Suffolk Silents Society bid to show banned film featuring female nudity in Ipswich

Images from Hypocrites, a controversial 1915 film which is set to be screened in Ipswich.

Images from Hypocrites, a controversial 1915 film which is set to be screened in Ipswich. - Credit: Archant

A 100-year old silent film that caused riots upon its release is to be screened in Suffolk as part of a celebration of important female directors.

Dave Gregory, who viewed the film to give his opinion on the appropriate classification.

Dave Gregory, who viewed the film to give his opinion on the appropriate classification.

That is if Ipswich Borough Council’s licensing committee agrees to issue a rating to Hypocrites – the 1915 feature by early female pioneer, Lois Weber, who was the first woman to shoot a feature film in America.

Suffolk Silents Society is hoping to show the film at Ipswich Film Theatre on October 25. However, as the film was denied a rating by the British Board of Film Censors in 1917 following its controversial original release, it has never been approved for UK public screenings.

The ‘controversial’ nature of this satirical, morality tale is that it features full frontal female nudity throughout – a step too far for many in 1915, leading to several bans across America.

The request will go before the licensing committee today and has been recommended for approval with a 12A rating by Dave Gregory, who is the programmer for the Ipswich Film Theatre and was for several years the borough council’s film officer.

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Sarah Wright, treasurer of Suffolk Silents Society, said Lois Weber was considered one of the most influential directors of silent film in her era but because of the storm surrounding Hypocrites at the time she was often forgotten.

“The film itself does feature female nudity but it’s very tame by modern standards,” Miss Wright added.

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“It’s quite satirical and it’s pointing lots of fingers at society and the different ways people can be hypocritical so it’s an interesting film and is very rarely seen.”

Miss Wright, 40, from Ipswich, said the decision to ban the film in the UK was “extremely ironic” because the feature itself tells the tale of people moralising about the image of the naked female form.

“We have become much more accepting of female nudity in our society but that’s not in itself progress,” she added.

“Images of naked women are used to sell us all kinds of things so instead we have got sexualised female nudity but I would definitely say we are less prudent then we were in those days.”

Hypocrites has a double plot, following the parallel stories of a modern preacher and a medieval monk, who is killed by an angry mob for creating a naked ‘statue of truth’, which is also represented by a naked woman throughout the film.

After his viewing of the film, Mr Gregory said it was “hard to conceive” why controversy arose as the nudity was disguised by the use of clever editing and multi-exposure, giving the naked woman an appearance of a “faint ghostly figure”.

The classification of the film, if it is given, will only relate to exhibitions of the film within the borough.

The British Board of Film Classification guidelines for a 12A film state: “There may be nudity, but in sexual context it must be brief and discreet.”

Simon Kellett, assistant operations manager at Ipswich Borough Council, who prepared the report for the licencing committee, said it was unusual for the local authority to be asked to award a classification to a film that is this old.

He added: “It’s interesting on the face of it the reasons for banning the film originally, but 100 years on it’s hard to imagine the local authority would be too shocked by the film’s content.”

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