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Celebrating The Censor

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Mark Kermode Mark Kermode | 15:48 UK time, Friday, 2 November 2012

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 1.

    Hi Mark,
    Just in relation to this post,i am a film student in Hartlepool, and we are planning a visit to London in January 2013. I am writing a report on funding of independent horror within the film industry and wondered , if possible, that you could spare some time for an interview. I am a mature student in my thirties, and like yourself have been a horror fan since i was a child and every time i go to a store or online, there seems to be an abundance of independent horror rubbish on the shelves, mostly something of the dead, or nazi stripper zombie builders from hell, im sure your familiar.
    My report will be constructive, and im planning to contact Kim Newman, and Alan Jones , as im a huge fan of the Italian genre also, as well as hoping to get a few comments from the master John Carpenter.
    If you are busy i appreciate it and thank you for your time.
    All the best
    Kev Harte

  • Comment number 2.

    The B.B.F.C. have gone from being an archaic body on a self defined crusade to protect the morals of the country and its populace to being a forward thinking and progressive organisation in a little over a decade. Where once they were a thing for all people enthralled by cinema to loathe they are now something we should proudly hold up as the model for all national film boards to follow. Just a shame it took so long!

    Sadly however their traditional underhanded mechanisms for deciding what we should or should not watch have simply been replaced by the actions of publishers who think nothing of hacking a film to pieces simply to get it a rating that they want or to protect their image as an upstanding member of the industry.

    Strange how we now have to look to the B.B.F.C. to lead the way!

  • Comment number 3.

    I think they're part of the solution, especially compared to the MPAA, whose rating system is quite badly flawed. For example, films with real visceral edge and power like 'Killer Joe' are condemned to financial failure in the US with the dreaded NC-17 certificate. The R rating is also flawed, it's regularly handed out undeservedly. Take 'The King's Speech', a 12 rated film in England, but R rated in the US for a bit of swearing. It seems the MPAA disregards context and just keeps a tally of the offending articles.

  • Comment number 4.

    The last ten years have been a welcomed change, but the nature of the role that the BBFC is involved in is enough to keep one on their guard. Currently, they seem to be doing a good and fair job, and I generally agree with you that they're protecting rather than censoring, unlike in the past, but how long that lasts is really up to us remaining vigilant. What will happen when they're seriously leant on by the government and busybodies? In the end, it'll be up to us to protect cinema. Still, for now, the BBFC is doing a relatively good job.

  • Comment number 5.

    Dear Dr. K

    I very much agree with Floundering's comment. Its amazing to think that the BBFC have changed so much in little over a decade. Finally we film lovers can watch what was once deemed scandalous... only to be controlled by none other then the studios and distibutors of film. Its ironic that the censor has now become the film studios who couldn't care less about morals and more about the revenue they can rake in. Censorship for financial gain.

    Which leads me onto the respectability for certification.The BBFC's classification system is still one of the best; I mean no matter whether a film is a '15' or an '18' certificate it can still achieve critical and commercial respectablility. However at the sametime, the certification has become a strange beast of its own. Take for example Prometheus, when there was news that the spiritual prequel to Alien was going for a 12 rating (PG-13 in the States) then fans became annoyed and wrote off the film as tame and hampered by studio interference. Thankfully the film got the 15 rating it deserved and we all could see the explicit scenes intacked.

    I wish to end this comment by stating that whilst the BBFC have grown up and moved with the times, the MPAA hasn't. I'm absolutely disgusted by their approach to violence and sex, you can show all the violence in the world and still get the 'R' rating. However show a scene involving strong sex and nudity, and its the NC-17 rating. So in the US of A its fine to show scenes of bloody decapitation, and its not alright to show something that is a common occurence to people? God bless America!

  • Comment number 6.

    I agree they are mostly right on the money. However when they strive to accommodate US audience certificates and choose to cut scenes (twilight) or have laughable issues with strong language regardless of context (Made in Dagenham) they can still fail to serve the role that intelligent cinema lovers expect.

  • Comment number 7.

