Melon Farmers Original Version

Policy at the BBFC

News, updates and clarifications


Not before time...

The BBFC continues its policy of cutting verbal references to underage sex in sex films

Link Here4th October 2022
The BBFC board meeting from July 2022 reveal a continuing policy for cuts to sex films. The BBFC minutes state:

Following recent cuts made to a sex work -- KATIE K'S TEENAGE RAMPAGE 5 -- to remove verbal references to sexual activity below the age of 16, the Board reviewed the BBFC's policy in relation of such references and confirmed that there should be no reference to sexual activity below the age of 16 in sex works.



Use of strong language is on the rise...

and according to the BBFC, parents want children protected

Link Here9th June 2021
The BBFC has released a new survey into attitudes towards swearing which shows that while the use of strong language is on the rise, parents are keen to protect their children and do not want to see increased use of strong language in media content.

The survey, carried out by Magenta, was commissioned to find out if parents would accept more frequent uses of strong ('fuck') and very strong language ('cunt') at the 12 and 15 categories, and to understand people's opinions and use of these words in their lives. The report showed that 60% say swearing is part of their daily life, with 30% saying they use strong language more than five years ago.

The survey showed that people think that the BBFC is getting it right when it comes to classification of strong and very strong language in films and TV content. People feel that there is a time and a place for using stronger language, and therefore do not want to see an increase in strong and very strong language at the 12 category.

61% agree that while they are comfortable using strong language with friends they refrain from doing so if children can hear. Only 20% parents say they're comfortable swearing in front of children under 16 at home because they are keen to shield their kids as long as possible.

The survey showed that how words are said raises more concerns than what is said. Language feels more problematic and/or adult when it is; directly targeted at an individual, or used in an aggressive way, especially when used by men towards women; used in a sexual context; used in a sexually violent way or referencing abuse, rape, coercion, or sexually aggressive behaviour.

David Austin, Chief Executive of the BBFC, said:

Children are watching more content on multiple screens, and their parents want to protect them from strong and very strong language wherever they can and for as long as possible. Parents told us they are keen for media industries to share the responsibility - and that's where we come in. Very strong language retains an innate shock value, and for some remains the last taboo. While it can occur in a variety of contexts, including comic and colloquial, it has a particularly distressing potency when used towards women - so it's reassuring to hear people think we are getting it right when it comes to classifying these words.

For the first time, the BBFC has also published a guide to what terms parents can expect to hear in films and TV shows in the U, PG and 12A/12 categories. The guide lays out common words that are permitted at the junior categories, and also includes sections on Hindi language.

David Austin added:

This research has underpinned our knowledge that parents are the gatekeepers when it comes to language at the lower age ratings, U, PG and 12A/12. This is why we've launched our guide to terms at the junior categories, so that parents can feel empowered and confident when choosing content that is right for their families.

Despite parents being keen to protect their children for as long as possible, there's a clear generational divide when it comes to swearing, with 46% of Gen Zs frequently using strong language daily, compared to only 12% of 55-64 year olds and 12% of over 65s. 25% of 16-24 year olds say they would never use strong language in public, compared to75% of over 65s.

When it comes to acronyms - for example WTF - people felt that the meaning is rarely lost on viewers, including children. In most cases, they are treated as if the word were spoken in full. Therefore, the BBFC will classify acronyms as if they are a use of strong language in full.

The BBFC's list of language vs age rating is as follows

U'damn', 'hell', 'God', 'Jesus Christ'. We know that some people find these words particularly offensive, but our research shows us that the majority of parents are comfortable with their children hearing them in U rated films.

'butt', 'jerk'.

And, depending on the context, you may also hear the word 'screw' if it is used instead of 'messed up', eg. 'I screwed up'.

PGAt PG, we only allow mild bad language. If words are used in an aggressive or very frequent way, then this might result in the content being rated higher.

'bloody', 'bugger', 'son of a bitch', 'shit', 'arsehole', 'bastard',

'bollocks', 'piss', 'crap', 'arse', 'ass', 'sod', 'git', 'arse'.

12A12APrick, wanker, twat, bitch, whore, slag, slut, cock,

Depending on context, frequency, and tone: fuck'



The language of censorship...

The BBFC reviews the classification of strong language

Link Here7th June 2021
The BBFC discussed the classification of strong language at its board meeting in April 2021. The minutes note:

The BBFC commissioned Magenta to undertake research into people's views on strong and very strong language in media content. While the research revealed that usage of bad language, including strong language, has increased among the general population, there remains a desire to protect young people from over-exposure to strong and very strong language.

The findings indicated that people do not wish to see an increase in the allowance of strong language at 12A, or very strong language at 15. Aggravating and mitigating factors were highlighted, and correspond with current BBFC policy. However, in exceptional circumstances there is some increased allowance for isolated or infrequent use of 'motherfucker' at 12A.

The research also indicated that people prefer to be warned of spoken language as opposed to bleeped strong language, so BBFC short ratings info policies will be updated to accommodate this (e.g. if a work contains a bleeped use of 'fuck', but also a use of 'prick', short Ratings Info (RI) will read moderate bad language').

The research also indicated that acronyms (e.g. WTF) are generally understood by what word is being implied, and so should be treated as if the word is being spoken, unless there are sufficient mitigating factors to defend the acronym at a lower level.

