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1st January

  Obscenely Archaic...

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lady chatterleyThe Obscene Publications Act (OPA) has underpinned Britain's censorship of pornography ever since it was introduced by Roy Jenkins back in 1959. And yet for all that time, the law has had to be carefully nursed and protected by the authorities, lest it get out that the law is the legal equivalent of the King's Clothes .

But the authorities recently allowed their guard to slip, and a jury was given the rare chance to examine these King's Clothes in connection with gay hardcore pornography. No doubt the prosecutors were well displeased when the jurors were asked for their opinions. In unanimous unison the jurors cried that the King is naked and that the defendant was innocent.

The difficulty for the authorities is the very strong definition of what is obscene. The law reads:

For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.

Jurors may find that the material is repugnant, offensive or just plain nasty, but it is a difficult ask to suggest that pornography can deprave and corrupt viewers. And if the jury needs a little persuasion of this, then the defence merely has to ask if the jury themselves have been depraved and corrupted by the porn they have seen. Of course not. And then there are all the other people in court who have seen it. Are the film censors now depraved? Are the police who have dealt with the case depraved? Are the judges, lawyers and expert witnesses depraved? Are the people in the public gallery now depraved? Of course not.

And so in the light of so many people obviously not being depraved and corrupted, it is very difficult to get a jury conviction.

In the landmark Lady Chatterley trial, the prosecution tried the angle that if the book wasn't actually depraving the jury, then perhaps somebody else. The prosecutors famously asked if the book was something you would wish your wife or servants to read? . The jury didn't go for it, and that was more or less the last attempt to apply the OPA to the written word.

Actually there is still one circumstance where the deprave and corrupt test can still be effectively used, and that is when the likely audience' includes children. The act was successfully used against a website with scatological content. The webmaster was successfully prosecuted, not for the content secured behind pay walls, but for the free trailers that could have been seen by children.

So how has the OPA been so effective for the authorities to restrict porn?

The law is quite cleverly conceived with a couple of plea bargaining options that have lead to many convictions. The first has been particularly effective against unlicensed sex shops. The authorities have the option to seize stock and let that be the end of it. In effect the value of the stock lost is a substantial fine that is enough to act as a deterrent. Victims of the police raids would accept the loss of stock and be unlikely to want to contest their innocence in court.

The second option has been to give defendants the option of pleading guilty in a magistrates court where the maximum prison sentence is 6 months for a single offence. If this offer isn't accepted then people run the risk of a 5 year sentence if convicted in a crown court.

More recently most porn cases have been prosecuted using the Video Recordings Act. Such prosecutions do not rely on any judgement of obscenity. The simple lack of a film censorship certificate is enough to secure a conviction. The Crown Prosecution Service maintains a list of what it considers to be obscene, and the film censors dutifully ban anything on this list. So any film being sold with supposedly obscene content can lead to simple prosecution under the Video Recordings Act.

Unfortunately the Crown Prosecution Service list of obscene material includes some pretty commonplace porn elements. The most notable of these is the ban on squirting or female orgasm. This is considered obscene under the wider category of golden showers. Another commonplace activity banned for supposed obscenity is fisting.

These were to be the core of the state's prosecution of Michael Peacock (trading under the name Sleazy Michael). He was arrested for selling such material at a time when the Video Recordings Act was suspended due to a government mistake in its enactment. The prosecutors were denied the less risky VRA prosecution, and they fell back on the OPA. Peacock bravely opted to contest the charges in front of a jury and duly won his case.

So what are the consequences of the court victory? The state could still argue that every case is different and that no precedent has been set. But the shrill jury call of the King is naked will have already alerted most lawyers in the land that defendants can now win jury trials.

It would seem logical for the authorities to relax their censorship guidelines for porn. But the state has been prosecuting people for the depiction of totally legal adult consensual activities for so long now, that it might simply not know how to stop.

The fear is therefore that government could replace the OPA with something more up to date. A new law would surely be far worse. I can almost envisage it now:

For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to offend or stigmatise persons who are likely to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.

It doesn't bear thinking about!

 

1st February

  Revival, Restoration and Resurrection...

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Dracula Prince Darkness Blu ray Double My love of horror films was first awakened by a long running series of horror films shown every Friday night on ITV under the banner Appointment with Fear . It was an even more special treat when the weekly offering was a Hammer film.

And of course it was the great classic Dracula that started the Hammer blood flowing in 1958. The enthused Peter Cushing as Dr Van Helsing relentlessly pursuing his arch enemy Count Dracula, immortalised by Christopher Lee, made for a film that inspired a generation.

