Following the release of David Lynch’s award-winning film Blue Velvet in the fall of 1986, New Brunswick gained the distinction of becoming the only place in North America to ban the film from theaters.
Some view the 1980’s as being the last great decade for film. That is to say, the last decade the art of filmmaking was still considered as belonging solely to the director. The next decade introduced a lot of formulaic production methods that saw the same themes repackaged year after year in the form of romantic comedies, low brow humour films and good old action/adventure flicks. This would evolve into a never-ending string of sequels and later, a bazillion superhero movies, further dumbing down the appreciation for original ideas and stories. (Send your hate mail to email@example.com).
But David Lynch has never been a formulaic filmmaker. If anything, he has always pushed the envelope. Sometimes pushing it too far for some, like the New Brunswick Film Classification Board, a government funded board that once had the power to reject a film from screening in the province. Which is exactly what happened when Blue Velvet landed on the desk of film commissioner Ted Bringloe.
Around the same time Alice Cooper was getting Fredericton residents all hot and bothered with news of his upcoming performance at the Aitken University Centre, Lynch’s new film Blue Velvet was riding high as one of the most popular movies at the time. The film starred Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, and Laura Dern and was billed as a psychological horror. Despite featuring what some deemed as being “objectionable content”, the film would earn Lynch his second Academy Award nomination for Best Director and would receive Best Film and Best Director prizes from the National Society of Film Critics. Those accolades however, were not enough to sway Bringloe in his decision to ban the film from being shown in the province.
“The province has not had a film commissioner since Ted Bringloe worked for the province in the 1980s and 1990s,” said Tony Merzetti, executive director of the New Brunswick Filmmakers’ Co-Operative. “Ted was the Government’s point of contact if outside films came to the province. You don’t hear of many films being banned now.”
But banned, it was.
Bringloe said his decision to ban Blue Velvet was based primarily on a scene where sexual violence was construed as being pleasant to the victim. Two years earlier, Bringlow banned George Romero’s Day of the Dead due to its graphic and violent nature.
According to Larry Gleason, president of De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, a company that helped produce the film, the Province of New Brunswick was the only place in the world to ban the film. At the time of the announcement, he also mentioned the company was considering taking the Province to court over the ruling.
In 1963, the Province banned the romantic comedy Irma La Douce which starred Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, saying the film condoned prostiution. An edited version of the film was resubmitted for approval the following year and also rejected. The film’s distributors, United Artists Corporation Ltd. then took the Province to court to appeal the decision. The decision was overturned in January 1965 by Justice D. M. Dickson of the New Brunswick Supreme Court.
In his ruling, Justice Dickson stated, “I find it difficult to accept that the standard morals in this province are so different from that of our fellow citizens in the rest of Canada that dangers would exist in showing the film here which have not now become apparent elsewhere.
“While the saga of Irma La Douce will undoubtedly never replace Little Red Ridinghood as a popular bedtime story, it is quite possible that were Irma to be transferred from her Parisian surroundings to our New Brunswick society, she might conceivably encounter many things which would cause her to blush,” he said.
But it would only be a few months before Blue Velvet would eventually reach New Brunswick audiences thanks to the growing popularity of video rentals stores where movies could be made available without being scrutinized by the provincial government.
In 1994, the New Brunswick Film Classification Board and similar boards from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland were amalgamated to form the Maritime Film Classification Board. Under the direction of this new body, Blue Velvet was eventually given an R rating years after its release.