LONDON — Throughout two decades in power, Brazil's military regime enforced strict political censorship in the media. But the ruling generals never placed restrictions on the nation's sex-film industry.
As a result, from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, some of Brazil's most talented filmmakers made soft-core porn movies with underlying political messages as a means of subverting the military leadership.
The British television network Channel 4 documented this phenomenon in a 1983 program called "Brazil: Cinema, Sex and the Generals." But what the Brazilian military permitted, the British TV authorities would not, and the network was barred from broadcasting the complete program.
Eight years later, the documentary is finally making its television debut in Britain as part of a themed "season" of programs about censorship that is airing throughout April on Channel 4. The special series, called "Banned," consists of 70 hours of programs and films that were suppressed or altered or caused great controversy when they were first made or are themselves about censorship.
"We felt it was the right time to highlight the issue of censorship and to try to stimulate discussion about it," said John Willis, Channel 4's deputy director of programming, who organized the "Banned" season.
Programs such as "The Truth About Lies" examine how governments control the flow of information and decide what information people are allowed to know. Other works include the documentary "Sexual Intercourse Began in 1963," which focuses on the obscenity trial that resulted from the 1960 publication of D. H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover"; a program titled "Dancing With the Devil," which concerns attempts to suppress heavy-metal music, and the first British non-pay-TV broadcast of the Monty Python religious satire "Life of Brian."
Numerous programs in the series address censorship in America, including "Damned in the USA," a 75-minute documentary, newly commissioned by Channel 4, that looks at the American arts censorship battle and such key participants as the Rev. Donald Wildmon, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), the National Endowment for the Arts, Robert Mapplethorpe and 2 Live Crew. Unlike virtually every other mainstream media examination of the issue, the British program actually shows the graphic Mapplethorpe photographs that prompted all the hoopla. Viewers are asked to decide for themselves whether they think the photos will cause harm if publicly displayed.
Also included is "Dark Circle," the PBS documentary about the adverse health effects caused by nuclear weapons production in Rocky Flats, Colo. Kept off American airwaves for six years after its completion, the film won an Emmy after its 1989 broadcast.
Even "thirtysomething" makes an appearance. Channel 4, which airs the series each week in Britain, decided to rerun the episode that caused an uproar among American advertisers because it included a scene showing two men in bed. The episode passed without notice when it first ran in Britain.
The program on Brazilian sex films had been pulled from Channel 4's schedule twice. The first time, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, what was then the British commercial television regulatory body, demanded the removal of clips from some of the Brazilian films discussed in the documentary. Channel 4 executives dropped the sex sequences, but then shelved the show when the IBA refused to let them include a statement explaining that certain scenes had been cut.
This time, inexplicably, "Brazil" is running in its entirety. "I think it was the statute of limitations," quipped Channel 4 spokesman Chris Griffin-Beale.
Channel 4's Willis says there is a key difference in the kinds of censorship that exist in Britain and the United States. "America is a much more open society," he said. "On the other hand, there is a greater sense of economic pressure," which comes to bear on anything that diverges from the norm.
"Britain is secretive, and America is conformist," he said.
"The fact is that the bottom line is the dollar," said Paul Yule, the British documentarian who filmed "Damned in the USA." "Those who have the money can control the message. If the (American TV networks) could have advertisements all the time, they would."
Another new documentary, "The Tube Is Reality," explores the ways in which American television distorts reality without overt censorship. According to Channel 4, the film shows how "American network television creates a new kind of lie about the truth--the lie of a world already free of irreconcilable religious or political or ethnic conflicts, where emotions and personality matter more than ideas or politics, where American values are presented as the only universal values."