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Streetcars Named Desire

Streetcars Named Desire

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Published by: girlpowershady on Nov 04, 2012
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And Transfer to Cemetery: The Streetcars Named DesireAuthor(s): Leonard J. LeffReviewed work(s):Source:
Film Quarterly,
Vol. 55, No. 3 (Spring 2002), pp. 29-37Published by:
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Film Quarterly 
, Vol. no. 55, Issue no. 3, pages 29-37. ISSN: 0015-1386. © 2002 by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Send requests for permission to reprint to: Rights and Permissions, University of California Press, Journals Division, 2000 Center Street, Suite 303, Berkeley, CA 94704-1223.
M
otion pictures, one of the plastic arts, have re-cently become more plastic than ever. Since the1980s, archivists and studios have rearranged scenes in
 Lawrence of Arabia,
deleted last-minute, potentiallyill-chosen additions in
 Blade Runner,
and, in the caseof features like
Spartacus,Nights of Cabiria,
and
 AStreetcar Named Desire,
restored what the censors hadyears ago barred.Applause for such film restorations has beenhearty, except in essays by Greg Solman, in
FilmComment,
and Russell Merritt, in
Film History
. Sol-man finds so-called director’s cuts “both futile andwrongheaded.” Footage added to
Spartacus,
for in-stance, restores “a bad scene in a generally uninter-esting attempted epic,” while footage added to
 Lawrence of Arabia
“ruptures some of the better edit-ing rhythms.” As Solman concludes, the new eventu-ally destroys the old. “Original versions soon will existonly in the fragments of our collective memory. Then,to quote the authority, ‘All those moments will be lostin time, like tears in rain.’” Focusing on
 Intolerance,
restored by the Museum of Modern Art, Merrittechoes Solman’s point. Over time, he says, the Mu-seum’s incongruous version of Griffith’s work will,thanks to the MoMAimprimatur, become the stan-dard version of the film.Merritt and Solman wrote their essays before thererelease of 
 AStreetcar Named Desire,
the 1993 version
29
Leonard J.Leff 
 
that restores four scattered minutes of footage thatCatholic censors in the Legion of Decency ordered cutfrom the picture before its original 1951 release. Thetwo historians might well prefer 1951 to 1993, even asothers among their peers, one suspects, prefer 1993 to1951. The mere notion of preferences, however, evokesHitchcock’s story of the junkyard goats chewing on oldlm canisters: You know, one goat says to the other, thebook was better than the picture, or, per
Streetcar,
the1993 version was better than the 1951. Praising oneversion over the other misses an important point. Whatfollows shows why.
1
The story of the censorship of 
 AStreetcar Named De-sire
has been told by director Elia Kazan, playwrightTennessee Williams, and assorted film historians. Inlight of publicity surrounding the 1993 rerelease,though, it merits retelling. After all, the 1993 rereleaseis less the “Original Director’s Version” (as it has beenadvertised) than the Production Code Administrationcut, the one approved after negotiations betweenWarner Bros. and the industry’s own censors.The Production Code Administration (PCA) hadfretted over
Streetcar 
early on, even in screenplayform. Had the only controversial issue been the ho-mosexuality of Blanche DuBois’s husband, Kazanmight have fought for—and won—a concession on it.Instead, hoping to soften the agency’s resistance to thelm, especially its treatment of the rape, he added aplot turn “which would effectively establish that[Blanche’s husband’s] problem was not one of homo-sexuality.” (The 1993 version does not restore thisthread. Note, too, that slipcases of the Warner Bros.laserdisc and DVD ag some—but not all—chaptersthat have new footage.) The Production Code officesubsequently approved the rape—if done “by sugges-tion and delicacy” and if Stella abandoned Stanleyrather than (as in the play) let him fiddle with herblouse and woo her anew. Stanley’s “punishment”—the “loss of his wife’s love”—answered ProductionCode director Joseph Breen’s standard demand forwhat he called “compensating moral values.”
2
The press, having scolded Breen for denying
The Bicycle Thie
the Production Code seal, may have af-fected his treatment of 
Streetcar 
. He ordered cuts, cer-tainly. They were tiny, however, and futile: TennesseeWilliams had woven an erotic aura into the very fab-ric of the text. Kazan subsequently told Jack Warnerand the press that the Production Code Administration“[let] us down very easy as far as the [ProductionCode] seal requirements went.” Whatever the case, thecost of the PCA’s forbearance was the arousal of localand Catholic censors. Memphis censor Lloyd Binford,for example, found “too much gambling” in
Streetcar 
.Warner executive A. S. Howson was studio liaison tothe municipal Board of Theatrical Censors, and by Oc-tober 1951, when he thought he had nished his work on
Streetcar,
he learned that Binford wanted cuts. “Ihave gone over the picture thoroughly,” Howson wroteto Warnersrepresentative in Memphis, “(for the1000th time, more or less) and nd that it is impossi-ble to reduce the gambling sequences.”
3
While Binford was a whisper in the Southernwilderness, the Legion of Decency was a church choirin full cry. “The Legion may have been willing to ac-cept the view, as it had in the
 Beyond the Forest 
pro-logue, that ‘it is salutary ... to view ... naked uglinessonce in a while,’but it was unwilling to make a habitof it,” Frank Walsh notes in
Sin and Censorship: TheCatholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry
.“From the momentthe word ‘DESIRE’is seen on thestreetcar,” said a Legion official on screening the
Streetcar 
that Breen had approved, “the entire tone of the picture is ‘desire’(physical desire).”
4
It hardlyhelped that Vivien Leigh (Blanche), in pronouncingthe word
desire,
turned its two syllables into three:
de-sire-uh
.The Legion told Warner Bros. that the ProductionCode cut of 
Streetcar 
would be rated “C” (for “Con-demned”), which, as the studio understood, could block bookings in major theaters, especially in cities withheavy Catholic populations. On the other hand, the Le-gion added, if Warners made selected cuts andpromised to releaseonly the recut print throughout theworld, the “C” would be exchanged for the more ac-ceptable “B.” Jack Warner ordered editor David Weis-bart to recut the picture.According to Michael Arick, who launched the1993 rerelease of 
Streetcar,
Weisbart anticipated aneventual restoration of the cuts; he took out the trims(Arick says) “in a way that made it easy for them to beput back in again.” The delicacy of that operationnotwithstanding, Kazan was incensed, or so he ap-peared in the column he wrote for the
 New York Times
in 1951. In correspondence that surfaced in the Pro-duction Code les, however, he boasted to Jack Warnerthat any censorship, though bothersome, would alsobe “excellent publicity.” More than 40 years later, aspart of the promotion of the rerelease, the censorshipof 
Streetcar 
remained excellent publicity.
5
Most reviews of the rerelease (what Kenneth Turancalled “the
Streetcar 
for the ages”) celebrated the no-
30   

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