    In my 40 odd years of watching films the BBFC has come on leaps and bounds and does a very difficult job well now.
    My only tiny gripe with them is the same one that I have always had - why is the portrayal of normal human behaviour (sex) treated much more strictly than grossly abnormal human behaviour (violence)?
    I also wonder sometimes whether there should be a bit more advice around the 15 certificate along the lines of "it's a 15 verging on an 18 or a 15 verging on a 12". At the moment 15 seems to be "widest" of the rankings. I know they do provide consumer advice on their website but that's often more than I want to see!
    Otherwise I have no real complaints.

  • Comment number 8.

    Whether or not one approves of it, what the BBFC does *is* as good as censorship. "Classifying" in the knowledge that their classification will restrict certain groups' legitimate access to something is essentially censorship. The alternative for producers is self-censorship – altering their product to make it legitimately accessible by those certain groups. Censorship or self-censorship: not much of a choice!

  • Comment number 9.

    I think the idea of classification rather than censorship has improved the opportunities for 'grown up' film making. I agree that it has made the process much more open and helpful to the filmakers wanting to show their films in this country.
    Certainly Kirby Dick, director of "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" felt that it was a much better system than the one in the USA. At an interview after a screening of his film in the UK, he said he found the BBFC approachable, open and fair.
    I agree with other comments about the problem of film producers hacking their films into a version that gives them a better chance at garnering the bigger audiences and therefore more money rather than making a film that honours it's original vision. I think this happens with film versions of books in particular. That is a feeling not a quantifiable study so it's open to being shot down in flames!

  • Comment number 10.

    Overall, I think you’re right.

    Film classification enables and forewarns casual film-goers, parents and those of a delicate or easily offended disposition. It tells people – in very general terms - what they’re likely to see. The BBFC labels movies like traffic-light tagging tins of food; fat, thin, scary or cuddly. This undoubtedly helps keep people informed, and distributors out of the firing line of the tabloid press (see Appendix A: ‘Evil Dead’). There’s less chance of two little old ladies being duped in to watching Ash chainsaw his hand off in the fruit cellar. Or was it the shed?...

    But there’s also an argument against classification too; because of certification, filmmakers are strong-armed into weakening, adjusting or removing scenes altogether to produce lowest common denominator ‘products’ that are as universally watchable as possible, boosting audience numbers and ticket sales. PG-13 ratings appear to be the most lucrative ratings and some films and filmmakers suffer because of this. For example, the next portrayal of Batman on film could tell the gruesome, horrific story of a sociopath dressed as a nocturnal winged beastie. But as long as toy sales and cereal sponsorship remain profitable, Batman will remain child friendly.

  • Comment number 11.

    While I agree with your main argument, it cannot be denied that the BBFC still manages to make films inaccessible to those that they are meant for and I am referring of course to Made in Dagenham, one of the great films of recent years but in which the only problem was that there was too much swearing going on. same with the King's Speech. I fear that there is still too much infantilization going on and most of it has to do with our fear of children being rebellious or standing up to authority be it in actions or words. Most of our kids hear far worse language in everyday situations and eventually are using it anyway as they grow older. So i think that the BBFC is still too conservative and afraid of pressure groups in that department to be considered completely rehabilitated. That being said, it's a real improvement from 30 years ago.

  • Comment number 12.

    To illustrate just how far the BBFC have come over the years, depictions of Jesus Christ on screen were banned by the censor, to the present day where cuts are only demanded for scenes which "eroticise violence". Although i think this new attitude came about because the internet made it so easy for people to circumvent the censor. Mark, i remember you introducing Maitress on Channel 4 and saying that all the scenes we can't show you are available on our web site. "If" i wanted to watch Grotesque or the uncut version of Human Centipede 2, a quick Google search would find it.

    My one criticism of the BBFC would be that they've become overly cautious when applying the 12A. Films like The Dark Knight and Casino Royale absolutely 12A, but does anyone really think that Spiderman or Pirates of the Caribbean merit anything higher PG. For years the PG certificate was good enough for Bond and Indiana Jones and the law states that children under 8 have to be accompanied by an adult, doesn't putting everything into the 12A bracket just make it harder to differentiate between family friendly and grown up films.

