Paradise Lost: Censorship and Hypocrisy in the Italian Film Cinema Paradiso

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I love movies. I especially adore those films with an artistic, literary quality that is timeless and classical. In my experience, Italian movies seldom fail to evoke such feelings in me, and Cinema Paradiso was no disappointment.

This heartwarming story about a little boy’s love affair with movies, and his subsequent coming-of-age in the repressive environment of ecclesiastical censorship and hypocrisy stirred great emotion in me, as I expected it would. The young Toto made me feel his awe as he attempted to see the forbidden film images hidden from him by his friend Alfredo at the behest of the town priest.

The issue of censorship ran deep throughout the film. I believe censorship can actually provide a valid function in a community in some circumstances and situations, such as the protection of children from harmful imagery, literature or speech. Pornography, for example, can and should have its availability limited only to consenting adults. Falsely holding oneself out to be someone else, fraud, is also certainly not a protected form of free speech and should be censored.

As a staunch civil libertarian, I have always believed that communities should set their own standards on censorship as much as possible. However as Rosenblatt (2002) points out in his persuasive essay about Cinema Paradiso, without the neutral and objective oversight of outsiders – such as the United States Supreme Court – even well-intentioned censorship can become repressive.

Even in the movie, little Toto’s friend Alfredo felt that the local priest’s strictures were repressive. He told Toto, “You leave [the village] or you will never find your life in so narrow-minded a place.”

The priest’s attempts to protect the town from movies’ love scenes were presented in a comical manner in the film, and certainly they were ridiculous, but not only for the way the scenes were produced. The censorship struck me as hypocritical and nonsensical if viewed as necessary to protect...
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