For my final review in the Censorship series, I’m looking at one of the most controversial video games ever. For a change, though, instead of looking at the Censor failing in their duty, I’m picking a very high profile example, Bully (Canis Canem Edit in the UK), that demonstrates the BBFC acting in a sensible, responsible, adult fashion and resisting the whims and fads that have caused so much of their stupidity in the past.
For the final part of my censorship series, I’m going to take a look at the thorny subject of censorship of video games. Unlike the cinema, which has clear regulatory bodies and legislative instruments in place, the Video Game industry has been mostly allowed to go on its merry way corrupting fragile young minds for fun and profit. This is partially because of the video game industry is a technology driven entity and as such a relatively recent phenomena, but it is also due to the accelerating rate of technology and now video games are fast approaching almost cinematic levels of realism. Nevertheless, various government bodies have tried to be seen to be “doing something” about what they believe to be the most potentially harmful branch of the entertainment industry. As recently as February 2012, the Supreme Court threw out a piece of fascist nonsense from California on the grounds that, quite rightly, it violated the first Amendment. Here in the UK, however, due to spectacular legislative incompetence, video games were never considered, although the BBFC retains some power to classify them, based on an interpretation of our old friend the 1984 Video Recordings Act.
When I first thought about this series, I was going to do The Wild One for this review. However, as it came closer to writing time, I thought that I didn’t really want to watch that again, and more importantly when I wrote the essay about silly thing reasons for banning, I was reminded of Streetcar Named Desire. I’ve long loved Tennessee Williams plays (yes, I know), and as such, reckon that he’s had an inordinately unmerited time with the various censors on Stage and Screen. As such, there’s one work that was hacked to ribbons for the stage, but furthermore was brutalised to such an extent by The Hays code and the British censor that it is practically unrecognisable from Williams’ original intention. That film? Arguably his masterpiece, the stunning 1958 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Contains Liz Taylor at her hottest and massive spoilers below Read More…
For the last part of this trawl through the annals of cinematic censorship, I’m taking a look at the oddities; subjects that the censor overreacted to, and places that he should simply not probe. Many of the examples I’m going to talk about here do not appear to have a common theme, but this actually isn’t the case, because this time around it’s all the times the censor wields the knife when he’d probably have been better advised to stay out. This is the oddities round; films that got into trouble for non cinematic reasons, and films that were censored on grounds that frankly do not make any sense whatsoever. Sometimes the actions and motivations of our guardians defy reason and while, to a modern audience their behaviour is completely inexplicable, it isn’t to say that what is now an anachronism was not then a reflection of public opinion.
The Exorcist, William Friedkin’s astonishingly powerful 1973 classic is one of my favourite films of all time. Unlike Reservoir Dogs, I haven’t got an amusing anecdote regarding it, nevertheless this is a film I didn’t see until 1999, when it received a 25th Anniversary cinema run in the UK. Why was that? Because, inexplicably, The Exorcist never received a video classification (although the BBFC claim, somewhat disingenuously, that it was not banned as a video nasty). Looking at it now, I find it astonishing that this intelligent, frightening and adult movie was lumped into the same category as juvenile trash by the likes of Franco, but nevertheless, The Exorcist was completely banned for most of my upbringing. As such, it had attained near mythic status as being the most frightening and extreme mainstream movie of all time, and I, quite frankly, couldn’t wait to see it in the cinema. I was not disappointed, as it was certainly the most terrifying movie I had seen on the big screen, but even as a 21 year old, I did wonder about the legitimacy of the ban.
As per usual, all citations come from the BBFC’s excellent case study, available here. This, incidentally, is a superb resource, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading a lot of these case studies for this series.
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This week’s topic is The Censorship of Horror, as opposed to the horror of censorship. I looked at violence last time, and came to the conclusion that there was a clear distinction to be drawn between violence in non-Horror movies and horror as a genre. As such, Horror is probably the most heavily censored genre outside of porn, and there are a number of reasons for this. Now, I personally love horror movies from the great to the downright awful, and think that in many cases it is simply unjustifiable to take the knife to them. However, by the same score, I can quite often see the reason behind the Censor’s cuts or bans, as in several cases the makers of the film have intentionally set their stall out to be as inflammatory as possible. The only real problem that I can see is that the film usually thus receives a level of notoriety that it wouldn’t otherwise merit, and usually does not deserve.
When I rewatched this film for this review I was struck with a sense of sadness. I vividly remember seeing it at the time (and I’ll explain why in a moment), but I hadn’t seen it again for years. God knows why, as I actually have 2 copies of it on DVD (one I bought, and one that came in a box set), but for much of the 1990’s Quentin Tarantino’s debut effort was one of my favourite films. Anyway, as I say, watching it this time actually made me sad, because while I really enjoyed it again, you can see all the early signs that would contribute to Cokey McFrankensteinhead’s latter-day self-indulgence, and other cinematic crimes.
Nevertheless, Reservoir Dogs is this week’s censorship review, as in many ways the history of this film is an almost perfect example of the idiocies of the British Classification system. Once again, all citations come from the BBFC’s excellent case study, available here.
Lengthy personal anecdote and mild spoilers below
I’ve been thinking about how to write up this violence essay, and I’m essentially going to split it into two parts. There’s a serious distinction to be made to the BBFC’s attitude and evolution of said attitude towards horror films, and general violence in other genres. To be honest, for the most part the horse has bolted on this topic, with the BBFC admitting in 2007 that violence in 18 rated films is no longer something that they look for. They, actually, seem to be taking a common sense view on the matter, and therefore almost all violence in action movies will at least get a certificate. Horror, on the other hand, is an entirely different kettle of fish, and a far more problematic subject.
Therefore, this week’s examination of Censorship will contain no references to horror movies, instead this contains my thoughts on the censorship of violence in other genres.
Every week after I publish the censorship essay, I’m going to look at 1 film that fell foul of the Great British Censor. Last week’s topic was the sweaty-palm inducing sex, available here, and so this week I’m reviewing a film that upset the BBFC and had serious problems obtaining a certificate due to sexual content. As attitudes have changed, almost all of the films on this series have a received a full uncut release, but at the time they were either banned outright, banned on video, or slashed to ribbons. First up is pretentious French art-house soft-core porno Emmanuelle.
Welcome to part 2 in what is going to now be my censorship series. The title has been cribbed from the Cruise and Kidman voyeurism vehicle, as I think it is amazingly fitting for an article about sex in the movies.
Sex is one of the hot topics of censorship. It’s astonishing that in the modern world films that contain relatively graphic violence can be passed with either a low rating or completely uncut at a higher one, but consensual fornication between two adults causes the various bodies to explode. Admittedly, the standards are now relaxed, with a tide of erect penises on screen from the likes of France, Spain and Italy, but these are countries that have always had a more, shall we say, laissez-faire attitude towards depictions of sex. Not so here in good old Blighty, where historically the censor has come down on it with the wrath of a vengeful god.
Incidentally, Sex is unique in this series in that I can place the exact film that caused the change in the censor’s attitude in the UK.
This essay is completely safe for work.