So now it is wonderful news that Hammer Films have now bounced back, with both contemporary success, and with the restoration of their classics. Tastes have changed during the fifty plus years span of Hammer, but one thing has remained consistent throughout: tussles with the film censors of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC)..

Hammer's contemporary hit is The Woman in Black . A ghost story by James Watkins starring Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer and Ciarán Hinds. The film was passed 12A after 6s of BBFC category cuts for intense supernatural threat and horror. In addition to the 6 seconds of visual cuts, substitutions were also made by darkening some shots and by reducing the sound levels on others

The BBFC commented: Distributor chose to reduce moments of strong violence / horror in order to achieve a 12A classification. A 15 classification without cuts was available .

In fact the film is still very scary and the BBFC edits leave the film just on the very edge of acceptability of a 12 rating. Many cinema goers have noted that film is a bit too scary for kids.

The 1958 Dracula was also cut by a few seconds by the BBFC, It was passed X (which was a 16 rating at the time) after cuts to remove shots of blood during Lucy's staking and to reduce the final disintegration of Dracula.

The staking scene was eventually restored from a US Theatrical print and the BBFC rating was reduced to 15 for UK video and DVD.In 2007 the BBFC rating was reduced further to a 12A for a cinema revival at the British Film Institute.

And now the good news is that the censored footage of the final disintegration of Dracula has also just been restored. The missing footage was found by a Japanese fan in a local cinema print.

The Hammer blog enthuses about the film's restoration which has just premiered in London.

The moment where the Count leans-in over Mina is full of transgressive threat and erotic charge (one can easily see how this moment had to be cut in 1958) though the footage does not actually include a bite (contrary to wishful thinking in some quarters).

The face-clawing scene is truly magnificent and sits perfectly within the last few seconds of the film.

The restored version will be released on Blu-ray later on this year. Presumably it will also be released to the satellite and cable film channels

Other Hammer films are also in the process of being restored. The first three being, Dracula Prince of Darkness , The Plague of Zombies and The Reptile , all from 1966.

Another piece of censorship history has also occurred recently. Britain's only film banned for blasphemy has just been unbanned.

The BBFC explained the original reason for the ban and the subsequent reversal of that ban:

Nigel Wingrove's 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 might constitute an offence under the common law test of blasphemous libel.

In 2008, section 79 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel.

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 film is more likely to appear on cable or satellite in an arts programme rather than on a film channel though.

With all this news of restoring long lost material, I don't suppose those good people at Hammer could unearth a few extra sex scenes for their sexy vampire films of the 1970s. A little extra raunch from The Vampire Lovers or Twins of Evil would surely make my day.

 

1st March

  A New Age of Cinema...12...

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BBFC 12One normally associates film censorship with cuts required for adult rated films. However a new trend seems to have developed at the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). The film censor's scissors now seem to be monopolised for use in the lower ratings, particularly for the 12 and 12A categories. ' There have been several high profile examples recently, the most notable being The Hunger Games . It is a 2012 US Sci-Fi action film by Gary Ross which is based on a very popular children's book targeted at 11 years and older. So it is hardly surprising that distributors were keen to secure a 12A rating for cinema, simply so that fans of the book could see the film.

The BBFC advised that the original submission of the film would be 15. So the distributors got to work in their editing suite. They made cuts in four scenes of violence, and in one scene showing details of injuries. These reductions were implemented by a mixture of visual cuts, visual darkening and the digital removal of blood.

But this still wasn't enough for the BBFC, and another 7 seconds of cuts were required to reduce. These further cuts were again implemented digitally, removing the sight of blood splashes and the sight of blood on wounds and weapons.

So the final result was a quite extensively cut version for a 12A. This compares with the presumably uncut PG-13 rating awarded in the USA.

Another example is The Cold Light of Day , a 2012 US action film by Mabrouk El Mechri starring Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver. This was also cut on BBFC advice for a 12A rating, again to avoid a 15 rating. Cuts were made to reduce the focus on injury in one scene, and to remove a large blood spurt in another. Again the US cinema release is PG-13 rated.

Other recent examples have been mentioned in previous articles. The scary Hammer Film, The Woman in Black was passed 12A after 6s of BBFC cuts for intense supernatural threat and horror. Additional cuts had already been made by darkening some shots and by reducing the sound levels in others.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 was also cut to secure a 12A rating. This time a sex scene involving characters Edward and Bella was famously toned down. . The BBFC suggested the removal of a shot showing Edward thrusting while he lies on top of Bella who has her legs wrapped around his body.

