Directed by Joe Tropea
Starring John Waters, Pat Moran, Liam Hughes
You can always count of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival to stock up on documentaries about movies, and one of this year’s highlights is Sickies Making Films, a very detailed account of America’s censorship laws on movies from since the birth of cinema up til 1981, seen through the perspective of Maryland, the last US state to rid itself of a movie censorship board.
The documentary relays its immense, yet concise information from talking heads of only a few participants. Some of the more popular ones (like gross-out filmmaker John Waters) only briefly appear to get a few good lines in (like Waters’ excellent statement that movie-goers can enact their own censorship by not going to movies they believe they wouldn’t like). These contributors are incredibly knowledgeable and informative on the history of America’s censorship laws, elaborating on how American movie production was influenced by censorship, how America would edit foreign films whose censorship laws were far less restrictive, and describe how censorship laws changed as the increasingly liberated culture changed.
Sickies Making Films could be divided up into two sections – the first on censorship from the birth of cinema to the early 1960s, where what now seems like the most innocuous on-screen content would have to be heavily excised, and the second on censorship from the 1960s onwards, where the burgeoning counter-culture pushed for more realistic and expressive depictions of violence, sex, and drugs on screen.
This view on American censorship is rather vast, though is still seen through the microcosm of its most restrictive state, Maryland. It’s a little unfortunate the story stops at when censorship finished in that state in the early ‘80s, as there was still a range of movie censorship issues that persisted. The beginning and end of Sickies Making Films make essential statements on censorship and how it relates to free speech in art and entertainment, though the documentary does feel contained within its own story and never alludes to the perceived lack of restriction the world of film now enjoys today.
Although this stops short at being a definitive documentary on all things movie censorship in America, it’s still able to identify key moments in this part of history and descriptively analyse what these moments meant for the culture and how the culture was influenced by them. This is an enjoyable watch for those interested in the history of cinema, but for those who have a serious interest in the liberation of ideas and content in films, one viewing of Sickies Making Films just won’t be enough.
Catch Sickies Making Films as part of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival, playing on Friday, July 6, 8:15pm; Saturday, July 14, 4:45pm; and Tuesday, July 17, 8:45pm at Luna.