A letter to the Guardian responding to an article inspired by faked animal cruelty in Lars von Trier's upcoming The House That Jack Built:
Anne Billson asserts that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) still cuts non-faked animal abuse, although it is more lenient on arthouse than horror . The article goes on to cite SŠtŠntangů (1994) and Oldboy (2003) as examples of our alleged leniency towards "arthouse" films, in contrast to our long history of intervention with
The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978) and Cannibal Ferox (1981). I am afraid this statement is incorrect and no preferential treatment is given to "arthouse" films.
SŠtŠntangů was only classified uncut after we received detailed assurances from the film-makers regarding how the scenes with the cat were prepared and filmed in such a way as to avoid cruelty to the animal involved. Those assurances were
consistent with the onscreen evidence. Oldboy was classified uncut because the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937, which is mentioned in the article, only applies to "protected animals" as defined by the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
Currently invertebrates, such as octopuses, are not covered by the 2006 act and we therefore had no grounds on which to intervene.
By contrast, The Mountain of the Cannibal God and Cannibal Ferox both feature scenes of animal cruelty that are clearly real, that involve vertebrate animals and that certainly appear to have been deliberately orchestrated by the film-makers.
Indeed, the makers of those films have confirmed that this is the case.
BBFC waives animal cruelty cuts for 1963 UK comedy adventure by Tony Richardson
17th April 2018
Tom Jones is a 1963 UK comedy adventure by Tony Richardson.
Starring Albert Finney, Susannah York and George Devine.
The BBFC has just made the unusual decision to waive animal cruelty cuts. In this case the cuts were to a cockfight.
The BBFC does seem more likely these days to waive cuts to animal cruelty shown to be staged, but maybe this case is different in that the BBFC commented in 2003 that cuts to Tom Jones were r equired to sight of real animal cruelty
The BBFC has also uprated the age classification from the previous PG rating to a 12 rating this time.
An upcoming BFI release will feature the Theatrical Version and shorter Director's Cut and have both just been rated 12 for moderate sex references, violence, language
Passed X uncut by the BBFC for 1963 cinema release. BBFC have required animal cruelty cuts for all releases from 1971 until 2018 when the cuts were waived for home video release. The film exists in a longer original version and a shortened
Director's Cut. Both versions are available MPAA Unrated and so without censor cuts in the US.
In the early 1960s, at the height of the British New Wave, a movement whose gritty realism they had helped establish, director Tony Richardson and playwright John Osborne set out for more fanciful narrative territory. Tom
Jones brings a theatrical flair to Henry Fielding s canonical eighteenth-century novel, boisterously chronicling the misadventures of the foundling of the title (Albert Finney, in a career-defining turn), whose easy charm seems to lead him
astray at every turn from his beloved, the wellborn Sophie Western (Susannah York). This spirited picaresque, evocatively shot in England s rambling countryside and featuring an extraordinary ensemble cast, went on to become a worldwide
sensation, winning the Oscar for best picture on the way to securing its status as a classic of irreverent wit and playful cinematic expression.
Update: Re the BBFC and faked/real animal cruelty
16th April 2018. Thanks to Jon
There was a foreign-language film from a few years back called A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE, and that features scenes of a simian being experimented on and electrocuted!
The scenes had been faked by clever CGI and animatronics, but if you've seen the film, and didn't know that the cruelty was faked, it looks horrendously real, and abhorrent!
The film received a 12A rating (for disturbing images ) and the BBFC DIDN'T mention anything in the BBFC Advice about the cruelty. When I emailed them about it, they said as long as the cruelty is fake, they can and will pass it!
If animal cruelty has been faked, and the BBFC are shown evidence to backup that fakeness, then it can be passed, at any rating.
The BBFC discussed at a board meeting how the US legalisation of drugs will affect BBFC policy:
The BBFC's compliance manager presented two clips from episodes of recent US series that raise issues regarding the presentation of marijuana use. She noted that since the decriminalisation of marijuana use in parts of the US this has become a
more common feature in various US series, both fiction and non-fiction.
A scene was shown from the sitcom Disjointed (Season 2, Episode 4) in with Kathy Bates' character introduces viewers to her legal medical marijuana dispensary in LA. A scene was then shown from Chelsea Handler's Netflix talk-show Chelsea
[Season 2, Episode 27] in which Chelsea and her guests take drugs and then compete in a stoned spelling bee in a swimming pool.
The Board agreed that the episode of Disjointed is appropriately placed at 15. While the presentation of marijuana is essentially light-hearted, it occurs within a context in which its use is both legal and acceptable (a licensed California
dispensary). Drug taking is not overtly promoted or encouraged and there is no instructional detail in a manner that contravenes the 15 Guidelines. By contrast, the Board agreed that the episode of Chelsea is appropriately placed at 18 because
the use of marijuana is real rather than simulated and there is a strong emphasis on the pleasures of the drug.
The BBFC passed Season 2 episodes 1- 10 of Disjointed as 15 uncut for very strong language, strong sex references, drug misuse. Is it fair to label legal drug use as 'drug misuse'?
The film is rated 12A for infrequent strong language and moderate sex references.
There are five uses of strong language ('fuck'), which occur in different comic situations and with no undue aggression. The film also contains milder bad language, including hell , shit , prick , dickhead , dick
, smart arse , arseing , bugger , screw that , screwed up , sod all , bum , Christ and bastard .
Anyway this appears to be a slight change to the guidelines as the last time it was mentioned, only 4 'fucks' were allowed in a 12A rated film.
BBFC is to adjust sexual and sadistic violence policy to take into account key areas of public concern. Recent research has helped the BBFC to respond to concerns about depictions of rape, sexual assault and other sadistic violence in
films and videos.
