Beatgen texts, Ginsberg's seminal poem Howl (written in 1955 and published a year later) is littered with references to drugs and sex, both heterosexual and homosexual. One line in particular; "who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy", invoked the wrath of the more conservative contingents of society, leading to an obscenity trial as Lawrence Ferlinghetti , City Lights Publisher, was arrested for publishing the book. Thankfully, Judge Clayton Horn eventually declared the poem was of ' redeeming social importance ', dismissing the allegations, and it has gone on to gain status as one of the greatest works of American literature.
- Signior Dildo, Lord Rochester
Lord Rochester , ever the aficionado when it comes to the lewd and taboo, penned this satirical poem urging King Charles II to encourage the marriage of his brother to an Italian Catholic Princess, namely so that the union would bring about the wholesale importation of Italian dildos . Presenting women as carnal but human beings, Signior Dildo (You ladies all of merry England), lampooned the straight-laced attitudes of the ladies at Court, speaking openly of the appeal of the dildo over the average man; 'But when you his virtuous abilities know, You'll fall down and worship Signior Dildo', and 'Our dainty fine duchesses have got a trick, To dote on a fool for the sake of his prick, The fops were undone did their graces but know, The discretion and vigour of Signior Dildo.'
- This Was A Man, Noel Coward
Due to its comic treatment of the somewhat sensitive moral issue of adultery (especially delicate at the time of writing), Noel Coward's controversial three act creation This Was A Man was refused licence by the Lord Chamberlain in 1926, despite the fact that his earlier play The Vortex (revolving around drug addiction), passed the censors with comparative ease. Only this summer did it finally grace the stage for its first professional production in the UK (at the Finborough Theatre ), which served as a glowing showcase of Coward's trademark wit and vivacity, through his hilarious treatment of the affairs of various aristocrats.
- Madame Bovary, Flaubert
A classic that simply couldn't be omitted from any censored artworks list, Gustave Flaubert' s incredible debut novel is now recognised as one of the most influential pieces of literature ever written but was banned in France upon publication. The relatively simple but powerful plot documents the woeful tale of the young Emma Bovary as she embarks on various doomed extramarital liaisons, and was enough at the time to earn Flaubert a prosecution for ' offences against public morals '. Though it's hardly surprising that at the time the concept of escaping the insipidity of provincial life through the thrill of adultery seemed a threatening one, what's truly impressive is that the premise of this masterpiece feels just as relevant and profound today.
- Ai Wei Wei's work
Probably one of the Chinese Government's least favourite individuals, Ai Wei Wei 's bold and forward-thinking multimedia work has lent him a powerful voice on the international art stage. As one of China's most prominent dissidents , he has had all his online portals shut down (bar Twitter, which remains the one platform Chinese censors have yet to learn to control), has been under house arrest, is subject to a travel ban (therefore unable to attend his own international shows), and has been arrested more times than you've had hot dinners. Overall, not the easiest of career choices, but his determination in continuing to campaign for freedom of speech, combined with his ambitious, provocative and unique art , is awe-inspiring, to say the least.
- Lolita, Nabokov
One of the most thought-provoking and arresting books ever written, Nabokov's 1955 tale follows the unlikely romance of narrator Humbert Humbert with his thirteen-year-old 'lover' Lolita . Making for extremely uncomfortable reading and forcing one to question one's attitudes and definitions of both consensual and underage sex, its controversial and sexual content led to it being temporarily banned in several countries including France, Britain and South Africa – though now of course its importance is fully acknowledged in the literary world.
- The Satanic Verses, Rushdie
Rushdie's highly polemical but acclaimed tome The Satanic Verses provoked one of the strongest reactions of anger in literary history. Inspired in part by the life of Muhammad , the book explored a group of alleged Quranic verses that allow intercessory prayers to be made to three Pagan goddesses. Though it was largely positively received and praised across the world, being nominated for and winning various accolades including the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award , it was also condemned by many. Seeing it as blasphemous and offensive,import of the book was banned in India, with countless countries following suit from Bangladesh, Sudan, and South Africa to Kenya, Thailand, and Singapore and a fatwā was issued ordering Muslims to kill the author.
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