CAPE TOWN—Here they come now. Bobby’s friends. Boys and girls in bell-bottoms, hair moderately long, laughing and smoking cigarettes, chatting, taking seats on the parlor floor. It’s Illegal Movie Night in South Africa and Bobby is setting the scene for me.
“Every film that comes to South Africa has to go to the Publications Control Board, and they decide whether or not it might lead to moral, political or racial aberrations if shown to the faithful citizenry. Not very many make it to the downtown theaters. Two years ago Cape Town supported seven theaters and now there are four, and one of those is running films that are 20 years old.”
Fellini’s Satyricon and A Clockwork Orange were banned outright, Bobby says. So were In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Sunday Bloody Sunday and Cabaret were edited and restricted to people over 23. They cut 45 minutes from Woodstock: now somebody introduces Arlo Guthrie and Santana comes on. All nudity is always cut, leaving about half of Hollywood’s current product hanging in well-clothed shreds. In the newspaper ads it said Britt Ekland was in Get Carter, but after the censors got finished she wasn’t. They cut the final scene from The Graduate because Dustin Hoffman was swinging a cross. They cut the scene of Janis drinking in Monterey Pop. Taking Off and The Liberation of LB Jones were banned outright. So was Zappa’s 200 Motels. The Unforgiven has just been released after 13 years, because there was an Indian in it—and that’s a John Wayne flick.
“You think that’s far out,” says the guy who’s plugging in the 16mm projector, “wait’ll you hear about The King and I. The posters showed Yul Brynner, barechested, holding Deborah Kerr. Since Siamese are Asians and Asians are non-whites, this wasn’t allowed, so the posters were altered to show Deborah Kerr in the arms of a … raceless shadow.”
Bobby introduces his friend, saying he gets the films from a friend of a friend of a friend who has access to the mailroom of a legitimate distributor, who makes copies before they’re sent to the Publications Board. His name is Warren and he smokes thick, smelly cigars.
Warren says business is great. Not just here in Bobby’s parlor but all over Cape Town, every Sunday night, people are watching banned movies, because either you can’t see the good movies at all or they’ve been cut so badly you can’t follow what’s happening.
So, Warren says, the people pay seven rand (about $9) to rent a projector, another ten rand for a piece of cinematic crap, R 15 or R 20 for a decent flick, and invite their friends over to help cover the costs.
“You want to know how great business is? We send somebody along with the film and as soon as the first reel is shown in Home A, it’s rushed to Home B, then to Home C and so on, so that by the time the evening’s over, that one print has been shown in seven homes.”
People only ask over their closest friends, Bobby says. Others you can never trust, because there are too many government spies.
It begins to sound like the plot to a bad movie.