Awakening the film censors’ archive in [CENSORED] (2018)

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Claire Henry


[CENSORED] (2018) is a feature-length collage of clips excised from international films by the Australian Film Censorship Board between 1958 and 1971, which historian and artist Sari Braithwaite uncovered in the National Archives of Australia. While the censored clips were archived alphabetically, Braithwaite curates them by motif, capturing the numbness generated by archivists’ and censors’ processes through repetitive bombardment of similar imagery in various categories of sex and violence. Compiling and re-categorising this trove of censored fragments produces a new perspective not only into past practices of censorship but more insightfully, into patterns of gendered dynamics and action in narrative cinema. Through feminist critical practice, Braithwaite deploys a ‘layered gaze’ and expands a critique of censorship to a critique of cinema. Braithwaite’s film mobilizes ‘productive misuse’ (Baron 2020), not for her original goal of damning censorship, but to reflect on cinematic fixations (including female nudity and sexual violence) and spectatorial implication. By suturing the censors’ excisions, Braithwaite draws attention to her own growing feminist ‘disenchantment’ (Elsaesser 2005) with cinema culture as she engages with the censors’ offcuts. [CENSORED] documents an awakening of – and from – the censors’ archive. The film evolves through sensory engagement with this archive, and in doing so, provides insight into the comparable – and sometimes complicit – processes of film spectatorship, censorship, and audio-visual archival research. 

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