The research also looked at reclaimed use of 'nigger', typically written as 'nigga', when used between members of the black community in a peer-to-peer context. There was some recognition that the term, when used in this context, was not the same as the racist iteration of the word, and nor was it the same as 'bad language/swearing'. The BBFC is therefore trialling racial language in short RI where this word is a category defining issue, but will look to the upcoming discrimination research to further develop our understanding.



Updated: Spelling test...

The BBFC decides to spell the word 'nigger' with asterisks in its content reports and whether to update strong language policy in general

Link Here13th December 2020
The BBFC spoke of a change in spelling policy when responding to a question asking why the BBFC spells the words 'fuck' and 'cunt' with asterisks but not the word 'nigger'.

The BBFC responded:

We recently updated our policy around this term and going forward any mention [of the word 'nigger'] in our ratings info will be asterisked. We are working on doing the same for historical uses across our website and are conducting further research on language.

Update: 'Fuck' too

13th December 2020. See BBFC boardmeeting minutes [pdf] from

The BBFC further expanded details of a review of strong language in a board meeting:

An update on language research, which is currently underway.

The study will assess the UK public's attitude towards strong language ('f**k', motherf**ker') and very strong language ('c**t') in film and TV content. This includes varying forms of bleeped, mouthed, implied or elided strong and very strong language, and how we should define this in ratings info.

The research will consider the different contexts in which language may appear, and whether public acceptance towards the volume of strong or very strong language at 12(A) and 15, respectively, has changed.

The use of acronyms indicating strong language (e.g. 'WTF') at the junior categories is also being explored. As is the classification of peer-to-peer/reclaimed use of the 'n-word, including how to define this in ratings info.

Where required, BBFC internal policies will be updated to reflect the findings of this research.



Censor Speak. The BBFC changes terminology for domestic violence...

The trouble with using PC terminology is that the primary message conveyed is that the speaker is virtue signalling PC credentials. Then the intended message is of secondary interest and needs scaling down to counter the inherent PC exaggeration

Link Here 5th March 2020

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is changing the way it highlights domestic abuse in ratings info for films and episodic content, after working with Women's Aid and Respect on new research.

The research - which focused on both female and male survivors of domestic abuse, experts and the general public - showed that the BBFC is getting it right when it comes to classification decisions in both films and episodic content featuring domestic abuse. The regulator already takes domestic abuse portrayals seriously, and the respondents agreed that the BBFC rightly classifies these issues at a higher category.

The research showed that less is more, and going into too much detail in the ratings info is a minefield as people's sensitivities and triggers are complex - this is already taken into account in the classification decision. It was highlighted that the widely understood catch-all term of domestic abuse was much better placed to describe such scenes, as it is considered broad enough to include psychological and economic abuse, gaslighting and non sexual abuse of children.

Therefore, the BBFC will now use domestic abuse instead of domestic violence in the ratings info it issues to accompany its ratings. The BBFC will also stop using the term themes of, which the research showed people felt trivialised the issue.

The research flagged that survivors can be triggered by scenes of domestic abuse, especially if it is unexpected. This can be traumatising, and can lead to people avoiding certain types of content. Responding to these findings, the BBFC will now flag domestic abuse in every case, even if the scenes are not category defining.

David Austin, Chief Executive of the BBFC, said:

This timely and important research is shining a light on people's attitudes towards domestic abuse, and it's important that our classifications reflect what people think. It's very encouraging to see that we're getting our classification decisions right when it comes to domestic abuse, which already can be category defining. But what it has shown, is that we should bring our ratings info more in line with what people expect and understand, which is exactly what we're going to be doing. These changes will give people the information they need to choose content well. Most particularly in this case, the ratings info will highlight the issues to those that have been personally affected by domestic abuse, so they are forewarned of content which could trigger distress.

While there were few factors that would reduce the impact of watching a scene of domestic abuse, a series of aggravating factors among survivors were flagged, including: the sound of a key turning in a lock; the silence before an attack; the sound of a slap or a punch; and seeing fear in someone's face or eyes.

Adina Claire, Acting co-Chief Executive of Women's Aid, said:

This research has given an important insight into what survivors, experts and the general public think about depictions of domestic abuse in films and episodic content. We're pleased that the BBFC have responded to the report, and have reflected the attitudes in their classification policies - meaning that anyone affected by domestic abuse will now have the clear and consistent information they need about what triggers content may contain.

The research also found that the term child abuse was widely associated with sexual abuse, rather than domestic abuse, and having a child present in a scene depicting domestic abuse often meant that the scene was more triggering for audiences. Therefore, the BBFC will limit the use of child abuse to scenes where child sexual abuse is depicted only, with non sexual child abuse also described as domestic abuse.

People agreed it's very important to educate audiences about the issue and to encourage awareness and discussion. As such, the research strongly underpins the BBFC's policy of being less restrictive on public information campaigns than on commercial trailers and ads, rating them at the lowest reasonable classification.



Left without a leg to stand on...

The BBFC puts the Guardian right about an article about cuts to real vs faked animal cruelty

Link Here2nd June 2018
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.



Commented: Tom Jones...

BBFC waives animal cruelty cuts for 1963 UK comedy adventure by Tony Richardson

Link Here17th April 2018
Tom Jones is a 1963 UK comedy adventure by Tony Richardson.
Starring Albert Finney, Susannah York and George Devine. BBFC link IMDb

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 (cockfighting).

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

Censorship History

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.

Promotional Material

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.



Legal marijuana at the BBFC...