  • Comment number 13.

    The BBFC changed when James Ferman retired (and sadly passed away soon after). This Jeckyl and Hyde of movie censorship was a prime example of a one man band, an autocrat in other words. What he said, went, and hardly any other examiner got a look in much to the detriment of board morale.

  • Comment number 14.

    In recent years it's the film companies themselves who have been doing the censoring. They have particular audiences in mind and they take their films to the BBFC and ask them to tell them what can stay in to allow them to have the rating they need to reach that audience. Money and the desire to maximise it has become a more effective censor than the BBFC ever was.

  • Comment number 15.

    As someone who has a fairly liberal sensibility and a distrust of censorship bodies in general, I actually don't mind the BBFC in its current form at all. Most of the time it gives clear and concise rulings on film content and usually classifies them in an appropriate manner. Although I'm not myself a parent, I do feel however that protecting younger audiences from subject matter or imagery they may not be equipped to deal with is important and more often than not the BBFC performs this function adequately. It is a far less worrying organisation than their American counterpart, the infamous secret cabal of conservative censors known as the MPAA who are very much accountable to no one.

  • Comment number 16.

    'Won't someone think of the children?!'

  • Comment number 17.

    When talking of the BBFC I think it is important to make the point that often controversial cuts to films are made not by the BBFC but by the film-makers themselves. Mark's talked about cuts to get a lower age rating, but I would mention The Shining. On its original release in the UK, and subsequent releases on home media, we've been given a butchered 'European Cut' which eliminates quite a bit of back story about Jack and his relationship with his son. I know this is drifting away from the topic of the BBFC but if we can also talk about censorship in general, I think we should talk about why directors do things like this to their own work.

  • Comment number 18.

    I'm extremely glad the BBFC is no longer what it was under Ferman; I like the way it has changed and I think it does a decent job now.

    I do however have one thing I'd like them to do: rate based not on appearance of swearing in a script (particularly not in the "one use of strong language" way - are you seriously tallying this all up? Why? What is the critical mass point for any given word?), but on what is actually being said when people swear or do not swear.

    It's perfectly possible to be unbelievably foul and offensive or disturbing without actually swearing. You can suggest things that are really nasty or controversial through so-called 'clean' language, but would that earn a higher rating?

    Conversely, to safeguard precious little darlings who almost certainly know not only the meaning of pretty much every swear word out there but probably use them - or at the very least hear them - at school daily, and like as not have their own words for those ideas that mum and dad don't know: that's a hangover from fifty or sixty years ago. Swearing is not inherently harmful, to kids or anyone, and it's a fool who believes otherwise. It's a valuable part of natural language, rich, creative and full of cultural information. What is actually important about swearing is showing what effect it has in the wrong (or indeed right) circumstances, and why saying such things in such a way is taboo. Swearing and taboo language is part of life, and learning about breaking that taboo is part of understanding how to communicate effectively. Films can help illustrate that very well - if they are allowed to.

  • Comment number 19.

    The day Robin Duval replaced James Ferman as head of the BBFC was a great day. It seemed we transformed overnight from an autocratic, lily-livered, patronising, censoring dictatorship to a place where the sensible, stable, non-violent adult film viewer (or 99.9% of the UK population) was finally treated with the respect, trust and faith he and she finally deserved.

    But now look, less than a decade since the end of Mr Duval's short tenure, films are again being chopped and banned for apparently no other reason than for a desire to uphold our good taste and common decency. We're going backwards, folks.