For a long time British distributors seemed content to let films go out with a 15 certificate, but now there seems be a distinct preference for a 12A rating. This is probably related to a similar development in the US. There PG-13 is now the preferred rating, and the next higher R Rating is now considered commercially undesirable.

The R rating is a strange rating that has no equivalent in Britain, It would be called 17A if it were to exist. Under 17's are allowed, but only if they are accompanied by a parent or adult guardian. The age 17 is cleverly chosen so that it is as near as damn it to 18 in terms of content, but it just about avoids family friendly bans on adult only films imposed by many US cinemas and advertisers.

The US PG-13 is an advisory rating for parents. Under 13's are not prevented from watching PG-13 rated films.

Just how keen American distributors can be to get a PG-13 rating can be shown by The Weinstein Company, and its documentary film, Bully . The American film censors awarded the film an R Rating for six uses of strong language. The US censor's rules are very strict on language, just one fuck is allowed in a PG-13 rated film. The distributors appealed the R rating for Bully, but to no avail, and the R Rating stood.

The film makers feel that the documentary has an important message for kids, and believe that the strong language is a necessary component of the bullying being depicted. The director, Lee Hirsch, said that editing out the strong language would minimize the harsh realities of bullying. He added: I feel a responsibility as a filmmaker, as the person entrusted to tell (these kids) stories, to not water them down.

At the time of writing, the film makers had gathered a petition of 275,000 signatures calling for a PG-13 rating. This tally even includes 20 members of the US Congress.

One has to get very concerned when even tough guy movies start targeting PG-13. The original 'The Expendables was an R Rated actioner with no shortage of strong language and arterial blood spurts.

But early hype about the upcoming The Expendables 2 , suggested the filmmakers were targeting a tame PG-13.

One of the tough guys, Chuck Norris, explained:

In 'The Expendables 2', there was a lot of vulgar dialogue in the screenplay. For this reason, many young people wouldn't be able to watch this. But I don't play in movies like this. Due to that, I said I wouldn't be a part of that if the hardcore language is not erased. Producers accepted my conditions and the movie will be classified in the category of PG-13.

Thankfully as the release date gets closer, leading tough guy Sylvester Stallone says that the PG-13 rating was nothing more than a rumour. He confirmed that The Expendables 2 is an R.

So are we entering an age of cinema where family friendly films are totally dominant? I hope we don't have to rename this column to Satellite 12A,

 

1st April

  TV Porn on Demand...

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ATVOD logo 2011 Video on demand (VoD) is shaping up to be the next censorship battleground. A plethora of services are manoeuvring to grab a slice of various flavoured VoD pies.

The broadcast TV companies have a good head start with iPlayer and the like. The broadcasters boast enormously popular content, and will surely be able to carve out a good slice of the pie. Already the BBC are looking to expand their free catch up service into paid for content from their cavernous archives.

Sky also have a lot of good content under their control, Their expansion idea is to offer satellite content to non subscribers on a pay as you go basis via the internet.

Then there's YouView. The ongoing idea is to provide a standardised interface for set top boxes and TV sets. They are trying to provide a commonly available, easy to use VoD system, that can take content from multiple providers.

There are also many other less ambitious providers. They are offering set top boxes or devices with a smaller range of content, but still with an easy to use interface via a simple remote control.

And of course there is the anarchic internet where viewers can find an infinity of content provided they know where to, and how to. look for it.

So how will adult content fit into the puzzle? and in particular, how will hardcore porn fit in?

There is no law against internet porn, so legally it could be included in any system delivered by this method. But of course most mainstream content providers would prefer to avoid the negativity associated with porn.

It would therefore seem likely, that any service successfully claiming a slice of the VoD pie will not be offering anything very challenging.

However as there are so many service chasing a limited amount of customers, then surely some will end up desperately seeking a niche.

This is how hardcore originally came to satellite TV. The less successful of competing broadcasters introduced porn to bump up their customer base. This generally worked, and so the dominant companies soon had to follow suit to prevent the loss of customers.

These days, porn is a lot more commonplace and it isn't the draw that it once was. But nevertheless there are still an awful lot of fans.

In fact some likely looking candidates to test the waters of hardcore VoD, are the TV manufactures. They have been busy developing their own VoD systems and building them into TVs.

However they then have to find some content. As they have no content of their own, then they may be a little more open to new opportunities.

