“Forbidden Images,” a Compilation of Scandalous Scenes from the Early Days of Cinema (NSFW in 1926)

Last night I caught a screen­ing of Park Chan-wook’s new movie The Hand­maid­en, whose dar­ing­ly frank love scenes — by the stan­dards of main­stream cin­e­ma, at least — have already drawn no small amount of inter­na­tion­al noto­ri­ety. That goes espe­cial­ly for a once cen­sor­ship-heavy coun­try like South Korea, where The Hand­maid­en came from and where I saw it. But it also comes just as one more push of the enve­lope in the process that has been broad­en­ing the range of “accept­able” imagery for high-pro­file pro­duc­tions ever since the birth of the medi­um. You can get a sense of just how much it has accom­plished by watch­ing “For­bid­den Images,” the four-minute com­pi­la­tion just above.

“I made this film for the 2007 edi­tion of the 72 Hour Film Fest in Fred­er­ick, MD,” writes its uploader, “These scenes come from a reel of 35mm nitrate that was dis­cov­ered in the pro­jec­tion booth of an old movie the­ater in Penn­syl­va­nia. The pro­jec­tion­ist spliced togeth­er this reel of banned, cen­sored scenes to meet local moral stan­dards or for late night, ‘per­son­al’ screen­ings.” And what does this dis­til­la­tion of pure cin­e­mat­ic scan­dal show us? Bathing beau­ties, jubi­lat­ing flap­pers, faint­ing damsels, whirling lady dervish­es, skirts fly­ing in the wind, and a whole lot of feet, most of them still shod — a far cry from what most of us, absent very spe­cif­ic desires indeed, would con­sid­er forms of tit­il­la­tion today.

Yet at the time, “For­bid­den Images” tells us, film­mak­ers and the­ater own­ers had to cut out these shots lest they face arrest. But what films did they have to cut them out of? The video’s com­menters on Youtube have iden­ti­fied scenes from Fritz Lang’s Metrop­o­lis and Gre­ta Gar­bo in The Temptress, and a 1926 pic­ture called The Black White Sheep. We may laugh at what peo­ple in the silent era con­sid­ered unshow­able, but this com­pi­la­tion presents us with the unavoid­able ques­tion: “Will our cur­rent forms of cen­sor­ship and moral stan­dards appear just as ridicu­lous to future audi­ences?” After all, we can always push the enve­lope a lit­tle fur­ther — and thus far, we always have.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch After the Ball, the 1897 “Adult” Film by Pio­neer­ing Direc­tor Georges Méliès (Almost NSFW)

Metrop­o­lis: Watch a Restored Ver­sion of Fritz Lang’s Mas­ter­piece (1927)

Watch Scar­let Street, Fritz Lang’s Cen­sored Noir Film, Star­ring the Great Edward G. Robin­son (1945)

Watch Jean Genet’s Only Film, the Cen­sored A Song of Love (1950)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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