Discussion on how US legalisation impacts BBFC policy on the depiction of drug use

Link Here16th April 2018

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'?



About Time...

BBFC's 'Fuck' count increased to five for a 12 rating

Link Here6th September 2013
When a review starts up:

About Time is the most vile, vapid, repugnant, hideous, ghastly, awful, sick-making, bile-forming, stupid, pitiful and manipulative film ever made. And yes, I've seen Love Actually .

Then one can be sure that it's more rant then review, but the reviewer does point out that About Time contains more strong language than most 12As:

With six uses of the F-word and numerous other uses of crude language it's also incredible that the BBFC has chosen to pass this at 12A (it's appropriately rated R in the States).

In fact in the US it was Rated R (17A) for language and some sexual content.

The BBFCInsight explains more:

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 to adjust sexual and sadistic violence policy...

Experts and researchers have provided little conclusive evidence of the harms of sexual violence in film. So the BBFC asked Tom, Dick, Harry and Sharon instead.

Link Here11th December 2012

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".


A. Introduction

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 gratuitous violence. 

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 credibility.

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.


1st February


Visions of Ecstasy unbanned by the BBFC as a result of repealed blasphemy laws
Link Here

Visions of Ecstasy is a 1989 UK erotic short by Nigel Wingrove. With Louise Downie, Elisha Scott and Dan Fox. See IMDb

It was originally banned by the BBFC for a 1989 Axel VHS . It was the only film banned in the UK solely on grounds of blasphemy.

The BBFC decision was subsequently appealed to the Video Appeals Committee, who upheld the ban. Then director Nigel Wingrove then took his case to the European Court of Human Rights , but again lost his case.

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.

But don't expect too much. Director Nigel Wingrove was a bit defensive when talking to the BBFC :

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 blasphemous libel.

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.


1st February

Visions of Ecstasy...

It's not just Muslims who lay down the law on blasphemers
Link Here
Balla Donna: My Ass is Haunted DVD coverThe 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.


1st January

Back from the Dead...

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A 2005 interview with Craig Lapper of the BBFC
Link Here

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.


1st August

Time of the Wolf...

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Horse Slaughter Uncut
Link Here

Time of the Wolf DVD coverFollowing 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 consumer advice.

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.


1st July

A Shot in the Arm...

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BBFC changed tack on drugs policy after the departure of James Ferman
Link Here
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 .



The Ferman Chainsaw Massacre...

James Ferman's unpublished policy to ban chainsaws

Link Here7th August 2001
Texas Chainsaw Massacre DVDCensorship is revealed to be an unworkable concept when censors change their minds about what is permissible. If material is deemed dangerous, corrupting, imitable, etc., then surely it must remain so, regardless of whether it's 1901 or 2001? But if, as seems to be the case, material can be reassessed and judged harmless, then it stands to reason that it was harmless in the first place, and the argument for censorship collapses. Let's look at the farrago caused by the Texas Chainsaw films, which has managed to prolong itself for nearly thirty years.

The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre created quite a stir before it arrived in the UK in 1975. This was not because it was the goriest film ever made. It wasn't by a long chalk; someone cuts his hand during the first twenty minutes and the rest of the blood-letting happens off screen. No, the talk was that the film was reputed to be one of the most frightening ever made; many viewers and most critics found it so, although some people thought it hilarious.

James Ferman, newly appointed secretary of the BBFC, was very influenced by this advance publicity. He convinced himself that there was no way that the sustained terrorisation of a young woman could have a beneficial effect on the British public. Well, correction here. He was worried about the effect on the British working class. After the film had been shown, uncensored, to members of the British Film Institute at the London Film Festival, Ferman got up on stage and, thinking he was among friends, said,

"It's all right for you middle-class cineastes to see this film, but what would happen if a factory worker in Manchester happened to see it?"

When they heard this gaffe, the audience became hostile, and Ferman was visibly shocked. He never again referred to the true nature of his job as a censor - to stop working class people being stimulated by controversial films. Instead, for the rest of his interminable office, he fortified his unassailable position as guardian against the abuse of women. This attitude did not always extend to his treatment of female employees, many of whom found his attentions objectionable. But away from Soho Square, during his many public engagements, Ferman became scrupulously politically correct. He was still wittering on about feminism when he retired in 1999. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre , the film that had so shocked the inexperienced censor, became Ferman's bete noire. He, and only he, banned it and saw to it that it stayed banned. A legend grew up around his supposed condemnation of chainsaws. Reputedly the instrument could not be featured or even referred to in any film.

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers 20th AnniversaryBut was this a myth? Ferman certainly forbade other weapons - most famously chain-sticks - but never issued a written instruction about chainsaws. Nevertheless, folklore had it that Ferman was trying to obliterate the lumberjack's tool from British cinema history. In 1983 a chainsaw murder was cut from Scarface . In 1986 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was banned. In 1988 the organisers of a horror film festival seemed to believe that some kind of retribution would befall them if they publicised the screening of a film which featured the forbidden word in its title. Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers was shown as Hollywood ******** Hookers . Madness appeared to be prevailing. It goes without saying that in 1990 even the heavily cut version of Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III was also banned.

This unaccountable hysteria now seems to belong to the distant past. Chainsaws are part of the era that brought us Driller Killer s and Cannibal Holocaust s, stupid films we weren't supposed to see, but which everybody saw because pirated videos were on sale at every other car boot sale. These films turned out to be very disappointing indeed. They were supposed to be dangerous and harmful but quite patently most of them were just bad.

