John Huston

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Date: 1906-1987

Region: North America

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion, Violence

Medium: Film Video


John Huston.jpg

Artist: John Huston

Confronting Bodies: U.S. Army officials

Dates of Action: 1946

Location: United States

Description of Artwork: The two films that caused a stir are The Battle of San Pietro, an army documentary revolving around a battle in World War II, and Let There be Light, which follows real veterans who suffered psychological damage. The making of both these films had been assigned to him by the military.

The Incident: John Huston, director of The Maltese Falcon and film noir as a genre, had faced censorship before in having had to tone down his film by suggesting violence rather than showing it. However, his biggest run-ins with censors came while he was working as a documentary filmmaker for the army in the second World War.

His first film, The Battle of San Pietro was so emotionally powerful in it's scenes of death and destruction (Even though much of it was reenacted footage) that the screening staff ordered it be repressed.

The second movie, Let There be Light, was not so lucky. This documentary followed soldiers with psychological damage through their therapy until their discharge. In 1946, military police confiscated the film during a preview showing. The army's reason was that not all the music had been cleared and that some patients did not sign release forms. The true cause is more likely that the army did not like the way Huston portrayed the subject matter. They did not want to worry the public about the psychological effects of war. The army later released another movie on the same topic using actors instead of real soldiers.

Results of Incident: General George Marshall intervened and had The Battle of San Pietro released.

Let There be Light was withheld from the public until 1980, when the Motion Picture Association of America convinced the government to release it.

Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia. Ed. Derek Jones. Chicago; London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.