The BBFC, which certifies TV and film into age appropriate categories, doesn't have much of an impact on the watching habits of most adults in this country these days. Although it refused Grotesque an 18 certificate last year, anyone with an interest was able to acquire a digital copy with little effort. It also refused certificates to two other films: NF713 and My Daughter's a Cocksucker were rejected for, respectively, eroticising sexual torture and 'being likely to encourage an interest in sexually abusive activity'. Regardless of your views on censorship in general, these reasons are at least thoughtful and serious.
This seems to be the case for most, if not all, the BBFC's recent decisions. Often they exhibit a wry sense of humour, as in this excerpt from their most recent annual report:
Despite the widespread media coverage of our decision to classify Lars von Trier’s Antichrist ‘18’ with no cuts, we only received 10 complaints. The film was described by correspondents as an “abomination”, “pornographic” and “common trash”. All the comments were made in response to the media coverage; none of the complainants had actually seen the film. Indeed, there was some confusion about the actual nature of the film, with some people believing it to be a film about religion or Jesus Christ.Anyone who speaks fluent bureaucratese will see the grin and sneer suppressed beneath this polite choice of words. I highly recommend reading the report in full (pdf) - it's full of this sort of thing, particularly delightful when describing the complaints received from teenagers about decisions to certify games and films at 18, and is in any case a fascinating insight into film classification and censorship.
The fact that the complaints about Antichrist were made by people who had not even bothered to research the film's content, much less see it, should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the moral panic about video nasties in the early 1980s. As Video Nasties explains, the moral panic may have been spurious, ill-informed and hysterical, but the distributors of the films in question didn't help themselves. By rebranding Day of the Woman as I Spit on Your Grave (admittedly evocative, though not of the film's contents), they were appealing to paternalistic politicians along with excitable teens. Mary Whitehouse and The Daily Mail went through the roof and survey statistics were deliberately misinterpreted and put to good use in lies fed to the public and Parliament.
Moralisers and politicians working together behind closed doors soon led to the introduction of the Video Recordings Act, which required the BBFC to certify any video recording before it could be legally distributed, and the director of public prosecutions compiled a list of films thought to breach obscenity laws - the soon-to-be-infamous list of video nasties.
Video Nasties is rare as a documentary that allows those with opposing views to defend themselves. Alongside the talking heads of academics and producers of modern horror movies sit interviews with and clips of contemporaneous footage of those who opposed the video nasties. The director of public prosecutions and the MP who introduced the Act remenisce about and are clearly proud of the roles they played. The forces of good don't need to lie to make the other side look bad; they're perfectly capable of doing that for themselves, and the story speaks for itself.
It's not often I complain about a film being too short, but this documentary is only 70-odd minutes long and it seems a shame they didn't say more about ongoing controversies, a brief mention of the controversy surrounding A Serbian Film aside. (Of which more should be expected soon, as the movie is slated for a theatrical release in December. Expect Christopher Tookey to hit the roof.) Regardless, anyone interested in video nasties should buy this DVD boxset quickly, before the limited run of 5000 sells out. They should also check out the Video Nasty Project.
The documentary ends with the grim prediction that the current lack of online censorship - of youtube and the like - will likely one day seem distant and utopic, and a reminder that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. All it takes is The Daily Mail to write a couple of stories spuriously linking a horrible crime or manufactured teenage trend to a subset of films for our politicians to blindly grasp for the parchment. Recent reactions to drug policy critics demonstrate that they cannot be trusted to seek evidence or balance before speaking or legislating. Is it too optimistic to predict they'd have a tougher time stamping on creative and expressive freedom in the age of web 2.0? I hope not.
Packaged with another two DVDs featuring trailers for each of the 72 video nasties, along with introductions by academics and filmmakers as well as a series of postcards featuring lurid promotional artwork, Video Nasties is a great coffee table item as well as an essential reference for these era-defining films.
Cross-posted to D-Notice.