June 2014: Council cuts in on last tango

As Titanic Quarter is now the location of Belfast’s thriving film and television industry, PRONI’s document of the month for June has a movie theme.

It concerns Belfast City Council’s decision to ban Last Tango in Paris, Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial depiction of a doomed love affair. Four decades ago, the council’s Police Committee had the power to censor films it deemed unsuitable.

The document itself is a 1973 letter of complaint to the Town Clerk of Belfast City Council. The author states that the film ‘contains the most horrible debauchery’.  They add that if the Police Committee believe the film is suitable for release they, ‘have taken leave of their senses’. He continues the Town Clerk may wish to see excerpts from the script if they're still unconvinced, but adds that, ‘your mind should be left thereafter with the task of trying to forget what you have read’.

Iain Fleming, from PRONI’s Digital Preservation Team, who picked the document of the month, said:

“I love movies and the history of film. Last Tango in Paris is a controversial classic which went on to earn Oscar nominations.

A little over 40 years ago, a Police Committee made the ultimate decision about whether audiences in Belfast could see it. I find that fascinating and a little strange - that is why I was drawn to this letter, which gives some sense of the moral outcry around the film.”

This letter forms part of a correspondence campaign from a number of civic and religious groups who complained to the Town Clerk. Following a special screening to members of the Council and Police Committee, the film was banned in September 1973.

In the PRONI catalogue, the letter, along with a range of correspondence about the controversy, is contained in a Local Authority file with the PRONI reference LA7/3/A/223. The document is open to the public and available to view at PRONI.

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1973 letter of complaint to the Town Clerk of Belfast City Council Page 1
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1973 letter of complaint to the Town Clerk of Belfast City Council Page 2
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