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Celebrating The Censor

Friday 2 November 2012, 15:48

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

The British Board Of Film Classification is celebrating its centenary this month. I believe it's come a long way from the bad old days of cutting, damaging and controlling the films that we see - what do you think?

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    Comment number 21.

    The BBFC are a vital asset to the film industry and most importantly to audiences. Rarely do they take to the extremities of banning pictures and cuts are usually made in accordance with a said studio or distributor to gain a set/desired rating.

    Films like Irreversible for example, despite horrendous backlash from many, was passed uncut and rightly so. The BBFC assess films in their entirety; content, context and theme. The repugnant rape scene in Noe's film is just that - repugnant. It would be ill to cut it or remove it as it's impact on the film's tone and atmosphere is vital to the narrative and character progression. The MPAA would out-right cut it or more than likely ban thus damaging the craft of the film in general.

    About 10-15 years ago, the BBFC were royal pains, but now they are an integral part to enjoying and respecting cinema in the country. Happy 100 years!

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    Comment number 22.

    Those of you in England are lucky that your rating system is something to be celebrated. While the BBC, like you said, grew from something bad to something beneficial for film distribution in your country, here in America, the MPAA rating
    system grew from something pointless to somewhat of a cinema's Third Reich.

    The original G, M, R, and X rating system was fine as it was. There was no need to bring in the PG-13, which, for my money's worth, is only there so that the "films" of people like Michael Bay can be marketed at teenagers without also being available to small children or only being available to adults because of their soft-pornographic material. This is my problem with our rating system here. It's a conspiracy to appeal to the masses while making every desperate attempt to limit the existence of any arthouse film if it has extremely controversial subject matter. The MPAA are essentially a circle of upper-middle to lower-upper class soccer parents who get together and "rate"--more properly, categorize--films depending on their material and how suitable they are for their children. Now, I understand that films are aimed at certain demographics and that films like Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and Cronenberg's Crash, because of their full-on adult material, are definitely not appropriate for children, but, let's get this straight here, that in no way justifies films that daring and experimental to be banned in certain areas or given a rating that prevents people of a certain age, even those who can take said films with a grain of salt, from viewing them.

    Cinema, like all art, is unpretentious in that the viewer has the choice whether or not to engage with it. If parents aren't sure about taking their kids to see a certain film, either don't take them or see it for yourselves before making that decision. No one's forcing you to let your kids see Hostel II (to be honest, if you can't tell whether or not that specific film's appropriate for your kids just from the poster design, background, and mere title, you shouldn't be parents in the first place).

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    Comment number 23.

    They have ALWAYS been a huge problem. Firstly, you can only see a 12 movie with an adult if you're under 12, and you can't see a 15 movie at all if you're under 15. That's very harsh now days, there are many films that kids would love and that are 12 or 15, some aren't even that inappropriate. And like you said, the parents should decide what their kids should watch.

    They also make REALLY heavy and unnecessary cuts. Some of them may not be very big, but they all are very significant. Look at The Hunger Games. It's supposed to be violent, it's about kids killing each other. But in the UK, it was completely butchered. They failed to make it less violent, they just made some of the fight and death scenes make no sense at all. And look at some of the most successful films. They tried to make some of them more succesful by making them a certificate lower, but they just made them less fun to watch. Look at most of the James Bond films, knows for their epic fight and death scenes. In the UK, you just think "meh, they're fighting" as apposed to "Wow, this is awesome". But what's in my opinion worse than cutting violence is changing violence, and the BBFC does that a lot. In Shrek 2, the replaced a headbutt with a karate chop. In Spider-Man 2, they replaced a headbutt with a punch. In Taken, the most violent PG-13 movie in America, in the original, a guy had metal spiked stabbed into his legs, then electric jump leads to them. In the UK, he just connects them to the chair. The scriptwriters work very hard deciding how their movies would work best with what scenes.

    In conclusion, here's my message to the bbfc: Let the people decide what to watch, let the filmmakers keep all their hard work, and let the audience enjoy all there is to be enjoyed, especially if that's what the film stands for, such as James Bond or The Hunger Games.

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    Comment number 24.

    Still part of the problem I'm afraid, but now for entirely different reasons. Cinema classification is one thing, but the BBFC essentially run a racket when it comes to home video classification.

    Everything, from the film itself to any disc supplements, including audio commentaries of all things, are charged at £75 each and £6 per minute of length. So a 2 hour film, plus an audio commentary, plus an hour of supplements, sets you back something like £2000. This, for a service which is forced upon disc distributors as there is no opt out option. The classification of all material on the disc is a legal requirement, carried out by a private company.

    It's maybe no big deal for the big distributors (though it's telling that The Avengers audio commentary was nixed from the U.K. disc, whilst present on the U.S. release), but smaller distributors like the BFI and Masters of Cinema are finding it difficult to justify bothering with supplements and audio commentaries when the BBFC want so much cash for their entirely pointless service.