    What about A SERBIAN FILM and the BBFC-banned THE BUNNY GAME? Though the former, in all its tame, overblown, uncut glory, may have been occasional titillation for the likes of Jimmy Savile in his final days, it's hardly a realistic snuff movie. As for the latter, its only crime appears to be nothing more than they forgot to write a script in order to justify the torture scenes. Of course, one can say THE BUNNY GAME should be banned because it's utter tripe - and it is (no amount of stylish B&W cinematography can hide that) - but to ban it because of its concentration on pain and suffering so as to be potentially damaging to the viewer....... please!! What about the head-in-a-vice scene in CASINO? Or the baseball bat head-crunch in THE UNTOUCHABLES? Or the fellatio in THE BROWN BUNNY? Or the jaw break in AMERICAN HISTORY X? Are these less disturbing, violent or explicit moments than what we see in THE BUNNY GAME, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE or A SERBIAN FILM? I still cannot watch Robert De Niro's use of a baseball bat in THE UNTOUCHABLES without cupping my hands to my ears, just as I still can't listen to the moment after Ed Norton props the guy's jaw around the kerbstone in AHX. To me, these are two far worse moments of gruesome violence than anything I saw in the poorly-acted THE BUNNY GAME or the cynically exploitative A SERBIAN FILM. But that's okay, folks, because my two examples' power lay mainly in their audio than their visuals. But they're still gruesome, Mr BBFC. A sound can be disturbing as any image! But we don't ban sounds, do we? So, why then, do we ban images?

    I actually wonder what would happen at the BBFC if a director, making a drama on the Moors Murders, shot a brilliantly voice-acted scene of the playing of the tape recording of little Lesley Ann Downey being murdered by Brady & Hindley. If you've read that transcript, you'll never want to hear the tape, but as it would be a straight voiceover scene mimicking pain, suffering and torture, would the BBFC come down hard on it the same as if it had been performed visually before a camera?

    Happy 100th Birthday, BBFC!

  • Comment number 20.

    I've always liked the BBFC, even when they went around banning video nasties. I thank them for creating the sense of anticipation i had when I got my hands on a VHS copy of The Evil Dead or The Exorcist. The 'forbidden' element was a key part of my growing fascination with horror.

    Today, I see classification as a necessary part of responsible parenting. I don't think anybody is under the illusion that young people can't see inapproriate material if they want to, but a family trip to the cinema needs some simple parameters. I'm glad the BBFC have changed with the times so they'll still be relevant in another 100 years.

  • 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!

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?!
  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?$File/Hostel_2.jpg?openelement

    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.

  • Comment number 41.

    I still think the Certificates could be better.i rewatched the PG Coraline today with my 3 children.My 12 year old was fine with it,my 7 year old was alittle frightened by it and my 5 year old watched 15mins then went in the other room to watch Animated Batman! i know the responsibility is with the parents but at the Cinema i think there should be PG6 PG8 and PG10 aswell as 12AS to stop parents bringing children to films they shouldnt be seeing.Joe Blogg film watching wont read the BBFC film detail.

  • Comment number 42.

    My interest in the BBFC was fired some six years ago at my college; my film tutor arranged for one of their representatives to come in and discuss the history of the board, as well as demonstrate their way of going about a subjective ratings system. The younger me didn't soon forget his assessment of the 'head on a stick' clip from 'Wolf Creek'...

    The BBFC presently stands, arguably, as one of the best rating boards active anywhere. Despite a problematic history and questionable decisions made even in recent times, British cinema fans are enormously fortunate to have one of the only censorship bodies that is actually open and more importantly accountable to the public. After all, just think if we had the MPAA's rating system...

  • Comment number 43.

    Harry Limes Shadow (12) makes an interesting point, which is really answered by Kisskissbangbang44 (31). A films certification may well prevent children from seeing that movie at the cinema, but in reality they will watch it at home regardless of the certification. Many of the kids will be watching inappropriate material both on dvd and on the internet, and this will be fully endorsed by the parents. In the 21st century the BBFC can merely act as a guide offering a well informed opinion as to who should have access to certain films, a job they take seriously and do exceptionally well. It is the parent or carer who now must act as the appropriate censor for children under the age of 18 and this is a role for which they are often ill-educated and uninformed or too lazy and stupid to undertake.

