Tomorrow Cai Ross lists the scenes which caused the censors a headache and on Friday we’ll be looking forward to the future of film censorship.
Since 1912 the British Board of Film Censors has been standardising films for its audiences, sifting through the obscene, the violent and the suggestive to ensure that movies receive the classification seen fit. Today, as part of our Film Censorship week, take a look at some of the landmarks in both the British and global film industry over the last 65 years, from the immoral to the persuasive to the downright nasty.
The 1950s bought with it an impressionable post war youth, with a hunger for music, fashion and film and for once a little disposable income to their names. Attitudes of sex and rebellion began to show up in cinema, and with it new guidelines in censorship. The “X” certificate was introduced for a strictly 16 plus audience, and applied to films such as Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer night for its sexual references, The Wild One for its portrayal of hooliganism, an increasing concern at the time, and Rebel Without a Cause.
Now bearing a PG certificate for “moderate violence,” Rebel Without a Cause was originally given its X rating for fears of sparking copycat behaviour, and was even banned in New Zealand in 1955, undergoing several cuts before it received an R16 release in 1956.
Sex and rebellion only grew stronger as it charged into the 60s; while copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover were passed under desks Michael Caine’s Alfie was taking one of his conquests to undergo a back alley abortion, an act that was surprisingly uncut due to its sensitive handling. New realism hit the industry, with Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning undergoing script moderations before receiving an uncut X-rating for its portrayals of violence and abortion, proving that Britain was indeed become more liberal. Not only were attitudes towards sex and class easing, but impressions of criminals as well. Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde was released in 1966, shortly after the end of the Hays code, and was condemned for its likeable portrayal of its glamorous outlaws. The 60s ended with Midnight Cowboy winning three Academy Awards in 1969, the first and only X rated film receive an Oscar for Best Picture.
Sexual violence became a major cinematic taboo over the following decade, with controversy found notably in Straw Dogs and A Clockwork Orange and their graphic scenes of rape. The USA introduced an uncensored X category, which left the control of censorship down to criminal law, and the BBFC came under increasing scrutiny from organisations such as The Festival of Light following the X rated releases of The Exorcist, Last Tango in Paris and The Devils. Horror also underwent pressure; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remained banned for almost 20 years based on its levels of violence and terrorisation, primarily towards a woman. This would all change with the introduction of the video tape.
Before 1984 there was no legal requirement for videos to be rated, resulting in a wave of glamorised violence and terror known as the video nasties. Titles such as I Spit on Your Grave and Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left were included in the batch, which remained unprosecuted after the Video Recordings Act came into action 1984, forcing all video releases to come before the BBFC for classification. Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead was seized by the Director of Public Prosecutions upon its video release in 1982, and was to undergo numerous cuts before it was finally re-released in 1990.
By this time video had made itself a name as a seemingly unchartered channel for the violent and grotesque. The BBFC were consequently forced to be stricter with video, and later DVD, than it ever had been with film. The 1990s saw controversy spark again from a pair of outlawed lovers, although this couple made Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree look like child’s play. Natural Born Killers, despite receiving an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was disowned by its distributors Warner Bros. It was banned in Ireland and the BBFC delayed its classification in wake of rumoured copycat crimes abroad, eventually permitting release in February 1995. In spite of Oliver Stone’s insistence that Natural Born Killers was a satirical look at the media’s examination of mass murderers, it remains one of the most controversial films of the decade.
The Bourne Identity bore the first ever 12A certificate in 2002, after a pilot scheme run by the BBFC that allowed parents to take under 12s to see such films as they saw fit. From then bookmarks in censorship remained relatively quiet until 2011, when Dutch filmmaker Tom Six made a sequel so revolting that it was refused a certificate in the UK.
The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) follows Six’s original, which sees much of the same shocking content but in a copycat type format. Upon reviewing the film the BBFC banned the straight to video release based on its obscenity and sexual violence, meaning that it was unavailable to watch in the UK. Six launched a campaign to have the ban removed, stating in a Q&A that the film is obviously removed from reality, whereas films such as Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible can be purchased at will.
In October 2011 an 18 certificate was granted after 32 compulsory cuts were made. It was one of the more publicised decisions made on a film’s release over the last decade, but as Six has now completed Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)the stakes have been raised considerably.
On Friday we’ll be looking at the future of film censorship. Check back then.