The censor has an unpopular job. One of the ways in which he can sustain himself in power is to pretend to be sympathetic to public opinion. Robin Duval would have done himself no favours had he appeared to be as batty as his predecessor and maintained his now ludicrous conviction that the mere sight of a chainsaw inspires us to carve up our neighbours. Consequently, as soon as he got his feet under Ferman's desk, Duval made sure he distanced himself from such fanaticism by passing uncut not only The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which opened in cinemas October 5 to generally dismissive reviews, but also the fourth episode of the series, Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre , now on video.

Yes, it's official. These films aren't harmful at all. It was just that a crazy old censor, now completely discredited, was squeamish about them. But surely, therefore, isn't there a chance that the present censor is equally bonkers and that all his senseless decisions will one day be overruled...?

" Censorship is belief that one's obscenities must be the obscenity of all "
- Jay E. Daily, The Anatomy of Censorship, 1973.


18th February

Film Censor to Stop Playing Nanny...

Robin Duval is predicting an end to legally-enforced ratings
Link Here

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, said Duval.

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.



Martial arts weaponry banned during James Ferman's regime...

The BBFC explains why

Link Here 1st January 1999

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:

Enter the Dragon DVDWe 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.

Update: A bit of US perspective

22nd May 2019. See article from

The popularity of nunchucks, as popularised by Bruce Lee,  alarmed the US authorities. The police began arresting people for carrying what some called deadly weapons. In four states, lawmakers banned them.

Now, decades later, those laws are being revisited. This month, after more than 40 years on the books, Arizona's ban, which one lawmaker called antiquated, was repealed. In December, a federal judge struck down New York's decades-long ban , saying it violated the Second Amendment, despite arguments from officials that the weapons were dangerous and unusual.

Emboldened, martial artists are now eyeing the remaining state bans, in Massachusetts and California.



BBFC Policy: Anime...

As revealed in an interview with BBFC examiner Imtiaz Karim

Link Here31st January 1996

My Brother's WifeI 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 titillate.

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 images.

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 independently.

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.



Horror at the BBFC...

An interview with senior examiner, Richard Falcon

Link Here3rd February 1995

New York 2H du Matin DVDI spoke with Richard Falcon about the work of the BBFC and some of the issues raised by it. A senior examiner at the BBFC Richard Falcon proved to be personable fellow and informative about his work and that of his employers, younger than expected (in his early thirties I would say) with a far more balanced approach that one might have expected given the BBFC's negative image amongst the followers of horror film. He also admitted to me to being a fan of horror movies himself [though perhaps not of the mere extreme type] and a semi-regular visitor to London's dear departed Scala Cinema.

(PL) How did you become an examiner and what training did you undergo?

Iíve been here ten years now. 1 joined the board in 1984 after the Video Recordings Act was passed, just before the board was designated and the BBFC advertised for part time examiners as it was then in a series of newspapers. I was at Bath University at the time, writing up my PHD on ĎThe New German Cinemaí, so I was kind of involved with Film Studies. I saw the advertisement in The Guardian, applied and went through a long interview process. Itís a tripartite interview procedure. First of all I met the Director James Ferman, Margaret Ford [the Deputy Director] etc and then was a viewing day where you see three films. The films I saw were MOTHERS DAY , FEAR CITY -Abel Ferrara and TURKISH DELIGHT .

(PL) A real test that, to start with.

(RWF) Yes [laughs].

(PL) MOTHERS DAY was rejected, FEAR CITY cut and TURKISH DELIGHT passed.

(RWF) FEAR CITY was cut, I donít think any distributor picked up TURKISH DELIGHT at the time, although it went out last year on video distributed by Missing In Action.

(PI,) Right, thatís Rutger Hauer.

(RWF) Its Rutger Hauer yes, a Paul Verhoeven film, a Dutch film, one of his early ones an interesting little movie.

(RWF) Then there was a third part to the interview after the viewing day when we had written our reports when we had to come in and justify various points and things, it was a long process.

(RWF) So really, that was the first time the board had advertised in the press, youíre interested in what we look for in examiners?.

(PL) Yes, that was the next question I had in mind.

(RWF) I was involved at one stage in the interview, process for examiners, certainly there are professional qualities needed, one of the most important ones being, strange as it may sound a love of films.  This is practical, if youíre going to be sitting through three features a day as we often are, you have to like what youíre doing.  You have to be able to write quite quickly because at the end of the day you are having to produce a kind of mini Monthly Film Bulletin synopsis of the film, a series of comments relating to the film and relating it against certain board ďpoliciesĒ

(PL) Do you work from a checklist?

(RWF) Yes, but it probably gives you the wrong idea. The examiner will synopsis every film on a report and you go through a process of discussion...

(PL) They work in duos donít they?

(RWF) Yes they do, after theyíve seen a film they tick a grid [the checklist takes the form of a grid with a series of ratings along the top ranging from "U" - "I8R", a column with "cuts" and a series of listings down the side encompassing such areas as "sexuality" and "violence," et al but that is just a series of ticks, again your first impressions of the film as a whole are important.  Also you fill that in as soon as youíve seen the film, at the end of the day what we do is we go back to out PCs and write a much longer report on the film including synopsis, our views on it, our appreciation of the film, try to give some idea of what the film means, what pleasures are in it, what its all about.  After that, we match it against various board policies.

