Going Down in Hollywood: It’s a Girl Thing!

The Wolf of Wall Street

We love a bit of film classification chat here at Mild Concern. The whole idea of judging what age a person can be before they see a film based on the amount of sex, violence, and swearing absolutely fascinates me. We’ve previously looked at the specifics surrounding the age rating for Pulp Fiction, mused about racist remarks, and even tried to calculate the amount of blinking you need in order to use your eyelids as your very own censorship tool.

More importantly we had a proper look at the classification debate for Shame when it came out two years ago. In short the issue was that the film had been given an NC-17 rating in America due to its abundance of sex and nudity. NC-17 is essentially an 18 certificate and while in the UK an 18 for a grown-up film is not ideal but by no means a death sentence, in America there are cinemas that won’t even screen a film branded with the NC-17 label. Frequently films will work with the MPAA (the American film classification association) to edit their film to attain the much more consumer friendly R rating which allows anyone under 17 to see the film if they take an adult with them.

There is an argument for such cuts when a studio is looking to appeal for a mass market and need a lower certificate and yet the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. When you cut a film not for artistic but for commercial reasons then you are in danger of ruining the vision of the piece for the sake of improving your profit margins. There is a fine line between offering advice on classification guidelines and out-and-out censorship. When you have the power to label a film with a black mark that will severely diminish it’s market value and you do so based upon a questionable moral code then you are essentially holding a film to ransom; if they don’t edit out the bits the MPAA doesn’t like then their movie won’t get seen by very many people.

Film is a murky world where artistic and commercial concerns collide and so often when it comes to a matter of getting an R or NC-17 rating then it is the money men that rule.

Just this week there have been two cases of censorship editing as films strive to get themselves a friendlier rating. The first is the news that Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film The Wolf of Wall Street had been blessed with an R rating after the much lauded director agreed to trim down sex and nudity to avoid being branded NC-17.

Charlie Countryman

In addition to this actress Evan Rachel Wood took to Twitter yesterday to complain about edits that had been made to her new film Charlie Countryman. It would seem that an earlier cut she had been shown included a scene of her receiving cunnilingus from a character played by Shia LaBeouf (soon to trouble censors in Nymphomaniac) but now the film is in cinemas the scene has been edited so that the film could avoid being rated NC-17. Here is what Wood had to say:

After seeing the new cut of #CharlieCountryman I would like 2 share my disappointment with the MPAA, who thought it was necessary to censor a woman’s sexuality once again. The scene where the two main characters make “love” was altered because someone felt that seeing a man give a woman oral sex made people “uncomfortable” but the scenes in which people are murdered by having their heads blown off remained intact and unaltered. This is a symptom of a society that wants to shame women and put them down for enjoying sex, especially when (gasp) the man isn’t getting off as well! Its hard for me to believe that had the roles been reversed it still would have been cut OR had the female character been raped it would have been cut. Its time for people to GROW UP. Accept that women are sexual beings. Accept that some men like pleasuring women. Accept that women don’t have to just be fucked and say thank you. We are allowed and entitled to enjoy ourselves. Its time we put our foot down. Thanks for listening.

I think Wood touches on what is by far the most concerning thing about the way classification and censorship is carried out. While we can probably agree that there needs to be some level of control on what various ages can see, and that studios are well within their rights to ruin a good film with cuts, there is a huge imbalance in what they think should be kept away from the eyes of the young. Violence is much acceptable in the mainstream than sex and nudity as images of hate are seen as far less harmful than images of love. Worse still is the patriarchal and misogynistic attitude that Wood is accusing the MPAA of possessing. She would not be the first as in 2010 it took an appeal for Blue Valentine to be lowered from NC-17 to R without removing its cunnilingus sequence. It certainly looks like there is an uneven policy at the MPAA when it comes to which gender is participating in sexual activity.

Film classification is an important part of the world of film, and something our own BBFC do with admirable transparency, but I find it hard to endorse any system that finds violence to be more acceptable than sex and runs scared when faced with an expression of female sexuality. Cinema is an art form and when edited to suit commercial interests is suffering from censorship plain and simple. In America the MPAA is a shadowy organisation that somehow has gained the power to ruin a film’s box office if the group does not approve of its contents. Unlike the BBFC the MPAA answers to no one and seems to decide for itself what is deemed acceptable.

Fight censorship!

Fight the patriarchy!

Fight for equal rights for oral sex!

