Issues & Debates

The Human Censorship

Matthew Gilmore will be examining the banning and censoring of film in the UK and case studies that are relevant to this. Furthermore, Matthew will be asking whether this is necessary in today’s age, and are we restricting freedom by restricting entertainment?

Time has long since passed since the moral panic of the ‘video nasties’ era following the media witch hunt and subsequent ‘banning’ list of violent films, after it was found that the young murderers of James Bulger repeatedly watched in an obsessive manner the 1991 film Childs Play 3 (a film which ironically, was not included in the video nasties act). Guilty pleasures of mine from the ‘80s such as Shogun Assassin and The Burning (starring a pre-Seinfeld Jason Alexander) were unfortunate victims of the act and left unreleased in uncut form until 2001. However, every now and then, we still get reports from the BBFC having refused to provide certificate or that a distributing studio requests edits so that their film achieves a lower rating.

While the latter is purely done from a financial standpoint in getting as wide an audience as possible with a case point being the Dwayne Johnson starrer, Hercules, being edited to achieve a 12a, as well as the 2011 Greek mythology dud of a film, Immortals, lowered to a 15. For the former, the BBFC will reject classification in ‘regard to the likelihood of any harm that may be caused to the viewer or, through their behaviour, to society’. Two films in recent time that breached these guidelines set by the BBFC are 2009’s Grotesque and 2011’s The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence).

The Japanese film, Grotesque, features little plot and depicts the torture of a man and woman by a sexual sadist. Portraying sexualised violence with no hope of survival for the two protagonists grinded the gears of the censorship board with scenes of dismemberment and eye gouging only resulting in sexual gratification from the antagonist. Banning a film such as this is arguably understandable with the premise essentially being that of a fictionalised snuff film, reminiscent of the similarly notorious Flowers of Flesh and Blood; a film which when viewed by a coked-out Charlie Sheen in 1991, believed to be real acts of violence and alerted the FBI. The second instalment in the sure to be future classic trilogy, Human Centipede, is a different matter altogether. After the first film became a viral sensation due to its obviously genius concept of a film where people’s mouths getting stapled to a**eholes that year 8’s couldn’t wait to claim which one had seen it first, the second film’s only option was to make the Bad Boys 2 of centipede films: bigger is better. Upgrading from the original film’s three people to an impressively sized row of twelve ’pede-members and emphasising the shock factor of its gimmick. Director Tom Six created a meta-world in which a mentally ill die-hard fan of the first film is inspired to create his own masterpiece of the flesh, and assaults us with images of crushed new-born baby heads and the raping of women with barbed wire-wrapped penises. Inevitably, the BBFC initially gave this the chop before folding and releasing it with a hefty two minutes and thirty-seven seconds worth of its more graphic imagery removed.

While not banned (at least, not in the U.K.), 2010’s A Serbian Film was also victim to the cutting room with a colossal four minutes and twelve seconds left on the floor, with this edited version now only implying the lovely-sounding scene that features the act of infant rape which, in uncut form, was shown in full effect.

One of the most head-scratching choices of films to feature cuts, the Steven Seagal ‘classic’, Above the Law in which, to this day, U.K audiences are refused to witness a spectacular arm break dealt to the main villain. It is a sequence that would, if rated today, likely even pass for a 12 certificate with the level of carnage seen in modern blockbusters, yet still isn’t featured in the DVD and blu-ray releases with no answer or reason as to why.

While content such as this appears abhorrent, surely the entire purpose of a film such as The Human Centipede 2 is to deliver a product so ridiculous and over the top that it refuses to be taken seriously, and refrain from causing harm to the mental health of the viewer. Every film is made with an audience in mind, and both Grotesque and Human Centipede cater to, and are made, for the niche audience of gore-hounds who crave this content, seeing how much violence they can handle. Why should they be deprived of their choice of viewing? Why should someone else tell me what is safe for viewing and what isn’t, banning ideas that they take issue with? By portraying taboo and even ‘evil’ imagery on film, the argument can be made that it can also add to the viewer’s moral decency – they are supposed to be horrified by such sights rather than build a tolerance for the violence and eventually find it to be entertaining. Even I, a fan of extreme cinema, will occasionally choose to refuse to see a film I believe crosses a line of acceptability for me, yet the same won’t occur to another lover of film who has no problem with such content without endorsing these acts in real life.

To provide a fair argument however, it is essential to take in mind the possible outcome graphic media can have on the mentally fragile; how are we to know if it was Childs Play 3 that did indeed compel James Bulgers’ murderers to commit such a terrible act. It is the entire purpose of the censorship boards existence to prevent any psychological harm that a film may trigger upon a person. Protecting the 1% even if the other 99% should (in a very loose use of this term) ‘suffer’ as well in his deprivation. If your child stumbles upon Sausage Party and is traumatised by sentient food engaged in a sex orgy, it is immoral of you to call for its ban, when you are responsible for their viewing. The same, from my viewpoint at least, shouldn’t occur to adult viewers in charge of their own viewing decisions.

So where do we draw the line between preventing harm to society, and over-restriction in film censorship?