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Second #1, 00:01, Image © Studio Canal   The “A” on The Third Man‘s official rating certificate is meant to stand for “Adult” and by 1949 no young people would be allowed into the theater, making The Third Man the British equivalent of an R rated movie. At the time there were only two ratings in […]

Second #1, 00:01, Image © Studio Canal

 

The “A” on The Third Man‘s official rating certificate is meant to stand for “Adult” and by 1949 no young people would be allowed into the theater, making The Third Man the British equivalent of an R rated movie. At the time there were only two ratings in the UK, Universal and Adult, but the British Board of Film Censorship (BBFC) would introduce Horror and EXplicit in the next few years. Filmmakers’ guidelines in the United States were stranglingly specific, causing a number of films to be banned outright. America’s stalwart Presbyterian moral defender, Will Hays instituted the MPPDA Production Code that held Hollywood’s head underwater from 1934 until it was finally disregarded with Antonioni’s Blowup (1966). The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled (in 1915’s Mutual Film Company v. Industrial Commission of Ohio) that free speech did not extend to moving pictures, so the club wielded by Will Hays’ commission was a deadly one; a censored film would be banned and destroyed.  One might imagine that across the pond (not the pond adjacent to Hollywood) rules would be a little different, but the British film board’s guidelines were strikingly similar.

The British Board of Film Censorship’s grounds for deletion from 1916: (in bold are guidelines that will pertain to our analysis of The Third Man)

1. Indecorous, ambiguous and irreverent titles and subtitles
2. Cruelty to animals
3. The irreverent treatment of sacred subjects
4. Drunken scenes carried to excess
5. Vulgar accessories in the staging
6. The modus operandi of criminals
7. Cruelty to young infants and excessive cruelty and torture to adults, especially women
8. Unnecessary exhibition of under-clothing
9. The exhibition of profuse bleeding
10. Nude figures
11. Offensive vulgarity, and impropriety in conduct and dress
12. Indecorous dancing
13. Excessively passionate love scenes
14. Bathing scenes passing the limits of propriety
15. References to controversial politics
16. Relations of capital and labour
17. Scenes tending to disparage public characters and institutions
18. Realistic horrors of warfare
19. Scenes and incidents calculated to afford information to the enemy
20. Incidents having a tendency to disparage our Allies
21. Scenes holding up the King’s uniform to contempt or ridicule
22. Subjects dealing with India, in which British Officers are seen in an odious light, and otherwise
attempting to suggest the disloyalty of British Officers, Native States or bringing into disrepute
British prestige in the Empire
23. The exploitation of tragic incidents of the war
24. Gruesome murders and strangulation scenes
25. Executions
26. The effects of vitriol throwing
27. The drug habit. e.g. opium, morphia, cocaine, etc
28. Subjects dealing with White Slave traffic
29. Subjects dealing with premeditated seduction of girls
30. ‘First Night’ scenes
31. Scenes suggestive of immorality
32. Indelicate sexual situations
33. Situations accentuating delicate marital relations
34. Men and women in bed together
35. Illicit relationships
36. Prostitution and procuration
37. Incidents indicating the actual perpetration of criminal assaults on women
38. Scenes depicting the effect of venereal disease, inherited or acquired
39. Incidents suggestive of incestuous relations
40. Themes and references relative to ‘race suicide’
41. Confinements
42. Scenes laid in disorderly houses
43. Materialization of the conventional figure of Christ

Though many of these guidelines are laughably empiricist (and thus not empirical) it’s interesting to think that this Orwellian certificate was a de facto jumping-off point for moviegoers in 1949, and for our analysis today. Would audiences be relieved to see that Sir Sidney Harris (and thus the Queen herself) threw their signature on the film, literally. Does that signature somehow erase the moral ambiguity inherent in the film? We will come to see a city ruled by four governing powers, all four of which cannot communicate with the others except in a broken German, the language of the occupied, and all four of whose jumbling jurisdictions require 4 policemen for every duty. Does the Queen’s errant knight signing this film frame erase the criticism inherent in this portrait? This frame seems to be the filmic equivalent of the phrase “Don’t take this the wrong way but . . .” or even “Promise you won’t get mad” as if somehow by half-book-ending a harsh criticism in an apology, it becomes a positive statement. Jean Paul Sartre wrote in Being and Nothingness in 1943:

Bad faith seeks to flee the in-itself by means of the inner disintegration of my being. But it denies this very disintegration as it denies that it is in itself in bad faith. Bad faith seeks by means of “not-being-what-one-is” to escape from the in-itself which I am not in the mode of being what one is not. It denies  itself as bad faith and aims at the in-itself which I am not in the mode of “not-being-what-one-is-not.” (Being and Nothingness, Washington Square Press, 1984 pg. 116)

Bad faith is the vilest, most self-destructive form of lying, since—according to Sartre—the liar thinks that what they say is true. This frame is a lie that thinks that it is the truth. But though Orson Welles didn’t direct this film, his grand influence is already felt here, starting the film with a lie. Just as *spoiler alert* “rosebud’s” truth is a lie—it never reveals Kane’s secrets to Thompson—this frame can do nothing to reveal the secrets of the film to the innocent viewer. Even its form is a lie, the beguiling white on black seeming to taunt us into thinking in a binary system of white and black, good and evil. But through the film this lie will be buried, the lie of the binary under shovelfuls of The Third Man.

Over the absolute length of one year — two times per week — Still Dots will grab a frame every 62 seconds of Carol Reed’s The Third Man. This project will run until December 2012, when we finish at second 6324. For a complete archive of the project, click here. For an introduction to the project, click here.