- Official film censorship in Spain started in 1912, and remained in place as an explicit system to control artistic expression, enforced in one form or another, until 1977. The power to censor spectacles was held, in the early periods, by the central government, and later by local governors. Two main criteria marked a film as undesirable in the first four decades of censorship. On the one hand, there were references to "buenas costumbres" ("good habits"). In Spain (as elsewhere in Europe), this was manifested in the control of representations that had to do with human sexuality and marital life. For decades, even rather common behaviors like adultery (not to mention prostitution or homosexuality) were frowned upon by the authorities. On the other, the authorities were particularly concerned about the expression of dissident political opinions, and this remained a central criterion, enforced until the disappearance of legal censorship codes. This concern became more stressed in periods of unrest (so frequent in the early decades of the 20th century), such as at the beginning and end of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship and the two-year right-wing Republican period between 1934 and 1936. In those periods, cinemas could be, and often were, closed and the people responsible for forbidden propaganda could be incarcerated, although the approach was not always consistent.The triumph of the Franco rebel army brought 40 years of dictator-ship and a centralization of censorship (the new system was set up in 1941), which became a powerful tool to control artistic expression and the communication of ideas. Film now depended on central government institutions, and it was subject to severe controls. There were two different periods. Until 1963, there were no explicit and specific guidelines on what would not be allowed, thus censorship had an arbitrary element. In the 1955 Salamanca Conversations, filmmakers demanded that a set of criteria be drawn up. The second period began with the application of the 1963 code, and filmmaking became a game to circumvent explicit guidelines through suggestion, irony, or obscure references.The earliest Francoist regulations of censorship practice date from 1938; that is to say, from before the triumph of the Fascist army. Each Spanish script that sought permission to be shot and every foreign film was reviewed by a committee of four "experts" from the church, the army, and the para-fascist Falange party. They could actually forbid the script in toto or, as was most often the case, could suggest emendations to prevent "corrupt" interpretations of reality. They looked carefully into the potential ideological implications in every single instance, but since most political dissidents had left the country or were stifled by the threat of death penalties or jail, the actual amount of problematic texts was very limited.Of course, censorship worked not only by forbidding certain ideas, but also by encouraging and supporting some films that contained the "right" kind of images and themes to the detriment of others. Since Spanish film relied heavily on institutional support and government funding schemes, by rewarding certain kinds of films that gave the "right" image of the country, those who did not follow such official guidelines had no access to extra funds.Another area of concern, particularly for the Catholic Church, was representation of sex and sexuality. In discussing Spanish film censorship of sexual matters, it is often overlooked that the international situation in this sense was very similar. Until 1961, the Hays Code determined what could be represented in Hollywood studio films, and even in countries with no official censorship, the authorities frowned upon anything that went against certain notions of public morality. Besides, no matter what actual censors focused on, censor-ship worked particularly as a threat that led to self-censorship.Censorship could take many forms: on many occasions, kisses were shortened to reduce their passion rating, or problematic scenes were deleted; on a number of occasions, dubbing was altered to make the film's plot conform to a more acceptable ideology or morality. For instance, a voice-over was added at the end of Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio de Sicca, 1948) to guarantee that the protagonist would end up happy. Among the films forbidden in the first period were Roberto Rossellini's postwar output, as well as Luchino Visconti's neorealist films, Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not To Be (1942), Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1941) and, at the end of the first period, Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959) and Federico Fellini's La dolce vita (1960).In the early 1960s, the Hays Code became more flexible, and the approach in other Western countries became less consistent. Spain, however, retained an officially Catholic and ultraconservative regime, and censorship regulations were tightened. In 1962, José María García Escudero, a right-wing reformist, became head for film policies (Director General de Cinematografía) and agreed to introduce a censorship code. In this way, a list of regulations on what could be represented on film came into force in February 1963. Every script had to be submitted to a censorship commission of 13 experts, chaired by the director of cinematography; each wrote his or her report and each case was discussed separately. In some cases, censors were very strict, especially when considering the work of filmmakers labeled as problematic, like Luis G. Berlanga. In other cases, potentially "dangerous" films simply were accepted.As the decade progressed, dissidence became stronger. The authorities were at odds to show in international venues that Spain was on the path toward modernity, and freedom of expression became an issue. Filmmakers insisted that unless censors were more flexible, it was impossible to believe in openness. One consequence is that attitudes changed from period to period. Whereas in the late 1960s a brief era of liberalization occurred, the beginning of the 1970s was one of the harshest periods. Although censorship was officially derogated in 1977, there was evidence that old habits would die hard when Pilar Miró's El Crimen de Cuenca (The Cuenca Crime) was banned temporarily in 1979 because, it was stated, it offended the Civil Guard.
Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. Alberto Mira. 2010.