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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Sebastiane is a controversial 1976 film written and directed by Derek Jarman and Paul Humfress. It portrays the events of the life of Saint Sebastian, including his iconic martyrdom by arrows. Most of the controversy surrounding the film derives from the homoeroticism portrayed between the soldiers. It is significant for being the first film to be entirely recorded accurately in Latin, which went as far as the translation of some dialogue into vulgar Latin.

The film is set in a Roman military outpost. The intensely homosocial environment allows the men to engage with one another physically and sexually. The film is set in the era of Diocletian, nearly two millennia before the West coined the word "homosexual" (such a category simply did not exist in Sebastiane's world), therefore it is highly misleading to suggest that the Roman soldiers' male-to-male desires are the result of an absence of women. The men freely and naturally develop passionate, romantic relationships with one another. It is this intensity, and the remoteness of the outpost, which engenders jealousy, obsession, and the almost inevitable violent outcome when a centurion develops a relentless desire for Sebastian, who rejects his advances. A very similar situation was examined in Claire Denis's 1999 masterpiece Beau Travail.

To be shown on British Television, and indeed to gain an 18 rating from the BBFC, the censors required an excision of footage from a love scene in which an erection is very briefly glimpsed. The erection itself was unacceptable to the BBFC. When submitting the film to the Board, Jarman quietly arranged for the screening to be shown in the wrong aspect ratio; this effectively masked the bottom of the image, and resulted in the erection itself being removed from sight. After receiving the 18 rating, the film was publicly premiered in the correct aspect ratio. Jarman had effectively hoodwinked the censors, as he describes in his autobiographical Dancing Ledge. A documentary called Sex and the Censors shown in the 1980s featured a segment on Sebastiane. A mistake caused the scene to be shown behind one of the interviewees.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Sebastiane" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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