Before they achieved mainstream success with the Matrix series, sibling directors the Wachowskis made quite an impact with their indie neo-noir thriller Bound . Released in the US in early October of 1996 and shot on a budget of $6 million,
the film sees Violet (played by Jennifer Tilly) entering into a love affair with Corky (played by Gina Gershon), with the duo scheming to steal $2 million of mafia money from Violet's boyfriend Caesar.
Bound was a breath of fresh air for 1990s cinema-going audiences. After a string of erotic Hollywood thrillers like Basic Instinct , Body of Evidence and Showgirls , along came a film that featured a convincing lesbian relationship
at its core. As Jennifer Tilly stated in an interview with DIVA Magazine in 1997:
Gina Gershon and Susie Bright
One of my pet peeves about mainstream films where they have a gay relationship is that people think they're being amazingly liberal. They say, well, we'll have these gay characters but they can't touch. They can't show any affection or kiss each other or
have any sex scenes, like they would just naturally with a heterosexual relationship. I just feel like that's a cop-out. We felt it was very important not to shy away from it and to be very matter of fact about it. That's what's cool about the film.
To add to the film's authenticity, the Wachowskis hired feminist and sex educator Susie Bright to choreograph the film's sex scenes and act as a consultant on the film, and Bright also appears in one scene as an extra. Tilly recalled Bright's
contributions to the film in an interview with Vulture.com in 2014:
The Wachowskis were asking [Susie] what it was like in the lesbian world. All of us on the movie were concerned with authenticity. The way it was set up was Susie's input. And because of that, the lesbian community embraced the film, because it had a
real veracity to it. There was a real attention to detail in this film that added a deepness to it. It's not two actresses trying to kiss each other in a pretty way.
Cut for the MPAA
After a rapid 38-day shoot in California, the film was cut together and submitted to the MPAA in the United States for a rating. Almost immediately, the filmmakers were slapped with the dreaded NC-17 rating. The Wachowskis were furious, accusing the MPAA
Cut Scenes: Censors sticking their fingers into the filmmakers' integrity
The main reason for the MPAA's NC-17 decision was the initial sex scene between Corky and Violet, which showed Violet masturbating Corky to orgasm. As Jennifer Tilly recalled in her interview with Vulture:
The MPAA said, 'Because Jennifer and Gina are such good actors, it looks like she's really giving her a hand job.' And the Wachowskis said, 'Let me get this straight. If they weren't such good actors, you would let it go through?' And the MPAA sort of
said, 'Well... yeah.' It was really sad.
Ironically, the Wachowskis had elected to shoot the scene in one continuous take in order to avoid having to make any censorial changes further down the line. Since the take was continuous, they figured that it would be impossible to cut into the
sequence without it looking entirely obvious and intrusive. But if the scene was an issue for the MPAA, how could the Wachowskis make changes to it if it was filmed in one continuous shot? Thankfully, the duo had shot multiple takes of the scene, so in
order to avoid an NC-17 rating they had to substitute their preferred take with another -- one that was not satisfactory to themselves or the two actors.
This alternate take runs about four seconds shorter and loses the explicit sight of Violet masturbating Corky, as Jennifer Tilly recalled in her Vulture interview:
We ended up having to sub in take seven [which] was before we got all the kinks out. They had the door to the bathroom open wider, so it was brighter in the room, where the take we wanted to use had a lot of shadows. The makeup person had sprayed us with
sweat, so it looked like we were really going at it. I felt like it was ten times more graphic than the take that we wanted to use, but apparently, you missed the hand but you gained a breast. But because you miss the hand, the MPAA said it was all
A differently-framed take (bottom) was substituted for the original take (top) to remove the clear sight of masturbation.
This scene was not the only one that required cuts, however. Two other brief changes were also made by the filmmakers to avoid an NC-17 rating.
Cut Scenes: Censorial handiwork
The first scene altered was another scene of masturbation that occurs around seven minutes prior to the aforementioned scene. In order to attain an R rating, the filmmakers cut the sight of Violet placing Corky's hand between her legs by around six
Cut Scenes: Artistic freedom down the pan
One more change was made to Bound to avoid an NC-17 rating in the bathroom torture sequence that occurs around 30 minutes into the film. The censored R-rated version loses around three seconds of footage that shows an additional blow of Shelly's head
against the toilet and his body collapsing to the ground. In the R-rated version, the impact can only be heard occurring off-screen.
After the Wachowskis had made around 15 seconds of changes, Bound was passed with an R rating for:
Strong sexuality, violence and language.
The US Blu-ray contains both the R-rated cut
and the unrated version
This censored version of the film was released in American theatres and later on VHS and DVD. Republic Pictures issued an unrated version of the film on Laserdisc in 1997, which was the original NC-17 cut as submitted to the MPAA. This unrated version
was also released by Republic on DVD, and is now available on Region Free Blu-ray from Olive Films alongside the R-rated version.
Uncut in the UK
All UK home video releases have always featured the uncut version
As a quick aside, Bound posed no issues with the more liberal BBFC in the UK, where the film was passed with an 18 rating without BBFC cuts for a cinema release on September 20th 1996. It has been alleged that the UK cinema version removed the sight of
one of Shelly's fingers being cut off during the bathroom torture, but at the time this article was in production this rumour could not be substantiated. Whatever the case, the Wachowskis felt this scene was important in demonstrating the sadistic nature
of the film's male characters and all UK home video versions feature the full uncut version; a fact that was prominently displayed on the initial VHS and DVD releases. Today, British fans of Bound can pick up the film on DVD or Blu-ray from Arrow Films,
both of which feature the complete and unrated version of the film.
Cutting Edge Video, Season Two, Episode 41: Bound
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional
help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC
for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.