Uncut at the BFI – Competition

Recently in my flat, there has been an ongoing discussion about film ratings. After Looper, which had us all going wide-eyed with shock and exclaiming “Whoa, that was brutal!” we scampered to read what the BBFC had to say when they had the film classified ’15’ for strong language and bloody violence. The general gist is that while there are “several scenes of strong bloody violence”, they “[occur] within a fantastical sci-fi context without any lingering on the suffering of the victims”. This does explain a lot, in the same way that the eye drops characters take are obviously a completely fictional drug, but even so the overall tone seemed especially strong for a 15 to us.

Holy Motors on the other hand was described by my flatmates* as having some horrific scenes, which definitely do sound like 18 material, but they didn’t associate it with the same level of shock and horror that Looper inspired.

All this rambling is as introduction to the BFI’s new Uncut season. At Mild Concern, we rather like the BBFC and approve of their efforts to be more open and clear about their classification reasons but inevitably, standards and tastes have changed over time. So, to celebrate the BBFC’s 100th anniversary, BFI Southbank is hosting a season of films that were controversial in their time and explores how the BBFC has reacted to them, as well as shifting with the mood of the nation. Significantly, this included changing from the ‘British Board of Film Censors’ to the ‘British Board of Film Classification‘.

For a chance to enjoy the best in confrontational cinema and decide whether the censors/classifiers got it right or not, the BFI have kindly given us two tickets of your choice to offer in a Mild Concern prize draw.

Just fill in your details below and start planning which film you want to see.

Competition closes on 29th October 2012 and you will have to get yourself to London to claim your prize.

* Disclaimer: I haven’t seen this but I have had it explained to me in great detail.

Close Your Eyes and Everything Will Be 12A*

So far this year two big releases, The Hunger Games and The Woman in Black, have had mere seconds of footage shaved from them in order to drop down from a 15 certificate to the Box Office friendly rating of 12A. What intrigued me about this, rather than the fact that studios are hunting for a 12A rating which makes financial sense, is the fact that the barrier between a 15 and a 12A certificate can be a few seconds of removed or edited footage. Does being three years older make you better able to handle an extra seven seconds of gore?

This got me thinking about the way our bodies naturally censor every film we watch, shaving minutes off the runtime and shielding us from all kinds of images, by blinking. So now the question is whether we blink for long enough during a film to effectively censor it enough for a lower age certificate. That is what we were all thinking, right?

I did a bit of Google investigating and found that we blink 10 times a minute under laboratory conditions and 3.5 times a minute when focussed on something (a film perhaps?). The duration of the average blink is very roughly 0.25 seconds. Are we excited yet!?

The next step in my journey into testing a pointless theory was to pick four films as test subjects. Joining The Hunger Games and The Woman in Black are The Human Centipede II and A Serbian Film; both films having undergone significant cuts to achieve a release at 18 certificate and escape being banned outright. Using the running time for each film I have calculated the total amount of blinking time, under laboratory conditions and for focussed eyes, the average viewer would experience. The results of my calculations are below:

Film Running time Blinking time
Blinking time
Amount cut by BBFC
The Hunger Games 142m 18s 5m 56s 2m 5s 7s
The Human Centipede II 86m 50s 3m 37s 1m 16s 2m 31s
A Serbian Film 99m 25s 4m 9s 1m 27s 4m 11s
The Woman in Black 94m 47s 3m 57s 1m 23s 6s

What does this tell us? In reality nothing, but in the delusion you are following me through it means that both The Hunger Games and The Woman in Black could have been released uncut with a 12A rating and our natural eyelid movements would have censored the films dramatically without the BBFC’s help. Staggeringly under laboratory conditions The Human Centipede II could have been released uncut and our blinks would have hidden all the worse of the gore for us! Only A Serbian Film, a truly grim piece of cinema, has too much offensive material for our blinks to take care of.

Taking this even further it is worth considering the fact that for the more scary/gory/extreme films we self-censor even more extensively by clenching our eyes shut, hiding behind coats, and running screaming from the room. When I first saw The Sixth Sense I spent so much time hiding behind a towel, pink and the nearest shield to hand, that I effectively edited it down from a 15 to a PG certificate. I barely saw any dead people thank you very much.

In conclusion: I have too much time on my hands. The BBFC can stop suggesting cuts and just have a BBC Sport style announcer telling viewers when to blink. I stand by my findings 100%.

*Now that you have read the whole thing the title is all the more witty and hilarious, please take a moment to quietly applaud a well written pun.

Are You Old Enough for Racism?

