A Clockwork Naartjie:
Censorship of Kubrick in South Africa

by Craig Clark

First, a word of explanation about the title of this essay. A 'naartjie' is a small, watery and sickly-sweet South African citrus fruit, as much an ikon of South Africa as say, Apartheid was, once upon a time... (the name, by the way, translates literally as 'something very small that makes you nauseous...').

Three Kubrick films to my knowledge have one way or another fallen foul of the South African Directorate of Publications (hereafter referred to as the DOP). In chronological order, they are:

A Clockwork Orange

The film was banned on its original release in South Africa, I suspect during its preview by the DOP: I really cannot imagine that they got much further than the opening shot, with the furniture in the Korova Milkbar, before they decided to ban it. Most films and books to be banned by the DOP were banned at this stage, but in addition, a work could be banned after its release if any member of the public found it objectionable: at this point, the DOP would reconvene to consider the film/book in the light of the objection, and if it agreed that the work in question was 'objectionable', it would be banned.

South Africans then had to wait until the early 1980s, before they had a chance to see the film. In 1979, the pseudo-independent 'homeland' of Bophuthatswana became the first of the 'homelands' to establish a casino so that we staunch adherents to White Christian Nationalist Civilisation could have someplace to go to gamble, watch topless cabarets, and pornographic movies (all of which, if they had taken place in 'white' South Africa, would have led directly to the Collapse of Civilisation As We Knew It). This was the (infamous) Sun City, nicknamed 'Sin City' by the South African press because of the relaxation on the strict South African laws concerning gambling and pornography which prevailed in Bophuthatswana. Among the trashy pornographic films which were screened at Sun City, A Clockwork Orange was also shown, late in 1982 as I recall: it enjoyed a relatively brief run, presumably because the patrons of the blue movie cinemas found it extremely disappointing. It would be interesting to know how Kubrick would have responded to his film being screened under these circumstances.

Two years previously, the DOP had revised their standpoint on nudity in the arts (as an indication, late in the 1960s, reproductions of Michaelangelo's David were banned on the grounds that they were 'obscene'), and nudity was allowed for the first time on South African cinema screens (see below). This heralded the beginning of a slightly more liberal censorship policy in regard to nudity, not politics (see also below). Late in 1983, the DOP reviewed a number of films and released them on circuit. In some cases, as for example Louis Malle's Pretty Baby, the film had been banned and never screened before: other films, like Francis Coppolla's Apocalypse Now had been heavily censored, often into incomprehensibility.

A Clockwork Orange was one of the films which came under consideration, and in September 1984, the DOP released it, with one cut and one 'airbrushing', under strict conditions for governing its screening. The cut was from the final moments of the film, Alex's fantasy of cavorting in the snow; the glimpse we have of his penis when he is undressing on his arrival in prison was obscured by a black airbrushed cloud, and the film was released only on condition that:

1. It was only shown to audiences over the age of 21: this was to be strictly enforced, on penalty of legal prosecution (by this stage, most cinemas casually ignored the age restrictions imposed by the DOP. Fortunately for me, I had turned 21 a few months previously.).

2. It was shown only in small cinemas with an established reputation for showing 'art movies'.

3. The film was not to be released on video, and possession of the film on video was illegal.

These conditions were still in force as recently as 1991, when a local 'art-movie' cinema screened the film in repetory as part of a festival of 'once-banned' movies. By 1991, of course, White Christian Nationalist Civilisation was in retreat in South Africa, and I supect that were the DOP to review A Clockwork Orange now, it would probably be released uncut and with no ridiculous conditions attached. Since the wheels of South African bureaucracy turn slowly, however, as much now as previously, these restrictions are probably still in place, awaiting an appeal for the film's status to be reviewed.

As it was, the small cinemas where it was shown were mostly filled by the dirty raincoat brigade, many of whom left early during the screenings (I attended two during the first week of its release, and several others thereafter) in muttered disappointment at the fact that the film was clearly not pornographic (IMHO, it is, inter alia its many themes, cinema's most intelligent anti-pornographic statement).

The last time the film was shown on circuit, in Durban where I live at any rate, was at the end of 1991, on the occasion already noted (I saw it four times during its two week run!). A colleague of mine smuggled an uncut copy into the country last year for me from Sweden: the Swedish subtitles are a minor irritant, and even quite interesting, given the parallels between Swedish and Nadsat.