In fact the excellent French hardcore production company, Marc Dorcel, has been reported to be the first adult channel provider to go connected on TV's with built in Internet TV. The Broadband TV News website reported:

None of the parties wants to go on record, but behind the scenes talks are going on with all the major consumer electronics manufacturers to bring adult apps to their smart TV sets .

So far, the industry has been careful. The Marc Dorcel on-demand content is available on Panasonic connected TV sets with Philips, Samsung and Sony to follow soon, but only in a limited number of territories .

Although it was mentioned earlier that internet VoD is legal, service providers have to adhere by a few commonsense restrictions as imposed by European law. The basic restrictions are that hate content is banned and that children should be protected from serious harm.

Of course commonsense is somewhat elusive in Britain when it comes to media censorship and regulation. The UK set up a very expensive censorship body called ATVOD (Authority for Television on Demand) to address the handful of complaints about VoD content. ATVOD then seems to have spent most of its first two very expensive years dreaming up schemes to make the VoD industry pay for its service .

Actually the UK's media censor, Ofcom, is ultimately responsible for implementing the European VoD rules, but Ofcom delegated the task to ATVOD. Now Ofcom is asking the question as to whether ATVOD has proved a success.

Ofcom are undertaking a formal review of the delegation to ATVOD, and asking the questions: whether ATVOD remains an appropriate regulatory; how ATVOD is discharging the designated functions; and whether it is meeting its obligations.

This could all be just a routine formality, but it does sound a bit ominous for the VoD censor. Either way Ofcom will announce the result of its review in the summer.

Interestingly a legal blogger, Graham Smith, asked: whether ATVOD should now be given a decent burial. What purpose is served by an extra layer of content regulation over and above the general law, especially when funded by imposing substantial costs on a small section of industry?

And he helpfully adds that Ireland have met their legal obligations to Europe without the need of a VoD censor. Ireland simply added a few lines of statute to enable complainants to ask courts to deal with any alleged transgressions of the law.

Whether ATVOD, Ofcom, or the courts, end up being the official VoD censor, it will more likely be the commercial considerations that govern whether viewers will be given the option of TV porn on demand.

 

30th April

  Diamonds are Forever...

But film ratings are not. Film censorship in the age of political correctness
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Diamonds are Forever DVD James Bond is 50 years old on the 5th October. His first film, Dr No., was released on that date in 1962.

And as you may expect, there will be something of a celebration from everyone involved in the highly successful franchise.

In particular there will be the first Blu-ray release of the complete set of 22 James Bond films.

As well as being a great release in its own right, it is also interesting that each film has been re-assessed by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). It is fascinating to see how James Bond has been censored over his 50 years at MI6.

Perhaps the best example that sums of the spirit of the age is 'Diamonds Are Forever'. This was the 1971 return to the role for Sean Connery. It also starred Jill St. John and Charles Gray as Bond's arch enemy, Blofeld.

The film was cut for its PG rated cinema release to reduce the violence:

  • The fight in the lift between Peter Franks and Bond was reduced to remove blows and sound effects;
  • Bond squirting the fire extinguisher into Frank's face was reduced in length;
  • Bond briefly menacing Mr Kidd with a broken brandy bottle was trimmed; and
  • A scene showing Mr Kidd running across the deck after being set ablaze was removed.

By the time the BBFC saw the film again in 1987 for its VHS video release, the cuts were restored. Videos and DVDs have all been PG uncut ever since.

That is until now.

The 2012 submission to the BBFC resulted in the film being upgraded from a PG to a 12 rating. And it wasn't particularly the violence that troubled the modern day film censors. It was more about the political incorrectness. The BBFC explained that there were three issues with the film that resulted in the uprating:

  • The scene in which Bond tears off a woman's bikini top and throttles her with it;
  • an aggressive use of 'bitch'; and
  • the negative comic stereotyping of homosexual characters.

Presumably this new 12 rating could have an effect on the film being shown on daytime or early evening TV. The TV censors will now have to get their scissors out to remove these politically unacceptable scenes before any repeat showings.


Another Bond film with a bit of history at the film censors is Tomorrow Never Dies. This was directed in 1997 by Roger Spottiswoode and stars
Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce and Michelle Yeoh.

The film was shown to the censors for its cinema release and the film makers were advised to reduce the violence for the requested 12 rating, otherwise the film would get a 15 rating. The BBFC advised that the violence could be effectively reduced by turning down the sound effects for people being hit, kicked and punched. Also they required reduction in the sound of people being scaled, tortured and killed.