Research carried out on behalf of the BBFC in 2002 and again in 2012 demonstrates that members of the film viewing public find unacceptable certain depictions of sexual and sadistic violence which, in their view, have the potential to cause harm.
Although the research reaffirms views that adults should be able to choose what they see, provided it remains within the law and is not potentially harmful. They are concerned about young men with little experience, and more vulnerable
viewers, accessing sadistic and sexually violent content, which could serve to normalise rape and other forms of violence and offer a distorted view of women.
Film viewing members of the public support intervention at the adult category, by the BBFC, to remove certain depictions of violence on the grounds that they consider them to be potentially harmful.
The research carried out by Ipsos MORI in 2012 highlights concerns about certain depictions of sadistic and sexual violence to which the BBFC must respond. Much of the public believe that sexual and sadistic violence are legitimate areas for film
makers to explore. But they are concerned by certain depictions which may be potentially harmful to some, including scenes which:
make sexual or sadistic violence look appealing
reinforce the suggestion that victims enjoy rape
invite viewer complicity in rape or other harmful violent activities.
Most of those involved in the research expect the BBFC to intervene to remove potential harm from such scenes. The BBFC may also intervene where a depiction is so demeaning or degrading to human dignity (for example it consists of strong abuse,
torture or death without any significant mitigating factors) as to pose a harm risk.
David Cooke, Director of the BBFC said:
"There is no 'one size fits all' rule for any theme under the BBFC classification guidelines, as long as what is depicted is within the law and does not pose a harm risk. Once again the public have told us that context, tone and impact, and
a work's over all message, can aggravate a theme, or make it acceptable, even in cases of sexual and sadistic violence. The decision as to whether and how to intervene in scenes of sexual and sadistic violence is complex, but drawing out and
applying these aggravating and mitigating factors is helpful in arriving at a decision which balances freedom of expression against public protection".
SEXUAL AND SADISTIC VIOLENCE: RESPONSE OF THE BBFC TO PUBLIC ATTITUDES AND CONCERNS
Research carried out on behalf of the BBFC, most recently by Ipsos MORI in 2012, demonstrates that film viewing members of the public find unacceptable certain depictions of sexual and sadistic violence which, in their view, have the potential to
cause harm. This concern is particularly acute in relation to young men, without much life experience, and other vulnerable viewers accessing a diet of sadistic and sexually violent content, which could serve to normalise rape and other
forms of violence and offer a distorted view of women.
Further, there is support for intervention, at the adult category, to remove certain depictions of violence on the grounds that many of the public consider them to be potentially harmful.
The BBFC's response to these concerns must strike a balance between, on the one hand, freedom of expression and the principle that adults should be free to choose what they see provided it remains within the law and is not potentially harmful,
and the need to protect the vulnerable from material which may cause harm.
The response outlined below covers situations where the BBFC is considering cutting, or even rejecting, works aimed at adults and containing violence, in the absence of a specific legal prohibition on depiction of the activity.
When considering such intervention, the test the BBFC will apply is whether there is a real, as opposed to a fanciful, risk of harm. Research in this area is contested. There are difficulties both in carrying out such research and in
translating findings from the laboratory to society. However, the difficulty of establishing broad and replicated findings from such research does not mean that there are no harm risks. The research literature, and reviews of it,
often warn that certain works may pose certain risks for certain individuals in certain circumstances.
What the public considers to be potentially harmful is also important. This is not simply because members of the public may have practical experience of harm risks in operation in society which cannot easily be addressed in the
lab. Furthermore, the confidence of the public that the classification system will protect the vulnerable from material that has the potential to cause harm is itself an important indicator of whether the system is effective.
B. The response of the BBFC
This response covers both fictional and documentary (for example "extreme reality" works) which contain sexual and/or sadistic violence.
Intervention is likely in relation to any depiction of sexual or sadistic violence which is likely to pose a non trivial harm risk through, for example:
making sexual or sadistic violence look appealing
reinforcing the suggestion that victims enjoy rape
inviting viewer complicity in rape or other harmful violent activities.
Intervention may also be required in cases where a depiction is so demeaning or degrading to human dignity (for example it consists of strong abuse, torture or death without any significant mitigating factors) as to pose a harm risk.
Material of this nature might also be considered obscene. When considering intervention on the ground of obscenity, the BBFC will take account of the defence of public good and the significance of the overall nature and purpose of the work
in establishing whether or not a work is likely to be found obscene.
The BBFC will also take into account the right to freedom of expression established under the Human Rights Act 1988.
The decision as to whether and how to intervene is complex and subject to a number of aggravating or mitigating indicators which need to be balanced out in order to arrive at a decision.
These indicators are listed below. They are a guide to assist BBFC Examiners in making recommendations in relation to works which are on the edge of suitability for classification according to the BBFC's Classification Guidelines.
The indicators are not designed to be a tick list. No one indicator will of itself necessarily determine the classification of a work. Examiners will balance the indicators and use their judgement when deciding which course of action to recommend
-- passing the work uncut; passing the work with cuts; or determining that the work is unsuitable for classification. The presence of one or two aggravating indicators will not necessarily lead a work to be cut or even rejected, if the
mitigating indicators outweigh them. Nevertheless, if Examiners recommend not intervening, they will highlight any aggravating indicators in their reports and justify why they do not lead to intervention.
Each factor listed below is expanded with possible examples of when the factor might come into play.
Does the depiction make sexual or sadistic violence seem normal, appealing, or arousing?