(RWF) If there is anything contentious about it, if the two examiners disagree for example or if it is a film which is obviously going to cause an amount of problems, NATURAL BORN KILLERS for example, then it has to be referred up [the managerial ladder] to canvass further views as appropriate.  The next stage will see a team of three examiners sitting in and their reports will be added to the meeting and the management team will see it, their will be a logical discussion.  So this process can be long and unwieldy, but I think what we have to do is to make sure that as many views that are going to be expressed about the film out there by film critics, by the public are canvassed in here first so we have as wider view as possible and be able to say at the end of the day: "this is what we are going to do with this film and this is how we are going to justify the decision".

[ I will say at this stage that although I am not a supporter of the BBFC, simply because I am not in favour of film censorship, their more considered approach is at odds with that of the MPAA in the USA.  In taking the view that each film represents an individual body of work and must be considered as such in its entirety as opposed to literally timing or measuring acts of violence or onscreen bloodshed with a stopwatch mentality, the BBFC are at least basing a sense of perspective to a difficult task; that  we donít all agree with the conclusions they reach of the decisions taken, but thatís inevitable]

(PL) So really there is no specific training, its largely a matter of "on the job" acclimatisation.

(RWF) Yes, well you see examiner is a kind of generalist job.  The skills you have to have are writing skills, analytical skills etc.  Also youíve, got to be open to the film, to the motion picture experience youíve got to be seeing film... . My own particular area of expertise is "Film Studies".  What fascinates me about the job is all the abstract things going on in film . We have had experts of all kinds here, psychologists and other professional people covering a wide range of issues.  Largely we are able to reach decisions through a kind of consensual agreement.   We have a three-month training period during which a great deal of legislation has to be learnt, board policies and other aspects of the job need to be absorbed.  The training is to give you a kind of "body of precedent" which you can then work with so you know what films classifiable and how.  Its important in ensuring you know whatís at stake is such a balancing act.

(PL) What hours do you work and what salary do you earn (if that's not too leading a question)?

(RWF) Well, it is too leading a question. I worked here part time at first, the salary was not wonderful but Iíve been here ten years and Iím now a senior examiner.  We have to get in for 9.45 in the morning, which is quite good as I live in Tottenham and come in on the Victoria line and we are not supposed to leave before 6.00, but with the work we hardly ever could do that anyhow.

(PL) Roughly an eight hour day or thereabouts with an element of "job and finish"?.

(RWF) It varies, if youíre writing up very long reports on NATURAL BORN KILLERS, it could take up most of the evening. [laughs].

(PL) Does the board operate a rota system with regard to the pairing of examiners?.

(RWF) We have to be aware that we are pushing material through a system, but it should also be a kind of debating area.  We work with different people each day.  Thereís three senior examiners now and seven fulltime examiners, thatís ten, plus three members of management who also examine.  So you find yourself in a different pairing each day.

(PL) To what extent would you regard yourselves at the board as "The guardians of Public morals"?.

(RWF) John Trevelyan [one time head of the BBFC in the Sixties used to say thatís ridiculous, "of-course the BBFC cant be the guardian of public morals, were not here to represent the views of the British establishment and all that represents.  Sixties cinema cannot be judged by these archaic standards". [quoting from memory, so by his own admission the wording may not be exact].  The question of morality is a problem, which does have a bearing on what we are doing to a certain extent.  The "likelihood to deprave and corrupt" is a very severe moral test.  The moral guardianship is not invoked in those terms very often though, we deal in classification rather than censoriousness, but where it is invoked is when it comes to things like sexual violence and representations of sexual violence.  If youíve got a likely audience of men who are attracted to a film such as THE NEW YORK RIPPER which this applies to pretty straightforwardly where you have a film director in Lucio Fulci who, instead of making his usual splatterfest makes a film in which a whole series of women who dress sexily get slaughtered by a psychopath, there seems to be an offer of very conscious, vicarious "revenge against women" going on with this film, almost a venting, by a man of their (genders) anger against women in a way most stalk n slash and horror films donít, or take a film like DEATH WISH II with its rape scene- you can disagree with me in a minute- you have I think, an argument which says this has the potential at least to turn certain members of the audiences on. So that is the moral test, to say that we are not moral guardians is wrong, itís a question of balance. But obviously these are the exceptions rather than the rule, these donít happen every day. [my own thoughts are perhaps not surprisingly a shade different, THE NEW YORK RIPPER is undoubtedly vicious and open to charges of misogyny and DEATH WISH II with its rape scene intact is pretty strong stuff, but I would consider both acceptable viewing for an adult audience as is the case with ratings boards all across Europe].

(PL) The mention of NEW YORK RIPPER and the charges of violence against women bring me back to a film covered earlier, MOTHERS DAY , in which mistreated women fight back and turn the table on their tormentors and yet that was rejected, why is this?

(RWF) You are quite right, MOTHERS DAY was rejected on its original submission on film and has never been submitted on video.

(PL) What about MANIAC ? it too was banned. Why?  ( a heavily cut version of Lustigís masterpiece was submitted to the board at the same time).

(RWF) MANIAC was withdrawn by the company after its submission.

As it would happen, a letter from my files confirms my understanding of the situation.  Dated 12th April 1983 and signed by Ken Penry, it contains the following paragraph: "Films such MOTHERS DAY and MANIAC have not been given a certificate as the board tiles to reflect public opinion at any one moment of time...']