The film was later submitted to the censors for a video certificate in 1998. At that time the BBFC were having a spell of being stricter for home video than for cinema. This was an after effect of the political fallout from the 1993 child on child murder of Jamie Bulger. The BBFC also had a bit of a fad at the time for banning martial arts weaponry. They considered that this was somehow likely to lead to imitation.

The net result was that the 1997 12 rated video was further cut by 6s:

  • Cuts to scene where Michelle Yeoh dispatches one of the bad guys by means of a throwing star;
  • Cuts to another scene showing Yeoh taking a throwing star from a secret compartment in her shoe; and
  • Cuts to scene where Bond stamps on a man's face.

These video cuts were restored for the 2006 DVD but the rating was upgraded to 15.

And by 2012 the censors have eased up on James Bond fantasy style violence, and the uncut version was rated 12.


The last example of changing film censorship is Casino Royale. This is the 2006 film directed by Martin Campbell, and starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green and Judi Dench.

The film had a very controversial torture scene that made some good "shock, horror", "what is the world coming to", fodder for the Daily Mail.

The BBFC advised the distributors that cuts were required to achieve a 12 rating. Gavin Salkeld described the edits:

- In the torture scene, right after LeChiffre says, "You've taken good care of your body", the UK version removes the following shot of him draping the large, knotted end of the rope over Bondís shoulder and saying to him sadistically, "Such a waste".

- The next shot from beneath the chair of the rope swinging backwards and forwards in Bondís direction has been trimmed. We only see the rope swing once towards Bond and back again, where as the uncut version has two swings back and forth.

- As LeChiffre takes his second swing at Bond (seen in a wide shot) and strikes him, the close-up of Bond gritting his teeth and shouting in pain has been removed to lessen the focus on Bondís suffering.

The 2012 Blu-ray release will be the uncut version, but the certificate has been upgraded from 12 to 15.


The ultimate birthday party for James Bond is the October premiere of Skyfall.

So now Bond has reached the rather mature age of 50, I wonder if the BBFC will have a bit of PC fun, and classify the film as follows:

Skyfall, rated 15 for fantasy violence and an immature attitude to monogamous sexual relationships.

 

1st May

  100 Years of Film Censorship...

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100 Years of Film CensorshipIn a seemingly bizarre display of back slapping, the British video industry has presented a special award to the British film censors. Who'd have thought that film distributors would be so effusive with their praise for the scissor people who cut out all the best bits from their movies?

This year is actually the hundredth anniversary of the film censors, now known as the British Board of Film Classification, but previously better known as the British Board of Film Censors. And the history books provide the first hint as to why the BBFC are so pally with the film distributors.

In fact the BBFC was set up back in 1912 by the film industry itself. The Government of the time had just passed a law called the Cinematograph Act 1909 which required cinemas to obtain licenses from local authorities. The idea was that it was better for a film industry group to censor the films so that they could cut the absolute minimum necessary to keep the local authorities happy. They were worried that if the local authorities were to set up their own censors, then they would be more likely to pander to moralists and end up cutting more than necessary.

This relationship between film producers, film censors and local authorities has persisted through to the present day, particularly as regards cinema censorship. The relationship was subtly changed for video though. The government designated the BBFC to be the sole authority for the mandatory censorship of VHS, DVD and Blu-ray. Theoretically, the government has the stick, that if the BBFC doesn't toe the line, then the government could appoint someone else to do the job.

Back in the late 1990s the Government did actually try and exert a little pressure over the BBFC. Home Secretary Jack Straw disapproved of BBFC Director James Ferman unilaterally allowing a little hardcore into R18s. The Government insisted on a say in senior appointments to the BBFC, but it didn't end up making much difference.

The BBFC under the stewardship of Robin Duval and the David Cooke introduced the grand idea of actually asking film viewers what they would actually like to see in films. With a great deal of maturity, the answer was that adults should be allowed to see what they liked. The same viewers generally asked that the BBFC should direct its efforts to providing accurate information and age ratings with the laudable goal of child protection. Thankfully, and unsurprisingly, the surveyed film viewers didn't seem to have much time for the type of morality film censorship championed by the likes of Mary Whitehouse, David Alton, Mediawatch-UK and the Daily Mail.

