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Banned in the U.S.A.

Thursday, November 19, 1992
Gustav Machaty Czechoslovakia, 1933

Preceded by short: The Unwritten Law (Produced by Lubin Film, USA, 1907): This "thrilling drama" depicts the biggest scandal of its day, in which the famed architect Stanford White is murdered by Harry K. Thaw, husband to abused actress Evelyn Nesbit. (11 mins, B&W, Silent, 35mm, From The Museum of Modern Art) (Extase). This landmark of erotic cinema explores the inner world of a young woman who is married to a sexually repressed man and takes a lover in the countryside. Few censors of the day could see beyond Hedy (Kiesler) Lamarr's famous nude bathing scene. But the film's visual and thematic interest lies elsewhere. Jan Stallich's rich cinematography, which defined the school of Czech lyricism, enhances Machaty's passionate study with long, pensive shots-of movement, as in the famous tracking shot through the forest; of images disposed to psychoanalytic interpretation; of feelings, from longing to bliss, in sustained close-up. Ecstasy is a visual celebration of sexuality, linking the young woman and her desires with the nature that surrounds her: the sublime clouds, the battered trees, the glimmering ponds. Ecstasy was condemned by the Vatican; on these shores it was blocked as "obscene and immoral," the start of a seven-year censorship battle that resulted in an adulterated print-adultery magically turned into marriage. (Our print has the censored scenes restored.)

• Written by Machaty, Frantisek Horky. Photographed by Jan Stallich. With Hedy Kiesler [Lamarr], Aribert Mog, ZvonimĂ­r Rogoz, Leopold Kramer. (87 mins, In Czech with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Anthology Film Archives, permission Czech Film Archive)