    Are consumers really gaining anything by the BBFC rating some obscure documentary, on some obscure foreign film DVD, that only a few hundred film aficionados are purchasing? The solution is simple, an opt out for stuff that clearly doesn't need to be classified. The U.S. has us beat in this regard, their rating system may be daft and the system may lead to cuts, but the MPAA have no power to prevent a film from making an appearance in cinemas or on home video, simply because it hasn't been classified by them.

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    Comment number 25.

    The BBFC obviously do a very good job and are clearly undertaking a a very difficult one. I like the fact that studios and filmmakers can compromise and negotiate with censorship bodies. However, what I vehemently dislike (and this is more a fault of production comapany greed) is that the likes of The Woman in Black can be cut to secure a 12A rating for younger audiences but the uncut version isn't released for adults. There are 3D and 2D versions of the same film cluttering up our mulitplexes, why not the aforementioned?

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    Comment number 26.

    The key element in the "new" BBFC is its transparency, which can only help consistency (as off piste decisions can be held up to scrutiny). The weird unaccountable cabal of the MPAA, which can now make one nostalgic for Hayes Production Code, represents nothing better than the most reactionary slice of America, as they're the ones who will make an almighty stink if their gatekeepers offend them.

    (In the interest of not breaking any BBC Website codes of conduct, I can affirm that whilst typing this, I had at least one foot upon the floor).


  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    22. At 00:47 3rd Nov 2012, KHolland96 wrote:
    "....(to be honest, if you can't tell whether or not that specific film's appropriate for your kids just from the poster design, background, and mere title, you shouldn't be parents in the first place). "

    Sorry, if this is a bit tangential, but, apart from a bizarre but possibly apt litmus test for parenting, I felt this to be a bit of a challenge, so here's a smattering of posters that might mislead or flummox parents (were the rating removed, and remember based solely on title and poster design)....


    I think there's probably a game in this, match the rating to the poster. That's for someone with even more too much time on hands than I. At least consider the last one given that Dr. K would recommend taking your teenage daughters to see it.

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    Comment number 28.

    Chronax obviously doesn't understand what the BBFC does at all. The decision to give Made In Dagenham a 15 was almost ENTIRELY DUE TO THE CONTEXT of the strong language - much of it used aggessively, by male characters to female characters. This is exactly what the majority of the public tell the BBFC they do NOT want most 12 year olds to hear (even if they probably do all know the words anyway.) I think the BBFC deserves the plaudits it receives for actually LISTENING to what the public expects - a far cry from the bad old days under Ferman and his predecessors.

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    Comment number 29.

    The good Dr. brushes it off lightly (probably from the perspective of a parent) but self-censorship for commercial reasons is the biggest film censorship issue today.

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    Comment number 30.

    They probably do a valuable service, but a thankless one. It's the nature of the job.

    @ #23. raph wrote:

    They also make REALLY heavy and unnecessary cuts. Some of them may not be very big, but they all are very significant. Look at The Hunger Games. It's supposed to be violent, it's about kids killing each other. But in the UK, it was completely butchered. They failed to make it less violent, they just made some of the fight and death scenes make no sense at all.
    If that holds, how can this film not be anything but >18? So the actual concept of the film is at fault, not the censorship which has to arbitrate extreme violence, what if we were honest in film probably should be violent and 18 cert. material, with the expectation that it be viewable to it's established fanbase/targeted audience who are likely -18? Battle Royale was straight up 18+.

    That's as good an eg of the dilemma of certification if ever there was one, I imagine?!

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    Comment number 31.

    I think that the in the 21st Century the idea of the BBFC censoring material is completely and utterly futile. Unlike say twenty years ago when if you wanted to watch Reservoir Dogs or Dirty Weekend you had to go and seek out a pirate video or watch them in the cinema now one can download their film of choice uncensored online within minutes. I think that the BBFC are now moving in the right direction classifying material rather than wasting time trying to protect us by cutting it because at the end of the day like with anything if you want it that badly, you'll find a way to get it.

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    Comment number 32.

    While there's no doubt that the BBFC have progressed beyond their old Draconian measures over the last 10 or so years I do still think their existence is problematic. Overall their classification decisions seem fair and balanced and their honesty and openness should be applauded but as a genre film fan (especially horror) it's worth noting that they do still make cuts to films on the basis of certain films having the ability to be harmful to the viewer, an idea which hangs over from the absurd Video Nasty age. At a time where anyone can legally import fully uncut versions of films from overseas (the same versions which remain cut in the UK; eg I Spit on Your Grave, Cannibal Holocaust, The Human Centipede 2 etc), their 'attempts' to protect the public seems somewhat necessary and outdated. I have no issue with them classifying films on the basis of age but the idea that adults can't be trusted to choose what they should and shouldn't watch still seems ridiculous

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    Comment number 33.