The Shining

The Shining was an historical film in South Africa: it was the first in which South African audiences were actually allowed to see female nipples, but the pubic regions of the woman in the bath were concealed behind an airbrushed cloud (white this time: I wonder if there's meant to be any symbolism there?). The age restriction was No persons under 18, which was standard for 'horror' movies in South Africa at the time.

By the time the film was released for purchase on video in 1990, this cloud had been removed, and there was no age restriction. I suppose the damage had already been done by allowing us to see the nipples in the first place: after all, Nelson Mandela had even been released from prison by then... :)

Full Metal Jacket

In 1987, when Full Metal Jacket was released, it carried a 'No persons under 21' age restriction, and its release on video at any stage was prohibited because of its 'high level of violence and profanity'. There were no restrictions on the cinemas where it could be shown, and I saw it on Durban's second-largest cinema screen.

At that stage, it was also illegal for anyone to 'discredit the system of compulsory National Service in the South African Defense Force' (I am quoting from memory, from the provisions of the national State of Emergency which lasted from June 1986 until February 1990). Since other films far more violent and profane carried lower age restrictions and went onto video within a few months, it seemed apparent to me that this was an attempt to stop people from drawing parallels between Kubrick's depiction of Vietnam and South Africa's own involvement in Namibia and Angola.

These parallels were extremely strong. I was found medically unfit to serve in the SADF (an extreme disappointment, as I am wont to say, from which I only recovered after a big party and many bottles of celebratory champagne), but the scene where Hartman leads Joker et al. marching in their underpants, chanting 'This is my rifle, this is my gun, this one's for shooting, this one's for fun', is identical to an incident narrated by a friend of mine who did serve his two years of hell in the SADF (and who told me that Full Metal Jacket captured the horror of coming under sniper fire, which had happened to him in Angola, more perfectly than any other film he had ever seen).

My suspicions were confirmed two years later, when I was involved in an anti-conscription group formed by staff and students at the University of Natal. We wanted to hire Full Metal Jacket to screen at a fundraising event, and were prohibited by the Directorate of Publications from doing so, ostensibly because there was no way we could guarantee that the film would only be seen by persons over the age of 21. Since the University Film Society regularly screened No Under 21 movies to audiences comprised mostly of undergraduate students between 18 and 20 years of age, it seemed that the film was being kept away from the eyes of people on the grounds that they would see its pertinence to the South African situation. The strict application of censorship laws in late 1980s applied (it would seem) only to some films, and not others.

Of course, early in 1992 Full Metal Jacket was released on video in SA, this time with a (difficult to enforce) "No Under 16" restriction.

I do not know of the censorship history of Lolita in South Africa. The Nabokov novel was banned until 1981, and I suspect that the film would have suffered a similar fate, but censorship in South Africa was also often inconsistent, and Lolita might have been allowed to be shown since it does not actually depict the act of copulation with minors. The film was screened in South Africa on TV in 1991. Similarly, I suspect that the nude scenes in Barry Lyndon were probably cut for the film's original release (I did not see it when it was first screened, a year before I first discovered Kubrick's genius), but these scenes appear to have been restored for the video release.

A final note about odd South African releases of Kubrick's work: in 1978, a few months after Star Wars was released in South Africa, our major film distributor briefly re-released 2001 to 'cash in' on the success of Star Wars. Only two screenings were held in Durban: on consecutive Saturdays at 10h00 in the morning, in Durban's only cinemascope theatre (I attended both screenings: my first exposure to Kubrick. I had read extensively about the film but had never seen it). The promotional material for the film was prefixed by a title card citing George Lucas saying that, despite Star Wars, he still thought 2001 was the best SF film ever made.

The downside of this was that I went to see it with a group of high-school friends who were expecting another Star Wars and hated it; also the cinema was full of small children who got very bored very early on in the movie and started running around throwing popcorn at each other. My reaction? Well, I was only 15 years old, a Science Fiction fanatic for most of that time, and I'd read the book and Lost Worlds of 2001 many times. I remember sitting there and realising that, though Star Wars was really fun (an opinion I still hold), dear God, this film was something else: the finest piece of cinema I'd ever seen, and then some. Seventeen years on, that opinion still holds.