And it was this viewer friendly attitude to film censorship that resulted in the British Video Association (BVA) special award to the BBFC. Lavinia Carey, Director General of the British Video Association (BVA) in explaining the award, concluded:

The BBFC has employed an outward-facing and commercially focused approach to achieve the status of a modern, responsive organisation. Its aim to stay ahead of the curve in our rapidly evolving industry by keeping up to date with the latest technology and through a positive working relationship with all its customers is applauded by BVA Members in the year of the BBFC's 100th anniversary .

The BBFC has had a few nice ideas to celebrate their anniversary, In a nostalgic touch for cinema goers, the cards used to display the film certificate at the beginning of each film are in the style of those used at various points in the last 100 years.

Interestingly, the BBFC is also providing a few snippets from their paperwork archive outlining some of the examiners reports on various films, and how historic censorship decisions came about.

A fine example of how things have changed over the 100 years is for the classic film, Island of Lost Souls. It is a 1932 US Sci-Fi horror by Erle C Kenton starring Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi and Richard Arlen.

The film was initially banned for its 1933 cinema release. BBFC Director, Robin Cooke, explained that the films themes vivisection, animal experimentation and animal hybrids were regarded as completely beyond the pale in 1933. In 1932, an H for horror category had been introduced but Island of Lost Souls wasn't even regarded as suitable for that.

The film was banned again in 1957, but the BBFC was soon persuaded to grant an X (16) rating after cuts. By 1996, the film was passed 12 uncut. And to complete the evolution, the film was passed PG uncut in 2012. Robin Cooke explained that it was now considered tame compared with the Harry Potter Films and Dr Who.

There is also anniversary merchandise. The BBFC is offering Travelcard wallets, canvas bags, t-shirts and coffee mugs, all with familiar or nostalgic BBFC certificates. So if you fancy a mug proudly bearing the certificate: Passed 12A for strong caffeine use , then you'll be disappointed, because I made it up. But you will find similar mugs on the BBFC page at eBay.

 

1st June

  Film Censors Hang up their Scissors...

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Woman Black Blu ray US Import It is an enduring and well deserved image that film censors arm themselves with oversized scissors and hack away at a film reels with demented gusto until all the best bits have been ruthlessly excised and the remains are suitable for a three year old child.

But of course times are a changing. Modern censors have hung up their scissors, and have instead, been on a two day computer training course in the mystical art of digital image manipulation.

The BBFC explained the modern approach in an interview with the Telegraph. Senior BBFC examiner Craig Lapper was commenting on Ridley Scott's Prometheus passing without cuts. Lapper said:

But even if it had been censored , you'd barely be able to tell. When we make cuts, people think in terms of 'snip-snip', but these days, with digital, there are so many other ways you can make a film more acceptable. You can suggest soundtrack changes, colour darkening, putting shadows in to obscure the more gory elements of a scene .

Lapper added a couple of examples. In Susan Hill's ghost story The Woman in Black: we didn't hear the crack of the woman's neck as she hung from a noose, and, thanks to the cunning use of shadows, neither did we see her face .

And a forthcoming British movie (which sounded like Elfie Hopkins) was a little bit too gory to get a 15 certificate. So I nipped round to the place where they were editing it and they [the film-makers] increased the shadows so that you could no longer see someone's jaw hanging off .

The BBFC pride themselves with their four yearly consultations to ascertain what the public want the BBFC to censor. The overarching response has always been that adults should be able to choose for themselves what to watch, and that the BBFC should concentrate their activities on child protection. Parents in particular want their kids to be shielded from sex and violence, and also show a very strong desire for children to be protected from strong language.

In the most part, BBFC age classifications for films with sex and violence have received almost universal acceptance. Cuts for category have always been set at the minimum necessary, which keeps both the film makers and parents happy.

However BBFC guidelines on shielding children from strong language have never really achieved the same consensus.

From the parents' viewpoint, they would like to believe that their children never get exposed to strong language, and that banning it from films is necessary to maintain this 100 per cent prohibition, perhaps blissfully unaware of the real world.

But often filmmakers don't share this idealism, and they like to set their films firmly in a well researched and gritty real world where strong language is the norm.

The latest filmmaker to fall out with the BBFC on this point is Ken Loach. His latest comedy, The Angel's Share, is set in working class Glasgow and tells the story of an unemployed father who finds that he has a talent for whisky tasting.

The BBFC required cuts for very strong language so that the film could get the requested 15 rating rather than an 18.

Loach had some strong words for the BBFC. Speaking at the Cannes Film Festival, the director said:

We were allowed seven 'cunts' but only two of them could be aggressive 'cunts' .

