The British Film Institute (BFI) announced back in November its plans to release Ken Russell's 1971 film "The Devils" on DVD in March 2012.
The film's owner, Warner Brothers (WB), has agreed to allow BFI to release the film in its original, X-rated theatrical format. Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed are the principal actors in what is generally regarded as, if not THE most, then certainly one of the most controversial films produced by a major studio in the last half-century.
To obtain even an X rating, which in 1971 meant merely "adults only" (the porn industry later hijacked the X rating during its "golden age" with films like "Deep Throat" and "Devil in Miss Jones"), the film was mercilessly edited to appease the same censors who gave a pass to Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" and Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs," two equally graphic and shocking films, that same year. Upon release, "The Devils" was promptly banned in several countries including Italy, whose National Syndicate of Film Journalists nevertheless gave Russell the nod for Best Director.
"The Devils" features plenty of graphic sex and violence in its story of a priest in 17th century France, Father Grandier (Reed), who makes the ultimate sacrifice in defending the city of Loudon against tyranny while exposing the political/religious machine bent on subjugating the city. Every second Vanessa Redgrave is on the screen, playing the nun who is obsessed with Grandier and is (literally) used to bring him down, inspires soul-wracking levels of discomfort.
Anyone familiar with the film's history knows that WB has spent the last 40 years attempting to remove nearly every trace of "The Devils" from everyone's memory. The studio hacked every single American copy of the film down to an R rating and destroyed all of the objectionable footage(1). They have promised DVD releases in the past, then reneged at the last minute(2). The upcoming BFI release, if it actually happens, is still missing some key scenes, all of which still miraculously exist.
The most infamous scene that will remain out of official release is known to Russell fans as the "Rape of Christ" scene, in which a group of nuns who are pretending to be demonically possessed, granted a temporary license to get their groove on in exchange, defile a statue of Jesus, providing the film's menacing authority figures with a distraction big enough for them to quietly carry out savage and oppressive acts in His name that defile Him far more than any sex show possibly could. This scene is apparently still unsuitable for human consumption 40 years after the fact even though WB deemed it appropriate to let slide a scene in which a statue of the Virgin Mary gets equipped with a blood-encrusted phallus in 1973 when they released William Friedkin's "The Exorcist."
Another missing scene involves Redgrave's character, Sister Jeanne, masturbating with Grandier's charred femur after he is burned at the stake. Take my word for it: in the arc of her character's storyline, her actions are totally believable and not at all gratuitous. The scene, while totally bizarre, is not graphic in any way and completes Jeanne's story of unrequited love. It was deemed inappropriate even though Francis Coppola's 1974 film "The Godfather Part II" contains a scene in which a prostitute has obviously been murdered by the insertion of an unspecified weapon into her vagina.
Why is WB so afraid of "The Devils", even in its toned down form?
Because it contains unflinching commentary on organized religion in general, specifically Catholicism?
Because the church officials in it are depicted as ruthless, power-hungry sadists who brazenly meddle in politics and perpetrate a colossal hoax upon the people, only to be publicly made fools of by their king?
Because the film's hero is arrested, tortured, has his legs smashed by a hammer-wielding inquisitor and is burned alive with the intent of getting him to publicly admit he was wrong to defy authority, but he never does? -- I'm aware that this happened at the end of "Braveheart," but in that film, William Wallace's life and death were glamorized and Mel Gibson gets to mug and scream "Freedom," a word that no longer has any meaning, at the top of his lungs while Grandier offers an ironic parting shot ("I apologize for defending your city") and suffers a visually stunning and horrifying fate.
What does this have to do with SOPA?
It is still possible to watch "The Devils" in the form Ken Russell intended... but it's difficult and also illegal. WB has effectively squashed this film and diluted any message it might contain. If the March release actually occurs, they will be patting themselves on the back for "unearthing" this "lost classic," but they sure as shit don't want anyone watching the real version. Technology, for now, allows us to circumvent WB's arbitrary blockade.
SOPA is intended to suppress information on the Internet. It is intended to keep people divided. This article describes only one way it will accomplish this... and accomplish it will. SOPA may have been defeated today, but the interests who have invested over $100 million into it are going to bring it back again. And again. And again until it passes...
...or until our existing system of pay-to-play justice is replaced. To do that, we must all lose our fear of suffering a fate similar to Grandier's, because these people will start bringing the violence if we continue to scare them.