Snip Snip
30 minutes BETA SP 1981


Mary Brown, the head of Ontario's Censor Board, spends an afternoon with the gals cut, cut, cutting.

“…By presenting a program of work that confronts the issues of censorship and government control of moving images we want to promote continued awareness to the acts of the current regime. We want to cut back at them. The title of the evening’s screening comes from Snip, Snip (1981), a hilarious, bitingly satirical video by Colin Campbell and Rodney Werden. The work colourfully imagines a ‘cutting party’ held by Mary Brown, then head of the Ontario Censor Board, along with some of her concerned friends. Considering that queer work is most often the subject of criminalization, Campbell and Werden’s delightfully campy jab at the eagerly snipping censors’ hands is the perfect centerpiece to our evening of sharp cinematic protest against the Ontario Film Review Board.” (Jean-Paul Kelly, Pleasure Dome program “(Mary, Mary) Are these the hands that cut?” Benefit Screening and Party for Glad Day Bookshop)

“After 20 years of freely exhibiting film and video in a variety of non-commercial venues in Ontario, artists, non-profit exhibitors, art galleries and film festivals were thrown into tumult when the Conservative government in Ontario appointed a new Chair of the Ontario Censor Board in 1980. Her name was Mary Brown.

Brown transformed what was once a bureaucratic regulatory body focused on the public exhibition of feature length, commercial films into a wily state watchdog, monitoring every last projector in the province, including screenings at small, non-profit arts organizations and events. Unlike the federal Obscenities Act (section 163 of Canada’s Criminal Code, provincial law allowed government appointed regulatory agencies to exercise ‘prior restraint’ whereby the censor board legally required the prior review and approval of any film being exhibited publicly. The Censor Board demanded cuts and various other restraints be imposed on some films with sexual content. The arts community began a complex campaign of resistance and protest…

Campbell and Werden deploy elements of parody in their work Snip, Snip. Campbell plays Censor Baord Chair Mary Brow, who, in Bruce LaBruce’s words, was the “she-wolf of the Ontario Censor Board, a stuffy church lady.” The group she has gathered to screen the film, Lesbian Picnic, are there to represent “community standards, which was a regular practice of the Ontario Censor Board. But when Gerry, another panelist, suggests that there is a context for this imagery, “within particular communities,” the aforementioned Suxanne insists, “Well I don’t represent that community,” which begs the question, what community does she represent?.

This biting parody manipulates power inequities that usually favour the censor board by making Mary Brown ad the Board the butt of a joke. Butts of jokes, in this case Mary Brown, are “denied discursive potency” as they are stripped of their power to use language, language which would potentially disempower the joker. According to humour theorist Susan Purdie, “laughter feels pleasurable and is associated with release from external and international restraints” because “joking invites a breach of the rules which usually constrain meaning.” (Susan Purdie, Comedy: The Mastery of Discourse (Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1993)

…‘Suzanne,’ one of the censor board screening panelists in Colin Campbell and Rodney Werden’s video Snip, Snip (1981), who represents the “anti-foot fetish league,” declares that for her, the limit to tasteful imagery is crossed at feet. Her inscription of “acceptable limits” to sexual imagery perfectly denotes the absurd parameters of the widespread struggles around exhibiting explicit sexual imagery in Canada in the 1980s.” (“Regulating Images: I Draw The Line At Feet and Picnics” by Taryn Sirove)

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