For example, the perpetrators are characters with whom the viewer might identify. The scene is shot in a way which might invite the viewer to identify with the perpetrator(s). Violence is glamorised in a way which could
arouse the viewer. The scene places an emphasis on the sexual pleasure of the perpetrator(s). The sequence offers a "how to" guide on how to perpetrate sexual or sadistic violence. The sequence has the potential to
raise concerns about the enactment of sexual fantasies, particularly among vulnerable viewers.
Is the depiction likely to appeal especially to impressionable or vulnerable viewers, including young men and gang members, with the result that it might influence their behaviour or attitudes in a way which may cause harm?
For example, there is a gang mentality at play which suggests that sadistic or sexual violence can be a bonding experience within a group.
Does the depiction perpetuate any suggestion that victims enjoy rape?
For example, the depiction suggests that women may become sexually aroused through being raped or that "no" means "yes".
Is the depiction of sexual or sadistic violence gratuitous, including in terms of excessive length and/or detail?
For example, the depiction is out of step with what is required by the narrative. The work does not have much of a narrative. Rape features a focus on eroticising detail, such as nudity. The scene wallows in
Are children involved in the sequence?
Participants in the 2012 research felt that the rape of children, or the juxtaposition of images of children with sexual violence to be potentially more harmful than any other form of sexual violence.
Does the depiction amount to an unacceptable degradation of human dignity?
For example, the sequence features strong, including real life, abuse, torture, killing or other violence without significant contextual justification or other mitigating factors to the extent that it offers human suffering as entertainment in
itself? Might the sequence be considered significantly to erode viewer empathy?
Does the work make it clear that the violence depicted is not condoned?
For example, the perpetrators of sexual or sadistic violence are punished within a work's narrative. The narrative is balanced. (For example, it does not contain 80 minutes of graphic rape followed by two minutes of mild
rebuke.) The viewer is invited to identify with the victim(s).
Does the work or scene lack credibility in a way which undermines its power?
For example, the work is dated and/or ridiculous. The depiction of sexual or sadistic violence is comic and unlikely to be taken seriously. The sequence is otherwise risible. Low production values can add to the lack of
Is the scene discreetly shot?
For example, it leaves some detail to the imagination. The scene only as long as the narrative requires it to be. The treatment is in keeping with the narrative.
Is the scene narratively justified?
For example, it is based on a true story or carries a strong anti-rape message. What the viewer sees is necessary to explain character motivation. The work raises awareness of an issue of public concern in a responsible way.
Where there is any nudity is it outside the context of rape?
Most participants in the 2012 research felt that merely combining violent images with nudity, even sexualised nudity, was not necessarily a problem in itself. These viewers drew a clear distinction between rape, where eroticising detail
could be potentially harmful, and violence which is shot in a titillatory way.
In 2008, section 79 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel. And now the film has been passed 18 uncut for a 2012 4Digital home video release.
If I made the film now I would make it very differently, I was exploring areas of dark eroticism, but I had worked chiefly in prints, not films.
People say I should put it out, but on a personal level I have reservations. If I did release it, I would need to put it into context and perhaps release a documentary to accompany it.
The film has now been passed 18 uncut for nudity and sex involving religious images for:
UK 2012 4DigitalRedemption R2 DVD
at UK Amazon for release 26th March 2012
The BBFC have explained their decision to unban the film in a
press release :
Visions of Ecstasy is a 19 minute short film, featuring a sequence in which a figure representing St Teresa of Avila interacts sexually with a figure representing the crucified Christ. When the film was originally submitted to the BBFC in
1989, for video classification only, the Board refused to issue a classification certificate. This decision was taken on the grounds that the publication of the film, which the issue of a BBFC certificate would permit, might constitute an offence
under the common law test of blasphemous libel.
The Board is required, as part of the terms of its designation under the Video Recordings Act 1984, to seek to avoid classifying any work that might infringe the criminal law. Therefore, the Board had no alternative at the time but to refuse a
classification. The Board's decision to refuse a classification to the film was subsequently upheld by the independent Video Appeals Committee.
In 2008, section 79 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel. This means that the BBFC is no longer entitled to consider whether the publication of the film might comprise a
The BBFC has carefully considered Visions of Ecstasy in terms of its current classification Guidelines. These reflect both the requirements of UK law and the wishes of the UK public, as expressed through regular large scale consultation
exercises. With the abolition of the offence of blasphemy, the Board does not consider that the film is in breach of any other UK law that is currently in force. Nor does the Board regard the film as likely to cause harm to viewers in the terms
envisioned by the Video Recordings Act.
The Board recognises that the content of the film may be deeply offensive to some viewers. However, the Board's Guidelines reflect the clear view of the public that adults should have the right to choose their own viewing, provided that the
material in question is neither illegal nor harmful. In the absence of any breach of UK law and the lack of any credible risk of harm, as opposed to mere offensiveness, the Board has no sustainable grounds on which to refuse a classification to
Visions of Ecstasy in 2012. Therefore the film has been classified for video release at 18 without cuts.
The outrage which cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad have provoked among Muslims has prompted much self-righteous blather about the sanctity of free speech. Yet Muslims are not the only ones who seem to find blasphemy beyond the pale, and who
believe that religion should take precedence over liberty. Here in the UK, Christians retain the protection of the law of 'blasphemous libel', a common law offence which forbids the publication of 'contemptuous, reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous
matter relating to God'. Although archaic, this law provides a striking counterpoint to the claim that freedom of expression is an integral part of the British way of life.
Take the case of Visions of Ecstasy , an innocuous (if rather silly) short film depicting 'the ecstatic and erotic visions of St Teresa of Avila' which was banned in the UK in 1989. In the film, St Teresa is first seduced by her own sexual
psyche (played, conveniently, by a photegenic 'babe'), and then mounts and caresses the crucified body of Christ. Technical shortcomings notwithstanding (hands which seem to move freely despite apparently being nailed down) the film raised a
problem for the BBFC, which is forbidden from classifying material which may infringe the laws of the land.
