Kino Lorber // 1989 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // December 21st, 2012
Banned in the UK for more than 20 years.
I know the name of Nigel Wingrove as the founder of Redemption Films, the distribution group that has championed the films of Jean Rollin, one of my most cherished exploitation directors, along with many other gems of low rent Euro horror and erotic cinema. Having not done any real research on the guy, though, I didn't realize that he created the first and only filmed that was banned in the United Kingdom specifically on blasphemous grounds. Sure, the British have their "Video Nasty" list and a lot of strange levels of censorship, but I had to see what made this film, 1989's Visions of Ecstasy, such a horror to the Anglican Church. After watching it, I have only one question: "Why?"
Visions of Ecstasy isn't the only film on the disc, but its two decade banning makes it the lead story. All Wingrove did was take the writings of St. Theresa, erotically-charged musings about Christ, and commit them to film. It isn't hardcore or violent; the film is actually quite gentle and surprisingly pretty. According to Wingrove, the difference is something small, and like the issues many have with the MPAA, kind of stupid. The final scene in the film features St. Theresa writhing on the figure of Christ on the cross. Had that figure been a statue, then no worries, but the fact that there is an actor who moves (very little, mind you) makes it totally unacceptable. It's kind of the way one f-bomb gets a film rated PG-13 but two gets an R. So, pretty stupid.
Visions of Ecstasy is a pretty typical experimental film, with few words and heavy imagery, though it isn't as obscure as some you'll find. It's not a great film, but its story is interesting and it's worth watching.
The other films in the collection aren't so great, though. Axel (1988, 8 min.) and Faustine (1990, 2 min.) are more typical art movies, short and a little pointless, but historically interesting. The lone full-length feature on the disc and the first Wingrove made is Sacred Flesh (2000, 72 min.), a very typical and very cheap nunsploitation film. Fans of the genre will probably enjoy it, but there are far better examples of it out there, and Wingrove has released a few of them through Redemption. It's his take, though, and while it has a previous release, it's nice to have it on the set.
The disc comes from Kino and is pretty solid, not surprising given the director compiled it. The transfers on the three earliest films are the best, while Sacred Flesh suffers from a lot of digital errors, due to the fact that it's cheap video instead of film. The sound on all is pretty average and non-descript. For extras, in addition to the four films, we start with a half-hour featurette about nunsploitation films, focusing on Wingrove, called Hail Mary! A Brief Peek at Nunsploitation, which is interesting but doesn't present much new information. Additionally, there is an interview with Wingrove about the banning, some outtakes for Visions of Ecstasy, and a DVD-ROM illustrated essay on the history of the film's censorship.
Overall, Visions of Ecstacy: The Films of Nigel Wingrove is a good collection those interested in banned cinema should definitely check out. None of the films is necessarily that great, but still, they have historical value and are worth seeing.
The church can feel how they like, but this judge dismisses the case.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Films
* DVD-ROM Essay
* IMDb: Visions of Ecstasy
* IMDb: Axel
* IMDb: Faustine
* IMDb: Sacred Flesh