You get into the realm of surrealism here in terms of language. The British middle class is obsessed with what they call 'bad language', embracing the ancient swear words that have gone back for centuries, and words we all enjoy should be embraced .

Producer Rebecca O'Brien said the film's script represented natural language spoken by young people:

If they're looking for diversity in Britain they should look no further than this film and Glasgow and see that there are different ways of speaking and see that should be acceptable to all and sundry and should not be censored .

Whilst parents can wish for their 15, 16 and 17 year old children to live in a world totally free of strong language, it seems likely that Ken Loach's Glasgow banter is a bit closer to the reality.

One has to suspect that maybe the BBFC chosen age classifications are not ideally correlated with UK laws governing the rights of passage from childhood into adulthood. If the 15 rating were to be replaced by a more logical 16 rating, then this would better match the age when the young people can live in the adult world complete with sex, employment, responsibilities and strong language.

Perhaps the BBFC could then hang up their ear muffs next to their discarded scissors.

 

1st July

  Hercule Poirot Gets Investigated by Ofcom...

Link Here

Agatha Christies Death The Nile Daytime TV can be a bit of a dead zone for satellite X fans. Child friendly TV censorship rules severely limit the options for programming that can appeal to adults. However there is one solid genre that keeps both censors and the adult viewers happy...a good old murder mystery.

Midsomer Murders, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, or anything from Agatha Christie all provide excellent daytime entertainment.

Well until now that is.

The TV censors at Ofcom have been investigating the TV detectives, and they have had a serious whinge at Agatha's Christie's Death on the Nile.

This is a 1978 UK feature film starring Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot. It was passed PG (Parental Guidance) uncut by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

The official definition of the PG certificate is: "Unaccompanied children of any age may watch. A ĎPGí film should not disturb a child aged around eight or older. However, parents are advised to consider whether the content may upset younger or more sensitive children".

ITV showed the film at 3:30pm on a Saturday afternoon in March of this year.

Ofcom received one complaint about the film. In the scene where the murderer was revealed towards the end of the film, a female character shot her lover in the head (off-camera) before taking her own life in the same way. The female character was shown on screen putting the revolver to her head and shooting herself, causing blood to ooze from the wound. The complainant considered the scene to be too violent in view of the possibility that a significant number of children could be watching at this time.

Ofcom considered Rule 1.11 of its TV code: "Violence, its after-effects and descriptions of violence, whether verbal or physical, must be appropriately limited in programmes before the watershed and must also be justified by the context".


ITV pointed out that the film had been broadcast on daytime ITV1 & ITV3 over 20 times since 2004 without previous complaint. The company argued that the Agatha Christie detective genre is not one with any particular interest to children, particularly younger children. It added that the scene in question was the climax of the film and its inclusion was essential to the plot.It did not consider the scene to be particularly gory

ITV said the violence in this scene was appropriately limited and justified by the context, but said that it would apply additional censoring of this scene for future daytime broadcasts.

Ofcom ruled that:

"In this case, the female character shot herself in the head in relative close up, causing blood to ooze from the wound. Her suicide was therefore shown in some detail and was not in Ofcom's opinion appropriately limited".

"While recognising the importance of including such a pivotal scene, Ofcom was concerned that the impact of the second gunshot was not edited or removed. As a result Ofcom considered that on balance the likely expectations of the audience for this channel, and of parents in particular, would have been exceeded by broadcasting this particular sequence at the length and with the detail shown on a Saturday afternoon".

Ofcom was however satisfied with ITVs response to cut the film for future showings, and has let the matter rest.

Unfortunately these censorship decisions have generally become precedents for other broadcasters to follow. No doubt TV companies will now have to censor murder scenes to ensure that they are suitable for the under eights.


But even waiting until the 9pm watershed is not late enough to expect any adult programming.

Ofcom has also been reserving the post 9pm slot for children who may still be watching. The issue came up during several episodes of the reality TV show, Playing It Straight, which aired at 9pm on E4.

Ofcom took offence at 3 examples of the word 'fuck' appearing in the pre-title sequence in the first minute of the show, albeit after 9pm. .

Ofcom considered complaints against its vague Rule 1.6 of the Code: "The transition to more adult material must not be unduly abrupt at the watershed. For television the strongest material should appear later in the schedule".

The TV censor inevitably found E4 to be in breach of its code.

It is a vague rule and perhaps 10pm is now closer to the time when adult programming is actually allowed on TV. Unfortunately this does not really leave much time for adults. Viewing figures soon start to decline after 10pm as people start thinking about sleep.