Despite support from the likes of Derek Jarman, the BBFC concluded that, if prosecuted, a 'reasonable jury' was likely to convict Visions of Ecstasy as blasphemous. Not to be defeated, director Nigel Wingrove (who has since helmed the cult
nuns-on-heat romp Sacred Flesh )
took his case to the European Court of Human Rights , arguing that the very existence of a blasphemy law contravened the freedoms of expression enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights. In a mealy-mouthed
ruling, the Court agreed that Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society , but with the caveat that freedom carries with it duties and responsibilities including a duty to avoid as
far as possible an expression that is, in regard to objects of veneration [i.e. religion], gratuitously offensive to others and profanatory . Which effectively meant that Wingrove was allowed his freedom of expression unless such freedom
offended his Christian peers. In which case, he wasn't...
Visions of Ecstasy remains the only film to be banned in the UK solely on grounds of blasphemy. Yet the issues which the law raises remain a very real concern. Having successfully transformed itself from an autocratic censorship body into
one of the most accountable regulators in the world, the BBFC now rightly prides itself on maintaining a fine balance between the liberal principles of its own classification guidelines and the rigid inflexibilities of certain aspects of the law.
In the case of Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), for example, pre-release protests from Christians alleging blasphemy resulted in the board screening the film to 28 representatives of the UK's major churches, who
concluded that it 'was not blasphemous in the legal sense, although it may have the capacity to offend some Christian viewers'. An 18 certificate was duly awarded.
Despite the clean bill of health, some local councils went ahead and banned The Last Temptation of Christ anyway. The furore followed the movie onto TV, where its transmission provoked a record number of complaints. Similar protests
attended the classification of Dogma (1999), a religious satire staring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as fallen angels, which provoked a deluge of pre-printed mail shots from sections of the Catholic church demanding that the BBFC ban the
movie. The board refused, a decision in which it was supported by the office of the Archbishop of Westminster which went on the record to say that Dogma was not blasphemous. Still the protests continued.
Less well-rehearsed are the rare cases of cult and 'special interest' movies which have been cut in order to comply with our blasphemy laws. Trash maestro John Waters may have entered the mainstream with multiplex-friendly fare such as Hairspray,
Cry Baby and Serial Mom, but his early underground film Multiple Maniacs (1970) is still considered legally unpassable in its complete form thanks to a scene in which Divine makes nefarious use of a rosary intercut with the Stations of the
Cross. More bizarre still is the case of a hardcore sex video which was submitted to the board last year, featuring sacrilegious dildos being placed where the sun doesn't shine by 'women role playing as nuns'. The video, which was duly cut 'in
accordance with the Blasphemy Act 1698', rejoices under the charming title Belladonna: My Ass is Haunted . And no, that's not 'Ass' in the biblical sense of the word.
While there's no doubt that such material is potentially extremely offensive (to me, at least), should we really retain a law which privileges the sensitivities of Christians over those of others? The Last Temptation of Christ may have
been reclassified in 2000 to a more lenient 15 certificate, but Visions of Ecstasy remains banned in the UK to this day, a situation which the BBFC cannot rectify as long as the offence of blasphemy remains on the statute books. In the
wake of the recent rebellion regarding proposed legislation on religious hatred, which, it was claimed, threatened artistic and democratic freedoms, has the time not arrived to repeal Britain's outdated blasphemy law? Only then will we have an
even playing field in which freedom of speech is genuinely sacrosanct, and all religions (and their critics) are granted the same level of protection in the UK.
Slasherama: Zombie Flesh Eaters finally makes its debut on uncut UK DVD on September 19, when it is released as part of Anchor Bay UK's Box Of The
Banned. Did you expect Lucio Fulci's grisly, eye-popping gem to be passed uncut, this time around?
Craig Lapper: Yes. Last time we looked at the uncut version (in 1999) we made a couple of small cuts - to the eye gouging and to some flesh munching. These cuts were made largely because,
according to the Crown Prosecution Service, the uncut version had been successfully prosecuted as obscene as recently as 1994.
Classifying something uncut that had been found obscene by a court as recently as five years ago raised problems for the BBFC, especially given that one of our terms of designation under the Video Recordings Act is to seek to avoid classifying
obscene material. Our lawyers advised that, although we could pass it uncut if we felt standards had changed over the last 5 years, it might be safer to make some small trims. That way we could avoid classifying what the court had found obscene.
However, if it hadn't been for that recent conviction we probably would have passed it uncut back in 1999.
Since 1999, BBFC policy has moved on somewhat. During the 2002 appeal against our decision to cut The Last House On The Left , we had cause to look in more detail at some of those recent obscenity convictions. We found that in many cases,
including the 1994 case involving Zombie Flesh Eaters , the convictions had actually been obtained against huge batches of material (sold, for example, at film fairs) and that the defendant had simply pleaded Guilty, presumably because
some of the other material he was selling was very clearly obscene. However, there was no evidence that a Jury had actually sat and watched Zombie Flesh Eaters or Last House On The Left and considered all the relevant issues. So,
relying upon such convictions as proof of obscenity was unsatisfactory. After we changed our policy to be more sceptical about such convictions, it was clear that Zombie Flesh Eaters would probably be passed uncut if it were resubmitted.
10 Year Rule
For a while the BBFC would always make at least a token cut in videos submitted less than 10 years after a successful obscenity prosecution. This policy has now been abandoned.
Craig Lapper: There was never a 10 year rule enshrined in BBFC rules, our lawyers simply told us that we were obliged not to classify obscene material. Not unreasonably, they stated that
the more recent a conviction was the more of a problem it was likely to be. We set 10 years as a reasonable period, after which public attitudes might have shifted.
