It never ends well when councillors sit in judgement and turn themselves into censors and guardians of our moral fibre.
The city faithers of Glasgow left themselves wide open to derision when they condemned Monty Python’s Life Of Brian as blasphemous, and took 30 years to grant it a licence to be screened – despite never having received a single complaint about it in the first place.
It is also 30 years ago this month that councillors in Kirkcaldy embarked down a similar route, this time over a screening of The Last Temptation Of Christ.
Martin Scorsese’s three-hour long masterpiece had provoked strong reaction in some countries, resulting in it being banned or censored.
Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Greece, and Turkey refused to screen it outright for years, and Christian groups mounted protests outside theatres when it showed in other countries.
Scorsese’s adaptation of Kazantzakis’ book is a presentation of Christ as a human; an ordinary man coming to terms with the fact that he is The Messiah who must die on the cross.
There were several scenes and passages of dialogue which caused offence, but the big issue was a closing sequence when Christ is crucified. In a dream sequence he is taken from the cross by a guardian angel and allowed to continue his life as an ordinary mortal, thereby suggesting the Resurrection does not take place.
It was slotted into the winter 1989 schedule of the Adam Smith Centre, and 20,000 leaflets were sent to households across Fife with details on all the forthcoming films.
Quite why the elected members of Kirkcaldy District Council decided to then ban the screening remains a bit of a mystery.
They said some complaints had been receive – the number was never divulged – but there were no letters of concern published by the Fife Free Press.
Even Kirkcaldy Presbytery was unaware Last Temptation was being shown, and the Rev Bryan Tomlinson, clerk, confirmed members hadn’t discussed it.
With the February 5 scheduled screening on hold, councillors decided they needed a private viewing before making a formal decision on whether a film already passed by the Board Of Censors with an ‘18’ certificate was fit for local people to see.
Councillor Karen Carrick, leader of the Labour administration, said the stance had been taken in order to allow the council to consider its position on the proposed screening,
“We would really need to see the film before deciding whether it was suitable for showing,” she said. “My own personal view is that people should be allowed to make up their own minds on whether or not to see it, but the council must look at the wider interests of the people of the district.”
That stance left Peter Quigley, convener of the theatre’s film management committee utterly astounded.
“Our audiences expect us to provide interesting and thought provoking material, and showing this film, which has attracted worldwide attention, fulfils that commitment,” he said.
And so it came to pass that the private screening was artamnged for a select number of coun cillors ... and me!
The Press chanced its arm and asked for an invite so we too could judge this controversial piece of cinema. To our slight surprise, the council agreed.
From memory there were around a dozen of us dotted around the theatre watching this marathon movie to determine whether it was suitable for the good folk of the Lang Toun to witness.
Of course it was.
Amid talk of “dangerous” censorship and a puzzled Mr Quigley musing“I’m not quite sure what this reaction in the first place”, councillors were satisfied the UK’s film censors had indeed done their job.
Councillor Carrick said: “Recognition was given to the fact that the District Council has a very limited role to play in determining the suitability of films for public viewing.
“There is a Board of Censors and we think it is only right and proper that they should have responsibility for deeming whether or not films should be seen publicly.”
On the plus side, the hullabaloo meant the film’s screening had huge publicity which probably accounted for a pretty good turn out when it was shown.
Thirty years on, Last Temptation remains a film which can spark powerful responses, but, the Lang Toun took it all in its stride
Strangely enough, the show which DID provoke some flak that same week was the stage version of The Sash, Hector McMillan’s drama about sectarianism.
It starred the late, great Gerard Kelly – and his comments in an interview with the Press about a certain football team not signing Catholics sparked more letters of complaint than the Scorsese epic!