(PL) As youíve mentioned THE NEW YORK RIPPER , I have another question in relation to this film.  As I understand the situation, the film was submitted by Eagle Distributors.   Not only did the board refuse to make the expected cuts, but actually took the extraordinary step of refusing to return the print to the distributors and having it taken out of the country under customs escort.  Is this so?.

(RWF) Again the problem is, youíre interviewing me and not James Ferman...

(RWF) THE NEW YORK RIPPER was in the late eighties wasnít it?. I joined the board in I984, exactly what happened on the day to the print I have no idea.

(PL) Iíve just never heard of that happening before (or since for that matter).

(RWF) No, I think Itís very unlikely. I wasnít involved in the NEW YORK RIPPER discussion.

(PL) Whatís the story regarding THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II ?.

(RWF) Well, Warner Brothers withdrew that.

(PL) I understood it was Cannon distributing it at the time.

(RWF) Yes, sorry it was Cannon.

(PL) They wouldnít accept the amount of cuts you wanted and just never picked it up after that.   It was never officially rejected though, correct?.

(RWF) It was never officially rejected, it was going to be cut, the opening sequence with Leatherface and the woman with the chainsaw between her legs and some of the gore was going to be cut from it.

(PL) I've heard 22 minutes said to be the amount the board wanted to remove!

(RWF) Yeah, there were a lot of cuts in that film, which is a shame as itís quite an interesting film.

(PL) Thatís an awful lot...

(PL) Do you see the board as responding to public opinion or as playing a more active role.  How do you judge what is public opinion anyway?

(RWF) [sighs] Thatís an impossible question. Itís an extremely difficult thing to do.  You have to read newspapers sensibly, I think thatís very important.  You have to be careful not to take what the newspapers say on principal.  You see thereís a piece in The Guardian about Quentin Tarantino, which you have to read with a certain perspective.  We get letters sent in, we try to soak up as much informed opinion as we can.

(RWF) We have to respond to it [public opinion].   Itís clear that what motivated the recent amendment in the criminal justice bill was a huge amount of disquiet about childrenís access to video and despite the fact that "certain campaigners" were not particularly knowledgeable and couldnít care about it [film] and were wrong about CHILDíS PLAY 3 as was the press, the fact that all this was just a campaign of disinformation, the fact remains that behind all this is a damn good public constituency message which obviously appealed to them (the Tories).  To write that off, to say that the press just creates these things is actually wrong, behind these campaigns in the press is a public disquiet, which we have to take on board.   It doesnít mean we have to act or be more censorious, but the cinema and video are like anything else, it only exists in the public mood and we have to be aware of such shifts...

(PL) Does the board then fear the tabloid press.  Do you fear the hysteria they are capable of whipping up, if they say too much to the effect that the BBFC isnít doing its job properly as they see it, the board may lose itís independence?

(RWF) I think the board has to be conscious of its public image in the press, just like any other institution.  The board particularly is a controversial institution, but if it was truly afraid of what the tabloid press said about it, it couldnít carry on existing and continue, because the board is assailed from all sides generally. So, no.  Its informed opinion that is responded to, informed opinion and copy, not tabloid nonsense.                                               

(PL) What about Mary Whitehouse, by which I mean what about her faction?.  What about the lobbyists for total censorship. Does the board listen to them, what influence do they have?

(RWF) Yes, they have influence, in that they have very strong views when it comes to how film should be treated.  Yes, we have to listen, to canvass those views, to take them on board, we have to canvass views from as many representatives of society as possible.  But again, Itís a matter of balance, we have to listen to them, but we canít subscribe to a moralists view of the cinema, but neither can we accept that everything is as valuable as everything else, we cant accept a libertarian position that says that every film you see is worth so much that you have no right to bring these questions about weather it is going to harm society or children.  So some kind of middle ground has to be carved out between these two extremes, itís very difficult.

(PL) Itís a common conception amongst followers of horror film...

(RWF) You feel targeted by the BBFC.

(PL) Yes!, thatís a very common sensibility indeed and the general feeling is that because moralists, the pro-censorship lobby are much more vocal and have much more of a platform, they have a great deal more influence.  Is that a correct assertion?.

(RWF) Thereís a peculiar kind of dance involved here. From what it means to be a horror film, is that there is this strange kind of symbiotic relationship between horror films and censorship anyway.  The processes of censorship come out of the kind of notion of what is taboo within a society, of what is difficult to deal with, what is difficult to take.  You have a genre, the horror genre that sets out to speak the unspeakable, to speak about atrocity, death etc. So what you are going to get is a whole series of fans who love the genre for lots of different reasons, lots of reasons the genre should be loved; they like the macabre, they speculate on the edges of human experience and so on, then and very very important this is, they like taboo, they like to be looking at the material that skates near the edge of where that line is drawn.  So now the problem with the way youíre formulating it is that you make it sound arbitrary, as if there are these films which the censor has decided are particularly problematic and sets out to victimise this particular group of people, who read Fangoria and like Lucio Fulci films and Italian exploitation films from the seventies and particularly focus on these.   But thatís actually untrue, its actually within the nature of the films themselves to be controversial in that way because of what they set out to do, part of what they set out to do makes them of interest because they are approaching certain taboos.  So the board as an institution has to think about the impact of these films upon society and is actually in this strange kind of relationship.  But I have some sympathy with people for example who feel that Dario Argento is a really interesting filmmaker and want to be able to see and own his films uncut, but I think a lot of what horror fans need to take on board is possibly their own interest in why this is, because the films are controversial and controversial for good reasons, because their to do with certain pleasures, to do with mutilation and death etc.  Also part of the reason the horror genre's so interesting and is always going to be, are films which because they tend to speak the unspeakable are going to get peoples backs up, its why there of interest.