Following the certification of several videos with cuts for animal cruelty a debate ensued about why some films are cut and others are not. In particular, Time of the Wolf shows a horse being slaughtered (by having its neck cut) yet it
is not cut. Time then for a clarification of BBFC policy.
The scene in question in Time of the Wolf is not cut because the killing is quick and humane and therefore not illegal. Nonetheless, some people can get squeamish about such things and so it was mentioned it in the
Contrary to popular belief, the Animals Act is only there to prevent the screening of scenes of deliberate cruelty inflicted animals for the purposes of making a film. It does not prohibit scenes showing animals being killed (even if they are
killed solely for the film), provided the killing is swift and humane. Furthermore, it does not seek to prevent documentary footage (even of cruelty) - it is only there to prohibit scenes where a film-maker has deliberately mistreated an animal
for filmmaking purposes. So, documentary footage of animals being killed (or even mistreated) is not prohibited. Furthermore, scenes showing animals being killed (even if it's specifically for the purposes of the film) are not prohibited,
provided it is swift and humane.
The ONLY thing the Act prohibits is deliberate cruelty to an animal (including causing it fear and distress) simply for the purposes of creating a work of entertainment. This is why Hollywood horse trips, staged cockfights [note
that the BBFC HAVE passed documentary footage of cockfights], and Ruggero Deodato cutting animals' faces off with machetes in his cannibal movies are cut. By contrast, APOCALYPSE NOW Apocalypse Now with its quick buffalo kill was passed
uncut and documentaries about foxhunting eg Chaos in the Countryside have been passed uncut.
BBFC changed tack on drugs policy after the departure of James Ferman
Soon after James Ferman left the BBFC they initiated a policy review re drug use. The following email was received from the BBFC outlining the latest policy
The BBFC drug policy was revised fairly soon after James Ferman left. Ferman always used to cut close up sight of needles in veins because he believed they had a fetishistic appeal to both existing users and
ex-users. Shots of needles in veins - he believed - would turn on the cravings of addicts and former addicts and make them want to use heroin again. However, expert evidence taken since he left shows that needle in vein shots in
fact have no more hypnotic potential than sight of any other part of the shooting up process. So, although the BBFC may still intervene at 18 where it is felt that drug taking is deliberately being glamorised - or where there is so
much detail that it could genuinely be instructional - the BBFC no longer remove explicit sight of needles in veins. Accordingly, Christiane F was passed 18 uncut for video/DVD release in 2000 after waiving about 5 minutes of previous
drug cuts (all made to comparable images to those in Trainspotting. Similarly all the previous needle in vein cuts originally made to the video of The Panic in Needle Park were waived earlier this year. Explicit detail of injecting no
longer worries the BBFC unless it is so detailed and explicit that a potential user might glean information from it (eg what quantities to mix, what solution to use, how to mix and cook the heroin etc.) The fact that you inject heroin is not in
itself something most people do not know, so provided it's shown aversively (rather than sexily) it's OK at 18 .
Britain's most influential arbiter of public taste, the film censor, is predicting the end of legally enforced cinema ratings in the UK. In a speech on the future of censorship this week, Robin Duval will argue that greater freedom for
film-makers and audiences is on its way.
We are pretty much the only country left to enforce a film rating system by law , he said. In most of northern Europe and the Americas, film regulation is advisory and not mandatory. How long will Britain keep this up? As the
internet and new media become more available, everyone wonders why one medium is regulated by law and another isn't.
Duval, director of the BBFC for just over two years, does not expect all forms of film classification to disappear. He envisages a grading scheme in which parents would be able to take children to seefilms they deem suitable. Existing legislation
covering obscenity and child abuse would then become the only statutory public protection. In contrast, when the late Princess Diana controversially took an under-age Prince Harry to see the 15-certificate film The Devil's Own ,
the London cinema involved was threatened with prosecution under the 1985 Cinemas Act.
I suspect film producers will still want their product to be given some sort of bill of health, said Duval, but I think the legal nature of it will change fairly soon. Television will have to have its own ratings system too.
Duval will use his speech at the Royal Society of Arts on Wednesday to call on the Government to rethink its policy on monitoring broadcast standards. New Labour plans for one giant, over-arching watchdog to look after film, television and the
internet are dangerous, he will argue, and are also based on false assumptions.
The Government's parliamentary consultation document on the communications industry, published at Christmas, outlined plans for a new body, dubbed OfCom, to take over the roles of the Independent Television Commission, the Broadcasting Standards
Council, the Radio Authority, the Radio Communications Agency and Oftel.
Duval said: There would be too much power in one institution - a supreme cultural regulator. Video and film would be lost within the broadcast bias of this watchdog.
OfCom has been billed by the Government as a simplification of conflicting standards as the worlds of new media and broadcasting converge. But Duval and his colleagues at the BBFC, including the president, Andreas Whittam Smith, are not convinced
by the argument that filmed entertainment will all soon be delivered via the internet. There are a lot of assumptions being made that people will gravitate towards their homes, said Duval. ' It is doubtful whether the expectation of
this great convergence is justified. People want to have somewhere to go in the evening. There are actually now three times more people going to the cinema than in the middle of the 1980s. Duval believes it will take a long time for the
internet to become a central part of the film business. Sport is still the driving force behind home satellite and digital ownership and no film channel yet receives more than 1 per cent of viewing figures.
Attitudes to sex on screen have been deliberately relaxed since Duval and Whittam Smith have been in charge at the BBFC. We carried out research into public attitudes last year and there was a clear message, said Duval. People
believed the BBFC was being quite unnecessarily nannyish when it came to questions of sex, but attitudes to violence were less tolerant . The BBFC's rating categories would continue to be rigorous over violence. Duval said that although the
link between people seeing violence on screen and committing it was poor, the BBFC had to respond to public feeling.