    I was born in 1975. Furthermore, I was also afflicted with what some may call "baby face syndrome," even to this day day alas (I've been challenged on buying a bottle of wine three times in the last 12 months) As such, the BBFC was, for a long while, the scourge of my cinema experiences. Friends would gain admittance to films rated 15 or 18 with ease while I remained effectively the Little Match Girl on the outside. Didn't see Jaws till I was 15 (scared the bejesus out of me) Didn't see (to my shame) The Exorcist till I was 20. All along I felt this was neither fair nor right and, having finally watched these films, I realised how wrong film censorship could be. With this in mind, I salute the BBFC for their change in attitude or raison d'etre In recent years I've found their pronouncements to be, at least, understandable. Obviously, children need to be protected through the advice given to the their parents; as has always been the case. On the other hand, it is to their eternal credit that the BBFC is now affording the right to adults to decide whether the viewing of such films as Antichrist and Kill List is a personal choice - long may it continue!

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    Comment number 34.

    Well, since I was only born in '91, I can't really comment on the censorship in Britain during the likes of the video nasty era. However, I've never seen censorship as an issue in my lifetime for the most part, and would then have to agree that the BBFC wants to protect cinema and encourage bold films, rather than censor and therefore damage the film industry.

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    Comment number 35.

    the BBFC is awesome in terms of what it offers & the way it is so open. The fact that so much fuss is kicked up, particularly with game classification [Manhunt], when they take a stand is proof, for me at least, that the job they do is done well. The BBFC is a mark to the world on how to give a tool to the public on what it is they will experience, particularly for parents and their children, without being over baring & judgemental on what it is those people to 'ought' watch. Yay for horror cinema

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    Comment number 36.

    You cant please all the people all of the time. That phrase applies most to the BBFC. It has always had and always will have an impossible job. Classification and censorship are both necessary and I think it does a very intelligent ,articulate job walking the knife edge. We all disagree with its judgements which is to be expected and is frankly healthy.
    My disagreements were that it didnt cut IRREVERSIBLE enough. I saw it at the cinema, in a room full of men on its original release. I knew it was going to be tough, but a film told in reverse sounded like a new interesting move.That scene in the middle went on and on and on and on. I began to feel physically sick.When I looked away from the screen I saw men to the side of me clearly getting a kick out of what they were seeing. I felt my soul had been soiled on, and left in disgust. The only time I have ever walked out of a screening.A film enjoyed most by rapists and wife beaters.
    I also have a problem with its 15 certificate of `Made in Dagenham` when it gave `The Kings Speech` a 12, seems just plane irrational. I agree with an earlier post that the language kids hear on a daily basis at school isnt censored.
    But thats the point. We all have our own agendas and prejudices.I think it does an excellent job in advising parents and viewers in making our own judgements . It is in the end our useful tool, our ally.

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    Comment number 37.

    P.S. The BBFC cant give me what I earnestly most desire, which is a public burning of everycopy , in every format ,of Pearl Harbour. Buy hey ! I can still dream the dream.

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    Comment number 38.

    Mark, can you explain to me why films shown on TV are often heavily censored even well after the 9pm watershed? It's one of the main reasons I don't watch films on TV any more. Who are the censors in this case? Why do they keep cutting well after the watershed? What indeed is the point of the watershed, in that case? I've watched films 1-2am in the morning and they are still heavily edited! DISTRICT 9 being the most recent example. It was on Film4. I have it on DVD and could tell immediately where it had been cut, even though it was 10pm. As a grown adult, I'm getting sick of being patronised by paternalistic, unaccountable censors.

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    Comment number 39.

    The BBFC's advice works, but only when people pay attention to it. When I saw Trust and Kill List a few people walked out. The majority exercised the choice to keep watching. Part of the power of these films lies with their candour. Censorship only really inhibits films from saying something in a way that sticks.

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    Comment number 40.

    @Brian - New Forest

    Actually, I wasn't referring to films in general, I was referring specifically to the one I had previously mentioned in that comment, Hostel II, hence why I used the word "specific" in regards to it. What I was trying to say was that a film like that with its posters and title should immediately tell parents not to take their kids to it. Otherwise, those people in question shouldn't be parents. I mean, do any of these look remotely kid-friendly?


    Yeah, I don't think so. Posters for kids films are usually bright, colorful, happy, and cuddly, invoking the kind of moods and emotions that are expected to appeal to kids. Those Hostel II posters that I linked are anything but that. You shouldn't need a rating system to tell the difference. That's why we have posters. That's why we have critics like Mark. Rating systems turn films into theme park rides, as if many other elements of modern multiplex culture haven't already. They classify them and aim that demographics. They take an art form known as cinema and try to market it as a source of mindless, exploitative entertainment.


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