10 interesting things I learned from the BBFC’s annual report

Friday August 3rd 2012


Callooh! Callay! The BBFC have just released their annual report (.pdf alert!) for the year 2011, and as ever it’s chockablock with information that the film certification crowd are bound to find fascinating. Here are ten of the juiciest nuggets to get you started:


SEXY VIOLENCE IS STILL NOT OKAY
The BBFC’s hottest topic remains sexual violence. The two films that were outright rejected by the board in 2011 (the initial version of The Human Centipede 2 and The Bunny Game) both hinge narratively on the infliction of sadistic, sexualised violence and it’s this predilection that got them into trouble with the BBFC. As a direct result of these two films, ‘the BBFC is commissioning a major new piece of original research into depictions of sadistic, sexual and sexualised violence, mainly against women, to determine what the British public today believes is potentially harmful and therefore unacceptable for classification.’ And if the Daily Mail’s circulation figures are anything to go by, the results aren’t going to be good for fans of artistic expression.


PEOPLE ARE WORRIED ABOUT GIRLS, AND GAYS
Four major films attracted large numbers of complaints from the public in 2011. The first three (HannaTwilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 and Sucker Punch) all passed at 12A but alarmed some viewers with their placing of ‘teenage girls at the centre of violence’. The fourth, Darren Aranofsky’s 15-rated Black Swan, became the most complained about film of the year, with some correspondents arguing that ‘portrayals of homosexual activity should either be restricted to the 18 category, or not shown at all’. Nice.


SIX COMPLAINTS WERE MADE ABOUT A ‘GAY JESUS’ FILM THAT DOESN’T EXIST
A decade-old urban legend about a film that portrays Jesus and his disciples as homosexuals somehow found its way to British shores in 2011, and so ‘the BBFC responded to six complaints about a film it had not classified, and indeed – as far as it was aware – was not even being made.’ Oh how I’d love to read those response letters.


PEOPLE IN THE PAST COULDN’T STOP CALLING THEIR PETS ‘NIGGER’
The BBFC have already made their stance on The Dambusters and its infamous racially-insensitive pooch pretty clear: things were just different back then and as such the film should be allowed to keep its U certificate. In 2011, they were confronted with yet another intolerant domestic animal when the newly-restored 1924 documentary The Great White Silence brought its plucky ship’s cat Nigger back to the big screen. Again, the film was passed at U on ‘historical grounds’.


THE LONGER THE FILM, THE MORE FUCKS IT’S ALLOWED
Unlike the American MPAA ratings board, which rarely allows more than one use of the word ‘fuck’ at their PG-13 category, the BBFC state only that usage should be ‘infrequent’ at 12A. Last year, the Martin Scorsese documentary George Harrison – Living in the Material World (rated R in the States) snuck more fucks into the 12A category than any other film. Six uses were justified by the BBFC on the grounds that the film’s three and a half hour runtime allowed ‘the thinly spread uses to be considered infrequent’.


GHOSTBUSTERS GOT KNOCKED UP TO 12A
While the vast majority of reclassified films movie down the categories, a few titles do receive harsher ratings (often because the most suitable category didn’t exist when they were first released). In 2011, Ghostbusters was reclassified at 12A after 26 years as a PG, placing it in the same category as the lovingly racist ITV sitcom Love Thy Neighbour, which was also moved up last year.


AMERICANS DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY THEY CAN’T SAY ‘SPAZ’
While the vast majority of discriminatory slurs have rightly been retired from use in mainstream family movies on both sides of the Atlantic, our American cousins still haven’t quite grasped that ‘spaz’ is not okay. The word has previously moved episodes of Friends into the 12 category and threatened to do the same for Hairspray. Last year, it was removed not only from Mr. Popper’s Penguins but even fucking Marmaduke, in which the word was apparently ‘aimed at the eponymous canine’.


J. EDGAR GOT A 15 JUST FOR ‘COCKSUCKER’
While its one use of ‘fuck’ sat comfortably in the 12A category, Clint Eastwood’s snooze-inducing Hoover biopic J. Edgar ran into trouble at the BBFC for two uses of ‘cocksucker’, which were apparently ‘more appropriately classified at 15’… despite the fact that ‘cocksucker’ is a word used exclusively by 12-15 year olds.


THE BBFC REALLY CARE ABOUT HORSES
Tucked away at the back of the report is a list of the various legal limitations enforced by the board, including a ban on ‘any act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person’s anus’. It reveals that six films required cuts in 2011 to ‘remove footage of horses made to fall by the filmmakers in a fashion that was deemed to be cruel and dangerous’, including a re-release of the 1965 Omar Sharif-starring biopic Genghis Khan.


IT STILL COMES DOWN TO INTERPRETATION
When the 1976 Japanese erotic classic In The Realm of the Senses was finally released uncut last year, the BBFC cited ‘the benefit of current understanding of the Protection of Children Act 1978’ in their decision to reinstate a scene including the ‘sight of a child’s penis being tugged’. The fact that this law was used to censor the film in 1989 and yet is now used to defend its uncensoring should give you some sense of just how ambiguous the BBFC’s guidelines are. When it comes to issue of ‘potential harm’ — always a crucial factor for the board — things get even vaguer. Most examiners would probably concede that any film they censor now will eventually be passed uncut at some point in the future. And yet, the film won’t have changed, and neither will the receptiveness of the human brain, so why will the potential for harm have lessened? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.