Public acceptability is one of the BBFC's main criteria for rating films. The only statutory restriction we have is on violence towards animals under the 1937 Animals Act. We also have some restrictions under the Obscene Publications Act,
The BBFC ensures there is no mention of drugs in U-rated films. Even at PG level, however, there is more scope for referring to illicit substances, while at a 12-rating Duval says audiences are allowed to 'enter the real world', as long as there
is no appearance of promoting drugs. Broadly, we have to steer away from "imitable techniques". And we will not allow any detail of a hanging in a 15-film, he said.
Duval believes he has seen the end of the recent tide of violent horror films. However, he is concerned that the industry is about to erupt into a spate of brutal adventure movies.
In contrast to current British concerns, American censorship has been tougher on sex than violence. In 1929 the Hays Office Code ruled that married couples had to be shown in twin beds and that one foot must stay on the floor in love scenes, lest
the nation's collective morals were damaged.
The sight of martial arts weapons were routinely banned by James Ferman's BBFC. It didn't matter how trivial, the weapons were always cut. The Policy was quickly shelved as soon as the next administration took office.
Ferman's thinking was revealed in a letter on the subject of the treatment of martial arts films at the BBFC. The BBFC wrote:
We understand and sympathise with the frustration that the Board's policy on nunchakas can cause for aficionados of the martial arts and the unique skills of proponents like Bruce Lee. Unfortunately we do have to accept that
films like Enter the Dragon are not seen only by those who wish to admire these virtuoso displays, but also by those who may see merely a very visually exciting and effective way of causing extreme damage.
When martial arts films started to appear in this country in the early '70s, it soon became apparent that the nunchakas demonstrated in the films were being added to the arsenal of violent gangs. As a result of concern on the part
of the police and judiciary it was decided that this very dangerous weapon, which has no legal use in this country outside the martial arts class, should be removed from violent films in order to discourage its spread. This has been a consistent
policy ever since and, whether as a result or not, nunchakas have not become as common here as they are in America. The weapon was subsequently proscribed by the Home Office so that it is now illegal to carry nunchakas unless en route to a bona
fide martial arts school.
In recent years the Board has modified its policy to some extent so that the weapon is no longer removed on sight. Essentially it is the glamorous use of the weapon in a violent film that concerns us, and the basis for this
concern is not that nunchakas are uniquely dangerous, but they are relatively unknown and are relatively easy to make. Though few indeed could hope to match Bruce Lee's technique, it is not so difficult to wave nunchakas around in a fairly
impressive way, as we have seen in numerous American videos over the years. The result is a weapon that gives a visual impression of its potential and imbues the user with a particular sense of power.
The Board is not alone in its opinion. Our communications with the police, magistrates and educationists confirm support for our policy. The BBC removed all clear sight of nunchakas from the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles
programmes before screening them. It could be argued that these were aimed primarily at children, but our concern with this weapon centres equally on adolescents and young men who are more likely actually to use such implements.
It may well be that, over time, nunchakas do become so well-known that our policy can no longer be reasonably maintained. We are not convinced that this time has yet come but we do continually review all policies and adjust them
as the situation demands. It must be said that the present moment, when there is so much public concern about screen violence it hardly seems an appropriate time to liberalise on any form of violence in videos, especially given the Criminal
Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 and amendments to the Video Recordings Act, which require the Board to be particularly aware of the address and appeal of videos.
As revealed in an interview with BBFC examiner Imtiaz Karim
31st January 1996
From Manga Mania
I was very kindly sent an interview with the BBFC examiner Imtiaz Karim that appeared in Manga Mania January 1996. It is one of the most revealing and open interview with the BBFC that I have read for a long time and gives an excellent
insight into their views on Japanese anime.
Imtiaz Karim explains that the Boardís examiners have specific areas of responsibility, and his include Indian films, some areas of pornography, and anime. After being initially overwhelmed by Japanese animation, he has now
developed a genuine liking for the genre. For the record, most anime goes through uncut. And though we are legally obliged to classify and occasionally cut films for public consumption, Iíd like to make it clear that our duty as a whole is to
make as many films available to as many people as possible.
However the BBFCís 1994 Annual Report didn't appear to echo these sentiments and describes anime as an alarming new trend in animationÖIn all seven hour length manga cartoons required cuts in sexual violence, in some case quite substantial
ones . Ferman draws particular attention to the depiction of a number of horrendous rapes, suggesting that in many of these cartoons there seems to be an underlying hatred (or is it fear?) of women, which can only be slaked by
destruction of the female principleÖIt is frightening to view the exorcising of such violent fantasies in cartoons of such technical brilliance.
Manga Mania: What was the Boardís first reaction to adult Japanese animation?
Imtiaz Karim: To be honest, we werenít quite sure what to make of it. It did present us with problems. Here were cartoons (often featuring large eyed, young looking characters) which had previously been regarded as a childrenís
genre and would have automatically got a U certificate, suddenly dealing with adult issues and themes. The earlier anime submissions were also less explicit and itís only recently that weíre getting stronger material submitted. We make a genre
allowance for the fact it is animation, but when the subject matter is sex or sexual violence or sexualised violence, we donít distinguish between animation and live-action. This is because our experience shows that to a youngster, even in their
mid-teens, an animated sexual act can be as confusing or as titillating as live action pornographic films. And, frankly, a lot of what we see in the more adult anime is pornography.
MM: What is the distinction between sex, sexualised violence, and sexual violence?