And if you are wondering about what time the TV schedules are handed back to the 6 year olds at the end of the night. It is at 5:30am.

Ofcom has just found My Channel to be in breach of the code for broadcasting strong language aired at 5:42 to 5:48am. This was in a programme quaintly titled, Insane Championship Wrestling.


Anyway must dash, there's a daytime re-run of Agatha Christie's Marbles on the Orient Express that I want to catch.

 

1st August

  So what do you think about your neighbours being informed about what you watch on internet TV?...

Link Here

YouView logoSo what do you think about watching porn? What do you think about other people watching porn?, And perhaps more relevant to this column, what do you think about other people knowing what you watch?

Well what made me think, was an article in the Independent about the recently launched YouView internet TV service. This is a set top box that incorporates catch up TV offerings from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. It presents them all with a single unified and easy to use interface. The box also includes a TIVO or Sky+ style hard disk based personal video recorder.

There was a time when the concept was considered so potentially dominant that it was feared that YouView would control which internet TV channels were allowed to have a viable future on British TV. The thinking was, that the YouView EPG and service would be so easy to use, that no-one would ever bother go and hunt out non participating channels. These would then languish in their own obscure websites, with their own different interfaces, and their own payment mechanisms.

But as it turns out, YouView were very slow to get started, and this has already given other players a chance to establish their own positions in the market.

However concerns about control freakery still abound with the YouView offering.

Internet TV by definition allows the programme provider to know what viewers are watching (or at least what is being streamed to their TVs). In the early days of internet TV, people typically watched a couple of programmes from iPlayer, a couple from HotMovies and the rest from untrackable live TV. No single service provider was really in a position to build up the total picture of people's viewing habits. However the YouView concept changes all that. Suddenly the set top box gets to see a far bigger picture of what turns people on, TV wise.

The Independent reports further that YouView has employed people from Phorm. This company famously had the idea of serving website advertising based upon ISP tracking of the websites that people visit. After a public outcry, the idea was abandoned by Phorm, but it still lives on in smaller scale projects.

Not that I've ever understood how it's meant to work anyway. I am an avid reader of pro-censorship campaigning websites. I like to know what they're up to. But that doesn't mean that I am the slightest bit interested in adverts for whatever they are peddling, just the opposite in fact. And the vast majority of products I actually buy, I don't signal much prior interest on the internet anyway.

The Independent continues that YouView was reluctant to answer detailed questions about privacy. However the company said that anonymised viewing data will be passed on to third-party companies, allowing for instance, the introduction of advertising targeted at certain post codes.

The newspaper suggested likely applications, such as What's hot in your area, showing what neighbours are watching, eg 40% are watching Downton Abbey, 31% Strictly Come Dancing and 3% shows on gambling or pornography.

Well this certainly made me think.

I can accept that data supplied in such a way will be properly anonymised and that neighbours wont actually know that it is me participating in the 3%. However, if all the viewing information is being so carefully databased and analysed, then surely it will be straightforward to present a picture of my viewing habits if requested. I know this picture will be kept private from third party advertisers and neighbours, but I would not be so sure about the authorities. Surely knowing what sort of TV a person watches is going to be a truely juicy tidbit. I hate to think what they will make of my 50% horror and 50% porn habit.


Meanwhile TV makers are also trying to find a niche for their own internet TV services, perhaps in competition with YouView.

And it would pay satellite X readers to keep a careful watch on what the TV makers are up to. Especially if thinking about buying a new TV in the near future.

For instance, Samsung, LG and Sony have all said that they do not wish to work with the adult business, at least according to one provider of such entertainment.

On the other hand, Panasonic has been working with the excellent Marc Dorcel porn producer from France. The companies launched their first adult app for smart TVs last summer. Now Marc Dorcel is working with Phillips and Toshiba, with apps expected from this August. Philips has also announced the arrival of adult apps from Hustler and Private.

Of course the TV makers willingness to work with adult producers is not the whole story. For instance national laws have put a stopper on Philips adult offerings in Germany and Turkey. But apparently, they will be available in the UK, opening the door for hardcore content on UK TV. For background, there are no British laws banning hardcore from the internet. There are strict laws on what can be broadcast via Freeview, satellite or cable. But these laws thankfully don't apply to the internet.


There's no sign of hardcore internet TV offerings from Virgin, Sky or YouView though.

But even if they did, you'd have to wonder what they neighbours may think.