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 Monster Love

    Carol Topolski at the BBFC

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28th January
2008
  

Monster Love...

Carol Topolski tells of being a film censor under James Ferman
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Monster Love Carol Topolski, a former film censor, has written a debut novel, Monster Love , whose horrifying premise might itself have a twitchy editor reaching for the blue pencil.

Her long spell on the BBFC - between 1983 and 1995 - was, she said, my best time, the most intellectually stimulating job I've ever done. She combined it with work as a therapist. There I was at one end of the week encouraging freedom of speech from my patients, and there I was at the other end of the week cutting and banning it. I very much liked that tension.

She served on the board through an era of great public anxiety about the corrupting effects of 'video nasties' - in 1993, for instance, the judge in the trial of James Bulger's killers suggested that the boy murderers had been inspired by the video Child's Play 3 . Topolski thought the judge's comments irresponsible - he put those boys in a horror film category, she said, from which they have never emerged.

Though she loved the wonderful culture of debate on the classification board, Topolski and her fellow censors grew frustrated by what they saw as an increasingly dictatorial attitude in their boss, James Ferman. We all felt that he was sucking the debate out of it, she said. We would debate and make a decision and he would slide up to his directorial eyrie and change it. The 1973 horror film The Exorcist was a particular point of conflict. Ferman refused to allow it out on video, point-blank refused, so it was effectively banned. Every few years we'd come back to it, rehearse the arguments again, and he was just unbudgeable.

Topolski considered The Exorcist a 'splendid' movie. As the mother of a teenage daughter in the late 1980s, she came to see the film as really an excellent portrayal of adolescence. When you have a teenager, quite often, even if you don't say it, you think, "What the devil's got into you?" because they do seem suddenly to be possessed by some maniac energy that's coming from left field.

In 1995 the tensions within the film board came to a head and Ferman sacked the other censors, Topolski among them.

When I asked Topolski if she had been truly shaken by anything she had seen, she cited scenes in a film called The New York Ripper ( we actually banned it ) that depicted a man slicing open women's breasts and genitals, and two pieces of paedophile film shown to the film classification board by the head of the Obscene Publications Squad. These are acid-etched on my mind, she said, and then, quietly, and I really, really, really wish they weren't there.

...as a film censor, there was also that strange split. You have to inhabit the film in the terms in which the film was working - that is, be a punter - at the same time as have the censor's part of your mind saying, "We can't have that."?

When she took up her place on the film classification board. The board was expanding to cope with the rise of video: This was new territory we were mapping out. It was fascinating. Of the films that appeared in that era, Pulp Fiction is my bête noir, she said. It's brilliant. Tarantino understands the medium, his writing is superb, his direction is pitch-perfect, the characters are funny and so on, but I think it is a dangerous film, actively a dangerous film, because it gives you the psychopathic experience with no comeuppance.

Tarantino says, "Look! See how entertaining it is to blow someone's head off! Or to laugh at them when they're humiliated! Or to anally rape them!" There's no consequence. You just enjoy it.

Did she think it should have been banned? No. I think there's a lot of dangerous art out there, and you've got to assume that the majority of people in the audience are going to have enough internal resources to be able to process it and not act on it. You have to trust your audience.

BBFC logo

BBFC

British Board of Film Classification

The BBFC is an independent company tasked with UK film, video and games censorship. It is funded through classification fees.

The BBFC role is different for cinema,  home media and online.

For cinema the BBFC historically represented the interests of the film industry to ensure that film makers avoided legal issues from obscenity law etc. BBFC cinema ratings are advisory and the ultimate censorship responsibility lies with local authorities. In the vast majority of cases BBFC advice is accepted by councils. But advice has often been overruled to ban BBFC certificated films or to allow BBFC banned films.

For home video, DVD, Blu-ray and some video games, the BBFC acts as a government designated censor. BBFC decisions are enforced by law via the Video Recordings Act of 2010.

For online films the BBFC offers a voluntary scheme of reusing BBFC vide certificates for online works. The BBFC will also rate online  exclusive material if requested. Note that the Video Recordings Act does not apply online and content is only governed by the law of the land, particularly the Obscene Publications Act and Dangerous Pictures Act.

The BBFC is due to relinquish responsibility for video games in late 2011. The Video Standards Council will take over the role and ratings will be provided using Europe wide PEGI ratings and symbols.

BBFC Directors:
- John Trevelyan 1958-1971
- Stephen Murphy 1971-1975
- James Ferman 1975-1999
 - Robin Duval 1999-2004
- David Cooke 2004-present

BBFC Ratings:

-  U: Universal: Suitable for all

- PG: Parental Guidance: General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children

- 12A: Suitable for 12 years and over. No-one younger than 12 may see a 12A film in a cinema unless accompanied by an adult. [cinema only]

- 12: Suitable for 12 years and over. No-one younger than 12 may rent or buy a 12 rated video or DVD. Responsibility for allowing under-12s to view lies with the accompanying or supervising adult.. [home media only]

- 15: No-one younger than 15 may see a 15 film in a cinema. No-one younger than 15 may rent or buy a 15 rated video or DVD.

- 18: No-one younger than 18 may see an 18 film in a cinema. No-one younger than 18 may rent or buy an 18 rated video.

- R18: To be supplied only in licensed sex shops to persons of not less than 18 years. Hardcore pornography is allowed in this category

- Rejected. The BBFC has the power to ban the sale of home media. A rejected cinema film may be shown with permission of the local authority.

Not that rejected home media is banned from sale. It is not generally illegal to possess. However criminal law makes it illegal to possess child & extreme porn.

Websites:
BBFC
Parent's BBFC
Student's BBFC
Children's BBFC

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