IK: Sex is simply images of sexual acts. Sexualised violence is when violence is taking place with a sexual element in the scene. For instance a naked woman could be in the scene, or one of the victims is naked, but the attack is
not of a sexual nature. Sexual violence is when the attack is purely sexual, as in rape, and itís these scenes which are of the most concern to us. A segment we cut from one of the later episodes of Crying Freeman illustrates this point. The
sequence begins as a purely pornographic representation of sex as Freeman makes love to a woman while thinking aloud about his next hit and then abruptly shifts to sexualised violence when he inserts the barrel of his gun between the womanís legs
with his finger still on the trigger.
MM: One of the earliest anime releases was Legend of the Overfiend which has become a legend in its own right. What was the boardís reaction to that film?
IK: The Overfiend series caused much debate within the Board and, after very long discussions, we decided that there were themes and issues which were problematic and needed to be cut. The whole series took us into a very
fantastical universe which was so far removed from reality that even with the intense and explicit images of rape, violation and mutilation, we still didnít treat it as a live-action film or even an animation set in the real world. Legend of the
Overfiend was the first anime I ever saw and I was very shaken by it; I had nightmares for days afterwards. I guess Iíve become sort of accustomed to it since then as Iíve probably seen more anime now than most of your readers.
MM: How do you respond to the accusation that these scenes of gross violence have a different meaning for the Japanese people and that we shouldnít be judging the material from our own cultural perspective?
IK: People often ask us this question, that by cutting or restricting these films we are ignoring the environment in which they were made. But my argument is that itís the audience in this country which matters, and such scenes
of grotesque violation are simply unacceptable in our culture. Fans also often ask if we ever make an allowance for subtitled anime because it obviously appeals to a more specialised and informed audience than dubbed material. We do, but it very
much depends on the material in question. If youíre talking about sexually explicit material, a genre allowance wouldnít be enough for us to leave it uncut or classify it below the adult category.
Take the ĎRape of Elektorí sequence we cut from Overfiend 4. This is a scene of sustained anal and oral rape, mutilation and much worse in which the woman is crying repeatedly for the demons to stop. When you show somebody a scene like this there
is often very little argument whether we should censor it or not. There may well be an audience which is mature enough to watch this and appreciate and understand the scene in the way the filmmakers intended. But our concern is that this is
presented in a very titillating manner which is not appropriate for an audience in their mid-teens. There is no sense of horror or disgust at what the woman is going through; the way it is shot and designed invites the audience to take pleasure
from the scene. And scenes like this Ė multiple rape, gang rape, sexualised violence Ė are about all we ever cut from anime. If there was a scene like this in a live action film, we would probably hand it over to the police.
MM: Could you explain how "genre allowance" works in practice.
IK: Every video is considered on its merits and for classification purposes a 25% genre allowance is made for animation. But there is a huge amount of anime which contains scenes of such a realistic nature, that present sex and
violence in such a convincing way that we sometimes have to treat it as though it was a live action film.
Let me show you a scene we cut from Adventure Duo which features teenage heroes who get into all sorts of adventures, such as saving the world from a mad scientist. Yet the film also contains very realistic portrayals of sex including
autoeroticism and sexual assault. This is from Adventure Duo 2 which is set in Japan during the Second World War. We are introduced to an impotent scientist whose wife is sexually frustrated and the episode starts with her masturbating in a
highly realistic and sexually arousing fashion. Her husband interrupts her and she asks him to make love to her but he refuses and goes back to his laboratory. A few minutes later a group of soldiers arrive and decide to humiliate the scientist
by raping his wife in front of him. Itís one of the longest, strongest and highly realistic rape scenes I have ever seen in Japanese animation. And what the Board found particularly worrying is that this woman is forced to admit to the rapist
that she is enjoying the experience. And when the woman finally orgasms thereís no doubt that the underlying message is that women can enjoy rape as long as itís done well.
The Board doesnít regard any theme as being unacceptable if it is treated intelligently and sensitively. But here our feeling was that this is gratuitous nudity and gratuitous sexual activity and assault that has the potential to arouse and
MM: But if this is an 18 certificate, surely responsible adults can make up their own minds as to what is or isnít acceptable to them. Are you more concerned about underage viewing in this case?
No, we take both things into account. Obviously the characters are youngsters, but we felt that this series didnít have the kind of appeal that say Akira or even Crying Freeman had for a younger audience. I mean, the storyline in Adventure Duo is
quite impenetrable, so we didnít feel that teenagers would particularly go for this material. Itís one of the reasons that we insisted that the name be changed from Adventure Kids to Adventure Duo.
And in cutting this scene, weíre making a decision about the presentation of sexual violence across the board, whether the audience is 18 or 80. It was our view that even if this material isnít corrupting underage viewers, current social
attitudes dictate that this kind of sexual violence is unacceptable. Not only does the law compel us to censor material, public opinion does as well, and public opinion is something we monitor very closely.
MM: How do you do this?
IK: Public opinion is not something you can just look up in the newspapers, although that is one place where itís found. We spend a lot of time talking to various groups and going to lectures on an individual basis. I follow a
whole range of media and keep up to date with youth culture. And, of course, we commission academic research from time to time and regularly conduct market research, and I think we have a fairly good idea of where we are at any given time. But
weíre dealing with an entertainment medium and we will always find someone with some objection to something. The majority of letters we get from the public actually ask for more censorship, rather than less.
MM: Have you tried to widen the debate by bringing in opinions from anime fans?
IK: In general we try to seek out viewer feedback, but we havenít yet done that with anime. However, I think itís only a matter of time before we meet the otaku face to face. And I also think that itís only a matter of time
before thereís some kind of public debate about Japanese animation, in the way that thereís been one about violence in live action videos in the last couple of years. I think the fact that this is a niche market has protected anime from that
level of public inquiry.
