The Golden Age of Censorship by Paul Hoffman

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The Golden Age of Censorship by Paul Hoffman

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A plodding look at our cast's existence while certifying film and home videos moves on in the second half to a good tale of office romance and politics, which will come too late for some. But for those with an interest in film it will still be interesting.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 339 Date: June 2007
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0385606332

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If there was a choice as to who would write a book about film certifiers and their actions in and around their closeted work life, Paul Hoffman would be top of the list. He seems in an ideal position to fictionalise his times at the BBFC in creating this study of power, corruption and lies at his veiled British Film Secretariat.

However if there was a choice as to what he used his expert knowledge toward, it might be a different matter.

This novel is set spreading through the crux times of British film classification, either fictional or factual. Cinema appears to be on a sticky wicket, with attendances down and the industry in doldrums. However, that's because of the new-fangled home video, which actually is the shot in the arm to our cast, as they have their work cut out re-watching everything our nation's corruptible youth might have in their bedrooms, to deem legal, or classified, or censored. The story scans past the Salman Rushdie affair, and ends some time after the tabloid-birthed furore about Child's Play 3 in the Jamie Bulger case.

The real BBFC is couched in secrecy, but from what is known this book is spot on - people sitting in darkened rooms, watching all manner of dodgy footage (and you're unavoidably watching it at times here too) only to write a report and recommend a certificate. This much is great, unusual, and welcome to our story. What isn't welcome is the amount of time the characters talk about what they're watching, and how it's affecting them, and even less welcome is the times they talk about what they feel when they're talking about what they're watching...

Luckily, but a little too late for some I guess, there is a much more satisfying plot developing in the darkened depths of the run-down institution that is the BFS. Our narrator has dropped many hints as to some kind of wickedness - casting many aspersions against Nick Berg, the boss of the censors, and of some injudicious use of office power to come. Nick Berg, in fact, starts the novel dead, and everything is a flash-back cum confession from our disembodied, self-admittedly unreliable-but-meaning-well narrator.

It's unfortunate there is a large gap where he lies. When he gets the job as part of the core of seven main certifiers, he gives his colleagues thumb-nail sketches, but it's a hundred pages in before we even learn his name, and never get a glimpse otherwise as to this important personage. Only a couple of page-turns away from that he's still telling us what his story will be, which is not on - it's not borne out of some stylistic quirk, and the author's ending does not excuse any non-existence of this narrator's self.

However, wait - are we really supposed to expect it? Is this one of those modern novels where everything we read straight is supposed to be laced with irony, and humour, and we're supposed to scoff at everything we're told? If that's the case I can get the joke about Freud (and yes, Berg's predecessor being blind is amusing already), but that belittles a lot I found interesting about the story - the inter-office romance our man's colleagues find themselves in, for one. The blurb would like us to reflect in from the characters' pensiveness and ask ourselves about censorship, the prejudices against dodgy horror video nasties and so on, but if this is sarcasm it washed over me, and whatever it is, interesting it's not.

The second half is a lot better, where the grist of the story is told us, and we get good writing, with conflict, a dodgy motive here and there to add to the admittedly interesting stupidity of Berg throughout. But getting there I felt dumped in one of those screening rooms myself, with no fast-forward button to speed me through the unnecessary, before making this classification as I wished. There would be a much speedier, lighter and more interesting way to portray all our cast becoming debatably morally cobbled by their work.

It's not that bad a read, however, when the narrative drive kicks in, which is the book's saving grace. I'll ignore the strong sense that there was something I just wasn't getting, and thank the author for using a tale of office politics and male bitchiness that entertained, while questioning his first half. I think for someone with little interest in the matters of censorship, and the moving image, it would be a struggle indeed to join the later fun.

It's a cheap jibe to say there should have been cuts in The Golden Age of Censorship, but I'll use it.

I'd still like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag. We also have a review of The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman.

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Buy The Golden Age of Censorship by Paul Hoffman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Golden Age of Censorship by Paul Hoffman at


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