(PL) What screening facilities do you have here (at 3 Soho Square)?

(RWF) We have viewing rooms downstairs, video viewing rooms with monitors in and we have two theatres, the larger of which is in the basement in which we see films on 16 and 35 mill.  We also have a smaller dual-function theatre upstairs which is used as a meeting and conference room as well.

(PL) So, do you ever venture outside the BBFC building to see a film, perhaps in 7Omm?

(RWF) Yeah, occasionally weíve been to see films at Pinewood [studios], special screenings.

(PL) Do you ever go to the movies yourself, just as a punter?

(RWF) Oh yeah, all the time.  The last one I saw was LA REHNE MARGOT , very good film.

(PL) Do you consider the process of film censorship to be subjective or objective?

(RWF) I think it canít be objective.  It has to be as objective as it can possibly be, I think it has to be argued through, its no good saying "I feel this and thatís the end of it", it has to be "I feel this because ... and because..." It is subjective and has to be considered and discussed.

(PL) Are films as potential theatrical and videocassette releases examined using different criteria?.

(RWF) Yes they are, films are examined basically through this voluntary relationship between the board and local authorities who licence cinemas and who as you know have the power to overturn any of the boards decisions.

With video, its statutory of course and now we have this extra test as a result of the amendment [this is the Alton Ďinspiredí amendment Richard is referring to, whereby the BBFC are compelled to examine the possible effects upon children of videos designed and certified for adults!].

(PL) Are they therefore viewed twice and on their intended medium?

(RWF) Yes they are.  The film is seen first and therein the video will be seen at a later date and considered under the different legal tests.

(PL) How is a decision to request cuts or reject a film entirely reached?

(RWF) By a series of discussions, viewings and comparing its content with various board policies. If a film is rejected, it would be because of the Obscene Publications Act, because of our understanding of this phrase about having "a tendency to deprave and corrupt" a portion of its likely audience.  If a video is rejected it is because we donít feel it is suitable for viewing in the home, but only 33 videos have been rejected since 1984. [for the curious, I can list all of them and give a few details about each].

(PL) Will NATURAL BORN KILLERS get a video release?. (RWF) It hasnít been submitted yet, so I canít say.

(PL) What do you think about the calls for totally uncensored cinema?

(RWF) Iím not in favour of totally uncensored cinema, certainly I can support a more lenient system of classification for theatrical, but there are some films, particularly in the area of sexual violence that cross that line and really shouldnít be seen at all.

(PL) Is there a list of "forbidden images", such as nunchuckas, erections or eye gouging sequences for example?. (RWF) Nunchuckas cannot be seen in a context in which their use is glamorised in combat sequences in martial arts exploitation movies.  They may be allowed in other contexts.  Board policy does not allow videos, in particular to teach about weapons, which are easy to construct, conceal and use.  For this reason in certain glamorising contexts, the BBFC also removes the sight of butterfly knives being twirled and the sight of throwing stars in use.  An eye gouging sequence might be different in any one film, so we would look at a film as a whole before we took a decision on this.

(PL) " Stalk n slash" pictures seem to have found a particular disfavour with the board, why is this?

(RWF) Thatís not the case, for example HALLOWEEN, the film that sums up the genre at its most interesting was passed "X" uncut in 1978 on film and then uncut on video in 1986.  It is not what a film is about that is important, but how it deals with its subject matter.

(PL) What about the "violence against women" issue. How do you respond to the claim that the "damsel in distress" has always been a cinematic icon and as such this oft-stated concern is an overreaction on the part of those perpetuating it (including the BBFC)?

(RWF) 1 donít accept that at all.  The damsel may be in distress, but there is no need to show her being cut up, raped or mutilated as in the case of films like THE NEW YORK RIPPER .  The important thing is that violence to women should not be eroticised and films should not offer, as their main source of pleasure, vicarious involvement in the process of sexual violence against women and the conscious gratification of the misogynistic impulses of some sections of the male audience.

(PL) I see, why is it then that films featuring pernicious and casual violence in the throwaway vein of the HOME ALONE films and their ilk are favoured over films featuring realistic violence showing the pain and price of such actions.  Surely this has the effect of suggesting to the impressionable that violence is no big deal?

(RWF) I think that children should be credited with a little more understanding, their tolerance for learning is higher than we sometimes think.  The HOME ALONE films are in any case related in style to slapstick comedy and fantasy.  Also we do often cut this type of violence in major Hollywood films for home video, TRUE LIES has just been through on video and we've cut back some of the violence in that.  Other major films cut for video include DIE HARD 2 and LETHAL WEAPON 2, so its not the ewe to suggest big budget films receive preferential treatment.

(PL) Id like to get your thoughts on a few films that have not been granted certificates, why?


(RWF) THE EXORCIST is available on film, but has not been classified on video to date.  The BBFC is concerned that teenagers who would undoubtedly see it on video might be traumatised in the way that some were when the film was first released.  James Ferman has also expressed his concern about the possible use of the video in satanic abuse cases.