Last night I was invited along to a screening of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a film with a trailer so filled with British ‘National Treasures’ that I nearly fell over myself with excitement. As someone who only falls over themselves once a week, this was no mean feat. I can’t tell you whether I liked the film or not, but I can bore you with something interesting* I noticed over at the BBFC. Just try to stop me.

The BBFC has rated The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as 12A and in their consumer advice say that the film “contains strong language, moderate sex references and racist remarks.” I was surprised to see racist remarks highlighted as a reason parents may not want their children to see a film, though I’m not sure why as racism is of course vile and reprehensible. I’m not afraid to take a widely supported and uncontroversial stand.

Digging deeper, as only someone with too much time on their hands does, I found over at the Parents BBFC website guidelines for what sort of language the BBFC will allow at 12A:

Discriminatory language may be present but will not be endorsed by the work as a whole. Aggressive use of discriminatory language (for example homophobic or racist terms) is unlikely to be acceptable at ‘12’ or ‘12A’ unless it is clearly condemned.

So there you have it, you can only hear racist slurs which are not clearly condemned when you are at least 15 years old. I suppose the aim is to not expose the nation’s children to endless streams of fully endorsed racism until they are old enough to feel sufficiently outraged. Makes sense to me.

Interesting* also to note that American History X, a film about neo-Nazis and filled with racism so strong it borders on the unwatchable, has no mention of racism in its consumer advice from the BBFC. Hmm.

There you have it, a series of facts strung together into something almost resembling a coherent dialogue. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go and wrestle with the Oscar Nomination live-stream again.


Shame, Sex and Full Frontal Nudity: The NC-17 Debate

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle online over the fact that Shame has been given the rating of NC-17 in America. Shame being a drama about a man with sex addiction containing “strong sex” and full frontal sexy nudity of both the male (Michael Fassbender) and female (Carey Mulligan and many more) variety, it is not too surprising that an 18 certificate applies in the UK. So why is it that a similar rating in the US is seen as an exercise in draconian censorship and a death sentence at the box office, leading some people to ask whether “the MPAA be empowered to make parenting decisions“?

Continue reading

Censorship and Classification, Pulp Fiction vs. the BBFC

A few weeks ago I spent a surreal evening at the BBFC watching Pulp Fiction on Blu-ray. This was exciting for a multitude of reasons, not least because this means that Pulp Fiction is out on Blu-Ray soon, but because I got to sit in a BBFC screening room, complete with desks for film rating, and to hobnob with someone who was part of the decision to ban The Human Centipede 2 (back when it was banned).

One of the more interesting parts of the evening was when we were told about Pulp Fiction‘s journey through the BBFC and the detailed consideration a film goes through when an age certificate is decided on. I’m going to try to retell this as best as my memory can manage, bearing in mind I was drinking wine on an empty stomach.

Way back in 1994 Pulp Fiction was passed for cinema release uncut, it had a bit more trouble when it came to getting a home video release. There were major concerns amongst the public over the media’s portrayal of violence and whether this was inspiring real life incidences. The murder of Jamie Bulger was a major factor in this.

The matter was debated in parliament and it was even mooted that only films rated U should be allowed to have a home video release to keep people “safe”. Ultimately the government passed the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994, legislation giving the BBFC clarified guidelines for classification.

While parliament debated the BBFC held off on rating Pulp Fiction, but with legislation passed they gave it an 18 certificate with a 3 second shot re-framed. So as not to glamorise drug taking the shot in question was re-framed to not show a needle actually penetrate an arm, you can see a comparison by clicking here.

With a little bit of speculation it seems that it was one man, the former director of the BBFC, James Ferman, who was causing all the fuss about the drug taking in Pulp Fiction. Something this interview with the BBC in 1998 supports, as Ferman calls the film “socially irresponsible”.

Now with the Blu-ray release the film has been rated once more and after extensive research, and the departure of James Ferman, it was decided that Pulp Fiction glamorised drug taking no more than it glamorised violence or dodgy dancing. In fact their research showed that footage of a spoon being heated is just as much of a trigger for an addict that a needle plunging into an arm.

As such Pulp Fiction is going to be available on Blu-ray from 17th October completely uncut, and with hours of extra features.

What I learnt most from the evening is that the BBFC are quite friendly human beings working within strict regulations who take their jobs seriously. Most surprising was the revelation that it could take just one man with a chip on his shoulder to force a film to have cuts made to it. These days the BBFC are much more transparent, but being human they can’t always get it right.