  • Comment number 44.

    they should stop advising studios on what to cut out to allow them to get into a lower age classification, because they do this to only help line the pockets of those studios to the detriment of the paying customer who has been denied the actual film. If you need to cut to make a film a lower age classification then your film obviously and for good reason fits in this higher category, and the BBFC should be on our side and be firm about this so that we as the viewer get better films in the way they were intended to be watched instead of a mash of watered down unadulterated rubbish(see Taken 2 and countless other action movies that cut, cut and cut again to enable them to make more money and ultimately a worse film).

    And to counter that, add 15A as a sub category to 15, where anyone under the age of 15 has to be accompanied by an adult, and nobody under the age of 12 is allowed to watch. That way borderline movies such as Made In Dagenham can be more at the parents discretion and allow younger teens to watch slightly more grown up films that aren't ridiculously too strong for that audience to cope with them.

  • Comment number 45.

    I think the BBFC have done a bang-up job mostly, but I still find myself wondering if they have any actual legal powers to stop the rise of the "Uncut" versions, or whether that is a different body. Because we all know that a lot of DVD releases with 'uncut' bits (that they willingly cut anyway, go figure!) are happening. Fake controversy in the absence of real controversy. Quite sad, really, when we're obviously a heck of a lot more open-minded. And clearly way more gullible to buy that line...

    I will in my gaming hobby miss the BBFC however. In July, they handed that over to the PEGI system. The BBFC in the past 15 years has only refused classification to one game - Manhunt 2. Which was heavily edited to get a release (and had to be submitted several times over). Thing is, they have no power to insist it is fully cut, and Manhunt 2 ended up in the sad position where internet patches un-edited the content that was suppressed to get a classification.

    PEGI will be no different. Which is why I'm a little fearful of it. The BBFC is at least a British body we can exert influence on to at least in a digital age ensure that we don't hide the content away to get past the censors. PEGI is a European body, and so far very much in its infancy. The world is changing and as we stream and download more content, it's kind of essential we make sure they're not simply hiding the naughty bits and then 'leaking' patches and keys to unlock it once the classification has passed and it's a bit late to do anything about it.

    This new era will bring about new and interesting challenges. I wish the BBFC luck, and congratulate it on its centenary. Just as long as it knows it cannot afford to rest on its laurels, because it may yet have to pick up the pieces of other bodies. It's done a decent enough job thus far though. It tells you something when in the 90's, the UK imported lots of films/games into the country. During the Noughties, we were exporting more to countries like Japan because we were far less aggressive with the scissors.

    I think that's a nice place to be.

  • Comment number 46.

    There is, and always will be, the biased and dogmatic views of film censorship. It is primarily to do with commerce - especially by todays standards. When the infamous 'X' certificate was attached to a film that was considered "extreme", it did to some degree, invoke a curiosity for some little movie buff who was even too young to vote, which was always through word of mouth, why the movie was deemed inappropriate. They were different times, and the world was no less a different place. But now with the infinate access to material un-vetted on the internet, films today are more accessible and less shocking to kids of a certain age - making the intrigue of the "Banned" movie experience less exciting.

    Personally, with films like "Hostel", "Saw" and the recent furore over Tom Six's ghastly "The Human Centipede", i do see why censorship is mandatory. But movies that deal with strong social issues i.e "A Clockwork Orange", or even "Irreversible" use violence as a major component within the context of the story, instead of the purpose for titillation. Here is what makes movie censorship a double-edged sword.

  • Comment number 47.

    @6 chronax and a few others have commented on the BBFC cutting for lower certification, but that isn't the BBFC's fault or issue, that's the studios making a commercial decision and commercial success is (and always has been) the nain driver of the studios.

  • Comment number 48.

    The strides made by the BBFC may all be well and good, but the bottom line is that their role should only ever be advisory to the audience. That way WE make up our minds about what we choose to see not some absurd specialist group. After all, if they can handle it, so can we! Classification should be their only role and advisory classification at most.

  • Comment number 49.

    @ EddieLarkin

    Thanks for the info. I didn't even consider the cost of having the content classified.