(RWF) HIDDEN RAGE was submitted on video in August 1988 and rejected after numerous viewings of it including one involving the president and vice presidents of the BBFC.  This video, with its portrait of an AIDS victim as a twisted and sadistic monster, seemed to the board to be contrived so as to provide titillatory rape sequences for male audiences and cutting was therefore not an option.

(PL) I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (aka: DAY OF THE WOMAN ) (another instance of harsh realism, on this occasion the true horror of the crime of rape being penalised?)

(RWF) This has never been submitted to the BBFC on video, the rights holders probably being aware of its notoriety as a so-called "video nasty" in the early 1980's.  It is debatable whether this film constitutes "harsh realism" as you suggest or an exploitation of images of gang rape for some audiences who may be seeking not the "true horror of the crime of rape", but the possible vicarious thrills of sexual violence for predisposed audiences . It would therefore, be unlikely to be passed in its original form.

(PL) CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (again perhaps, an example of powerful film-making being penalised in a film with a valuable message concerning mans inhumanity to man).

(RWF) CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST has also never been submitted for classification. I imagine that distributors am wary about investing in this title knowing its history of successful obscenity prosecutions.


(RWF) THE DRILLER KILLER has never been officially submitted to the BBFC , perhaps again, because of its notoriety during the "video nasty" moral panic in the early 1980's.

(RWF) With the above three titles, the BBFC has no discretion in deciding on their suitability for release in various forms because of the obscenity decisions passed on them by British juries, as the board cannot pass material which has been declared obscene by the legal process.

[This does strike me as confusing, simply because other titles including " THE BEYOND , THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and 'Tobe Hooper's DEATH TRAP (to name but three of many) were all caught up ill the 'video nasty' hysteria, yet they later sufficed in BBFC approved versions.  Were they just never actually found "obscene'? (surely DEATH TRAP was, It along with I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE formed the first two videotapes Mrs Mary Whitehouse took action against in the test case that proved the catalyst for the whole scandal) or was the degree by which they were cut a factor? or is there another answer?]


(RWF) DEATH WISH has had its video certificate withheld by the BBFC since 1987 due to the sequence featuring the rape and murder of the mother and daughter near the start of the film, although a version of the film was passed by the board for transmission on satellite TV.  It was felt that it would be impossible to allow this kind of exploitative sexual violence to be released on video under the terms of the video recordings act and the company CIC felt it best in the wake of Hungerford not to distribute it in any form.

(PL) What about A CLOCKWORK ORANGE ?.  Would it be passed if submitted now?.  Uncut?

(RWF) A CLOCKWORK ORANGE was as lm sure you are aware, withdrawn by Stanley Kubrick in 1973 and has not been permitted distribution in this country on film or video since then.  It would be unwise, given this state of affairs'. to speculate on what would happen if he were to change his mind and resubmit it, but James Ferman has stated on the record that he would have problems with the rape sequence for video classification. [Yes, Iíve seen a comment attributed to James Ferman saying of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE , that he would have to "cut deeply into the rape scene"].


(RWF) THE TRIP was rejected on video in 1983 because of its almost advocatory depiction of drug usage. [extraordinary this, anyone who has seen THE TRIP would know it to be both bogus and dated].


(RWF) RESERVOIR DOGS has had its [video] certification delayed in response to the recent outbreak of concern over children's access to violent video images.   A decision is pending on this title and an announcement will he made soon.


(RWF) THE NEW YORK RIPPER was submitted as you say, by Eagle Films in early 1984 and rejected by the BBFC.  It is one of the few films ever to be unanimously considered obscene, in both the legal and the personal sense, in its depiction of the mutilation of women.  Previously, HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK had been rejected and had found its way into distribution as a bootleg video. Given that the issue here was an extremely serious one, James Ferman did take the action mentioned in the Video World piece in order to prevent the film being copied and circulated.

[A real hornets nest here.  Certainly James Ferman's decision reflects minimal faith in the then management of Eagle Films, also it raises the question of whether it is Skyline Video's release of HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK referred to as the "bootleg video' If it is, does that also mean that the many similar rumours concerning Replay Video's release of Wes Craven's similarly vicious THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and the majority of VIPC0ís catalogue have some substance?]

(PL) What were the problems the board had with a recent trio of films submitted by the Redemption Video label, namely BARE BEHIND BARS , DEMONIAC (Franco's THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME by another name) and SADOMANIA .   Company literature has stated all three titles as being "Banned in the UK by the BBFC"?. (RWF) With these three videos, as it is the case that this company is in the process of appealing a decision on one of these titles [ BARE BEHIND BARS ], 1 am not in a position at the moment to comment on them.

(PL) What about CURFEW ?

(RWF) CURFEW was rejected in 1988. [James Ferman has been quoted in saying of CURFEW; "thereís rape, forced dancing on broken glass and repeated degradation and mutilation, all presented solely for entertainment".]

(RWF) You should, I think, also be aware, of the latest amendment to the Video Recordings Act contained in the Criminal Justice and Public order Act, with which the BBFC now has to work when making decisions on video.  This requires the board to have special regard to the treatment of certain depictions and their potential viewers. [This is the execrable recent amendment which has the effect of forcing the BBFC to rate adult (by which I do not just refer to softcore) videotapes whilst considering the effect they might have upon those of an age supposedly prohibited by the rating from seeing the work(s) in question in the first place].

Well there, you have it.  Basically slap bang in the middle between the moralists and the libertarians, the BBFC is doing the best it can to classify films amid the morass of legislation (some of which we have reproduced for your edification)


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