And because itís a niche market, the Board tries to make sure that we know what weíre dealing with and the environments in which the videos are being viewed. To this end I read Manga Mania and most of the anime fanzines. The fact that the average
age of the audience for anime is 15 to 18 is of great concern to us as we are under a legal obligation to take into account the possibility of underage viewing.
The other thing thatís become apparent from the running times stated is that Manga Mania and anime fanzines are reviewing predominantly uncut material Ė probably the distributorís promotional timecodes. I realise that with your publishing
schedules itís difficult to get around this, but itís something I wanted your readers to be aware of.
We also know from fanzines that many young adults like this material because of its explicitly violent and sexual nature. Most 15 to 16 year olds donít have good access to pornography, so some of the more provocative material, even though it is
animated, can be sexually titillating.
MM: So the BBFC is, on some level, acting as a proxy parent?
IK: Well, that has only a practical manifestation in a very small number of cases. It hasnít really affected the way in which we classify anime yet, because most adult anime is very adult orientated. The kind of material
where we are most concerned about underage viewing at the moment is teenage action films Ė Schwarzenegger, Stallone and the like Ė which are directly aimed at and appeal to a mid teen audience and they often contain scenes of extreme violence
which are not appropriate to younger viewers.
The problem for anime is that parents of pre-schoolers can buy the Lion King or Jurassic Park for their kids because they have decided that this is the kind of film that they want their children to see. But parents do not go out and buy Tenchi
Muyo or Green Legend Ran or Patlabor. Itís the viewers themselves who decide to buy this material.
MM: And some of these viewers recently inundated the Board with mail complaining about the BBFCís treatment of Kekkou Kamen.
IK: When the Board first saw The Adventures of Kekkou Kamen, we were quite taken aback as we hadnít seen anything like it before. The series directly associates comedy with violence and sexualised violence. It features a naked
superheroine who goes around with only a hood on beating up the bad guys with nunchakus, which are illegal weapons in this country. Though we allowed some scenes to remain in which Kekkou was just holding nunchakus, if a scene glamourised and
promoted their use, then it became a problem and was cut.
The other, more troubling issue with Kekkou Kamen is that it is a comedy which has at its heart a sort of sexualised violence. This scene was cut from the first episode. Itís where a group of sadistic schoolteachers make jokes at the expense of a
young girl who is hung up and then whipped and tortured by a sadistic Nazi. This is the crux of the sequence, where the girl is stripped with a whip and we get an eroticised view of her breasts and naked torso. This is very over the top and is
meant to be a satire on the Japanese education system, but our feeling was that there was enough explicit sexual imagery to undercut the satire and introduce an element of arousal and titillation, which is reinforced by the change of music.
MM: What is the Boardís attitude to violence in anime?
IK: For a start some childrenís animation is the most violent entertainment on television, showing acts of gross brutality to animals and people, but itís usually violence without consequences. I mean Bugs Bunny shoots people in
the face but they get up and walk away. In anime, when someone gets shot in the face it explodes and their blood gets splattered across the room.
As an example, here is a scene we cut from Angel Cop. This is a highly political piece of anime, set in the near future where the Japanese government have set up a special task force to deal with terrorists. This is the point where several
members of the Red Dawn Communist group are confronted by Angel, who literally blows out the brains of one of the terrorists, which is pure mutilation. And the Video Recordings Act places a legal duty on us to have regard to these kinds of
As a comparison, I saw Braveheart the other night, which contained some battle scenes which I found disturbingly violent, and yet it was released as a 15 for the cinema. What distinction would you draw between Angel Cop and Braveheart?
Our view of a film like Braveheart is that itís a serious historical drama based loosely on real events and its portrayal of violence, you could argue, is intelligent and responsible. It shows warfare and bloodshed in a way that would have
happened. The Board didnít feel that the violence in Braveheart was exploitative, whereas in Angel Cop or Mad Bull, the violence and mutilation are being offered to the audience as pleasure, without any narrative context or rationale for its
excesses. For instance, the way peopleís heads are shot off in Mad Bull in various stages is drawn purely for aesthetic entertainment.
MM: What about less obvious films like Wings of Honneamise, which I understand had a small cut?
IK: Wings of Honneamise was cut in one place. It was a wholly gratuitous sexual assault in the middle of a film which was otherwise a wonderful experience for younger viewers. But, and this is important as other distributors
often do the same, it was voluntarily cut by Manga Video to lower the certificate from its cinema classification of 15 to a PG for the video release. When this happens, it is not registered as a cut.
MM: What about language?
Well thereís a lot of strong language in anime and sometimes I think itís counterproductive. An excellent film like Patlabor 1 was made 15 solely on the basis of explicit language. I actually think that without the language it would have been
passed as PG. By and large the inclusion of strong language will automatically guarantee a 15, but will rarely push it up to 18 unless it is used a great deal. But these are commercial decisions that distributors make about their films.
MM: Another bugbear for some younger anime fans is that classifications can change in the middle of a series.
IK: This also happens with TV series that are later released on video. For instance, you can have 16 episodes of Londonís Burning which are PG and one is 15 because of its content. Sometimes distributors will ask us to classify
the series as a whole and give it a single category. We will, but it will be the highest category that any individual episode has been awarded. None of the anime distributors has asked us to do this, so we classify each episode of a series
Tenchi Muyo comes to mind as a generally PG series that had one or two episodes which went up to 12 on the basis of some nudity and sexual undertones. Similarly Bubblegum Crisis Hurricane Live 2033 was passed as PG, while its sequel went out as
15 because if some stronger images such as blood gushes, a head explosion and a close up stabbing in the stomach.