    Re- BBFC classification itself I like the fact it has a clear system and you can see why it's been rated as such. However given its privileged legal position (I think I'm right in thinking that anything that is released theatrically needs classifying by them) it is an anticompetitive body. If I make a film and you want to watch then there should be no compulsion on me classifying it.

    Thinking of the children parents ought to take far more responsibility than the presently do rather than farming it out to the BBFC. Further ignoring the MPAA and BBFC there's loads of classification produced for free by many websites. If there's a market for classification then it would arise naturally via voluntary exchange. If a cinema can't sell many tickets for an unrated film then it makes sense for them to get it rated by a respected body.

    Finally on one of their recent podcasts they were essentially promoting restrictive intellectual property laws which will become an utter scourge when even more of life is conducted online.

    The BBFC via the government is still part of the problem.

  • Comment number 50.

    In recent years I've gone to see films rated only 12A and been shocked at the levels of graphic violence in such films. I would not have been happy if I had a child that had watched that level of violence at a young age of 12 or 13.


  • Comment number 51.

    Yes, as much as my natural inclination has been to rally against the BBFC, I have to say that there is very little to pick on when it comes to their day-to-day work these days. When I was at Brunel uni, I did my thesis on James Ferman's tenure at the BBFC. I had all these hunches that Ferman was pushed by Straw and co so decided to put a lot of (in hindsight, ludicrous) propositions to the BBFC directly. Being a typically snotty undergrad, and thinking I was onto something similar to 'All the President's Men', I told the BBFC (having got no reply in the mere three days since I'd sent the email) that I'd planned on citing my hunches as fact if I did not hear from them by the end of the week. Sure enough, I get an email from Craig Lapper patiently replying to each of my questions ('How high up did the order from Ferman's removal come?' was a typical question I posed, along with the somewhat blunt 'Now Mary Whitehouse is dead, will the BBFC finally ignore anti-censorship campaigners?'). His replies was quite straight-forward and he couldn't help but point out the silliness of my questioning (although I didn't think so at the time). So, in my thesis, I had to concede that the BBFC might indeed be open and accountable.

    Recently, when I get bored during free periods at the college where I teach, I send joke emails to the BBFC asking why Top Cat is a 'U' certificate when, in the opening credits alone, we see the central feline protagonist stealing and conning his way round the city, and should not PG be more appropriate? They patiently emailed me a very sincere reply and made me feel a little childish! I have far too much time on my hands!

  • Comment number 52.

    Can't help but still feeling angry at the BBFC but they have improved somewhat. Or is it more that film makers and studios have toned down their output or that the BBFC are more relaxed. You still can't pick up uncut versions of Cannibal Holocaust, Murder Set Pieces or even The Human Centipede 2 in the UK and the studios and directors behind the August Underground and Vomit Gore trilogies wouldn't even dare submit their movies to the BBFC.
    They are still way behind the times and need to realise that I, as a consenting adult, wish to see a film as the director intended and not as they or the studio did.
    Case in point ... until Arrow Video argued the toss time and time again with the BBFC the film The House By The Cemetery was cut as it displayed, and I quote, "violence against women". I mean seriously it took until 2009 for the BBFC to realise how sexist they were being. And, look at the Cannibal Holocaust cuts ... the removal of a scene showing a muskrat being killed for food. They'll show a woman having a mud ball covered in spikes being inserted into her vagina but the killing of a muskrat. As a vegan, and despite detesting that level of cruelty, the BBFC have no right to suggest that I as a mature adult cannot view that.

    One other thing ... the R18 rating is great ... if you live in London. For the rest of us it's a waste of time. Similar to the introduction of the 12 and 12A certificates it's now time to introduce the American "NR" or Not Rated certificate to audiences of 25 years and above.

    Movies don't kill people, rappers do. ;)

  • Comment number 53.

    I remember a few years ago The Fountain was rated 15 for "Some Violence". I was 13 going on 14 and had been looking forwards to it for about a year. It seemed a bit of a harsh rating, so I sent them an e-mail voicing my complaints. I never got a message back, but the film was changed from 15 to 12A. I like to think part of that was thanks to me. And it's a good thing too, because I think I'm one of only about 10 people who actually saw that film and one of only 4 or so who actually loved it. Long live the BBFC!

