chapter  1
34 Pages

The silents, 1913–1929

Filmed by an unknown Frenchman in 1900, A Spanish Bull Fight shows the bull being teased by men with capes, after which a bandarillo on a horse thrusts a dart into the bull’s neck and further bull-baiting ensues. Although the running time is less than one minute and the film was already more than twelve years old, the Gerrard Film Company submitted it to the BBFC early in 1913. When the BBFC was established at the beginning of that same year there had been no set rules relating to animal treatment, but A Spanish Bull Fight was nevertheless rejected on 14 March. This was one of 22 films rejected during the year, and in the first BBFC annual report, published early in 1914, ‘cruelty to animals’ figured as the first of the 22 stipulated grounds for cuts or outright rejection, although bull-fighting was not expressly mentioned. Within ten years the BBFC’s readiness to accept bull fighting was demonstrated by the award of a certificate to Blood and Sand, directed by Fred Niblo for Paramount, which opened in Britain in November 1922. Rudolph Valentino plays matador Juan Gallardo, and the film contains two bull-fight sequences which, as a contemporary reviewer noted, were ‘something of a novelty on the British screen’.1 The reason behind this reversal of BBFC policy is unclear, but one of the two bull-fight scenes involves the goring of Valentino because of his infatuation with Nita Naldi, the central theme, and is essential to the plot. However, despite this policy change, BBFC disapproval of cruelty to animals remained in principle and was eventually embodied into law in the 1937 Cinematograph (Animals) Act, still in force today. The Gerrard Film Company never resubmitted A Spanish Bull Fight, so that the BBFC ban was not rescinded later in the light of subsequent developments and technically remains valid. It is now a film curiosity and a very early example of censorship in operation, which the NFA preserved when it acquired a print in 1946.