There are a lot of interesting things I ought to take the time to blog about, but instead I’d just like to ask our BYU audience a quick question: what’s the story behind this? What kind of changes have there been in the International Cinema program?
The basic story is pretty straightforward, and pretty familiar to those of us with any experience with BYU’s usual approach to public works of art, theater, film, music, and so forth. Those in charge of International Cinema have pulled the Mandarin film Hero, the most recent movie by acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou to be released in the U.S., from their line-up because of “complaints about a questionable sex scene.” For those who haven’t seen the film (which has been rated PG-13 in the U.S.), the Deseret News article describes the scene (during which the principals are completely covered by a bed sheet, for whatever that’s worth) quite well: “[B]ackground sounds during a 20-second portion of the film suggests sexual activity is occurring. [Travis] Anderson [the IC program director] said an Herbal Essence shampoo commercial is probably more graphic, but he didn’t want to risk offending viewers.”
Ok, so again, nothing new here: no official statement one way or another from the administration or Church Office Building, just a regretable but understandable response to various (I’m willing to bet anonymous) complaints. Bureaucracies and organizations the world over all act (or react, as the case may be) in the same way. As Anderson puts it (and you can almost see him shrugging his shoulders as he does), “the administration is hypersensitive about anything to do with sex or nudity,” and that means the program has to “choose films that in their entirety will pass muster… [which is] becoming increasingly difficult, especially at a school that’s as conservative as BYU.”
The thing is, when I was at BYU in the late 80s and early 90s, IC was the one artistic venue on campus which seemed completely immune to that “hypersensitivity,” and the demand that any displayed work of art qualify in its “entirety.” IC showed Manon of the Spring, which featured a half-minute full frontal nude shot of a very attractive woman dancing around a pond. It showed Toto the Hero, which included a scene where a fully nude teen-age boy and girl bathed together at length. More relevantly, it showed such Zhang Yimou films as Ju Duo and Raise the Red Lantern, both of which include scenes of intense and violent sexuality.
So anyway, I guess my question is: can BYU folk today still count on IC to show films which push the typical BYU student’s envelope? Or has whatever (perhaps merely apparent?) power it once had to stand impervious to the vague cultural pressures of the place gone the way of the dodo?
(Incidentally, strictly on artistic grounds, I don’t think the loss of Hero is that big a deal; the film it was replaced by, Shall We Dance?, is a much better movie. While Hero is a good film, I don’t think Zhang Yimou’s style meshes with the martial arts genre as well as some people think; hopefully House of Flying Daggers will be better.)