  • Comment number 54.

    I general I agree with you Mark that the BBFC have moved onto the right cultural track. Censorship is never a good thing in democracy in any event. However, their principle problem is caused by the viewers and the distributors. Any classification system will compartmentalise the audience figures, and as movie-making is a business in which astronomical amounts of money are at stake the BBFC will be under constant pressure to keep the classification as low as possible, yet the artist(s) behind the film will have content they feel is right for the artistic integrity of the film. A conflict arises here methinks. Then when you put the viewers into the equation more problems arise. The 15 certificate is an apparent favourite with distributors becase it guarantees teenage audiences, but I have been in 15 rated films that teenagers just do not get, so they then disrupt the performance.
    The 12A certificate is another issue for me. If the BBFC surveyed the number of parents who preview or at best check out info before letting their little uns see a film I bet they'd be shocked at the low result. An example: I saw War Horse - a 12A rated film, and the audience was filled with little children, 5/6/7 yrs of age, who became quite upset at some of the scenes in this film.
    So, my view is this, the BBFC are trying to maintain the integrity of films but under pressure from distributors and with disengaged viewers, so instead of demarcation certificates why not just issue 2 grades - Over 18s only & Suitable for Under 18s (but with detailed description of content to force parents especially to take more responsibility)

  • Comment number 55.

    I think the BBFC do a fine job, especially because like you said they detail why they classify a film a certain certificate or why they make a particular cut.

    The problem is that people will out and out ignore all that good work. Working in different cinemas the excuse I've heard time and time again is "but he/she is 15 next week" or "but I'm their parent and I'm with them, surely it's okay". The fact that film classification is subject to the same laws as alcohol sale is irrelevant to them, they just don't understand why they can't take their children in to see Horrible Bosses. I don't really care what people watch at home, I was watching 15 films at home from age 12 or so, but if you go out you're subject to the same laws as everyone else.

    The other issue is the 12a. Some parents need to realise that just because you CAN take a child under 12 to see a 12a, that doesn't mean you SHOULD. I'm not talking about cases where the parent genuinely believes a child can handle the film in question, more when parents use 12a films as an excuse to take a small child into a film that they or an older child wants to see. I've seen 6 year olds being taken into Braking Dawn part 1, and no matter what you think of the quality of that film there is denying that the birthing scene is quite intense and almost horrific. I know of young children being taken to the Woman In Black, even when Daniel Radcliffe himself kept saying "12 really does mean 12 in this case". Lastly there was one memorable incident at work where I advised a young mother that the film The Vow would possible not be suitable for her 5 year old girl or hold her attention, adding that the film did feature the main female character going through a car window in the first few minutes. Both the woman and my colleague ignored me and the woman later complained to a manager because another member of staff asked her to please stop her child from running around the cinema screen due to boredom.

    I think the BBFC do a fine job, shame that a lot of parents don't listen or can't be bothered to seek out the very public information on the films they take their children to.

  • Comment number 56.

    I totally agree with your post Mark.
    I used to hate the BBFC, they almost always used to cut chunks out of my favourite films. I grew so frustrated by their butchering that I started importing all of my DVDs.

    Then, with the advent of re-releases and Blu-Ray I noticed that films were suddenly being released uncut. Then the BBFC website became the fascinating place it is now and we even have an App!

    I have been really impressed with how they have allowed us to make the decision for ourselves. In return they have the respect of an entire industry and are responsible for one of the smartest classification systems in the world, in my humble opinion.

    Their crowning achievement for me has been the introduction of the 12A certificate, which I really didn't understand when it first came out. When my wife and I went to see 'Skyfall' recently it was the first time I noticed that there was not one mis-behaved child in the theatre. It was, I can only assume, because of the need for an adult to accompany them.
    I remember seeing Jurassic Park and kids being thrown out because of all the noise they were making...although that was a PG!

    Anyway, long live the BBFC!


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