Documentary examining the work of the BBFC, casting an eye over some of the most infamous cases in its history and analysing how it works with film-makers themselves.
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This programme contains scenes of sexual violence, very strong language
and scenes which some viewers may find upsetting.
Right in the heart of London is the smallest cinema in the world.
It only has four seats. That's all.
Yet this little cinema wields immense power,
and presiding over it is the ogre, the man who decides what
and what not you're going to see in your local cinemas.
So I'd like you to meet now the Secretary of the British Board of Film Censors.
Well, here we are. One of the ogres in question.
I'm quite sure that the average member of the public never sees a censor.
From his office in Soho Square, the film censor keeps an eye
on Wardour Street, filmland's headquarters, just round the corner.
His job's to protect the public from the excesses of the industry
and the industry from the intolerance of the public.
Honestly, we cannot have language like this.
I'm sure you'll use your discretion and keep the language as mild as you can.
Delete shot of chicken hanging outside the door.
Remove all shorts of her kissing the phallic bone.
I have considered the cuts you suggest, but I feel they would reduce the film to nonsense.
What you've got in the archives of the BBFC is a sort
of map of British taste and sensibility.
Too much gratuitous nudity.
Take out people smoking pot, lesbians and homos.
Cut the shot of Mother Superior masturbating.
We have no rules, which I think is important.
-I think it's the only way to do it.
If you've got a body regulating film,
with a relatively narrow range of options - ban it, cut it, classify it -
Then sometimes they're going to get it right.
Sometimes they're going to get it wrong.
Dear God, that's Sylvester Stallone's dick and it's going up.
Going up and down and up and down and up and down.
I thought "Hello, hello."
"This is actually going a bit far."
The whole point of the movie is "Blah!"
But you've got to turn it into something that goes "Bleurgh?"
I did warn you!
Life couldn't be sweeter for the Smiths.
Joan is cutting flowers for the table, and this weekend
they're off to the pictures.
In the earlier years of the board, the film industry often shared the
board's view that cinema was meant to be a place for family entertainment.
The films should be clean, they should be entertaining.
From the 50s onwards, cinema audiences declined,
the emphasis changed to showing more adult content,
material that would appeal to teenagers.
And material that, arguably, sections of the public wouldn't accept.
and it was really at that point that the board
entered into its period of friction with distributors.
The Wild One would expose the board to justifiable criticism,
for certificating a film so potentially dangerous on social grounds.
Arthur Watkins, Secretary.
The censor in the early 50s was a man called Arthur Watkins, a rather kind
of patrician figure, and a man who fancied himself as a writer as well.
But had slightly kind of fusty ideas about what interesting writing should be.
If you can look at Monroe and keep your virtue,
or talk with Rank, nor lose the common touch.
If you can fill five hours of every day,
with 60 minutes' worth of footage run,
the cinema is yours and everything that's in it,
and which is more, you'll be a censor, my son.
And that, with your permission, is what I and my colleagues must now be.
Arthur Watkins' reign as censor coincides with the post-war
explosion of movies that had been held up by the Second World War,
and suddenly an awful lot of films are appearing on the scene,
and also an awful lot of films that deal with adult subjects.
All of you stand back.
Where can I get me one of these jazzy suits?
I want to look like a street cleaner too!
Hey, who are you?
What are you doing here, are you a cop or something?
Don't push anybody.
That was a bit of a shock, I think, probably, in early '50s England,
where you didn't mock figures of authority in that way.
That was thought to be sort of surly, bolshy behaviour.
Note from examiners.
Brando is certainly an accessory to larceny, malicious damage to property,
false imprisonment, assault and battery, insulting behaviour and reckless driving.
And the problem with the film for the censors wasn't that there was
some scene of outrageous violence in it,
it was more to do with the kind of sneer of contempt that the
film expresses in every frame, towards adult authority.
Brando is attractive. Admirable. Imitable.
You've got a lot of anxiety about young people in this country.
The teddy boys were quite tough people to deal with.
You know, they carried their chibbies, their little razors, and
fights between razor gangs in London, you know, it was not undocumented.
"But once the trouble was on the way, I was just going with it."
Brando says in the dialogue.
This is precisely the psychology of the teddy boys.
It was banned outright in '53, and when you see it today,
you can't imagine why.
I mean, these juvenile delinquents are all played by middle-aged men,
which is rather far-fetched.
They just don't seem like delinquents at all.
Don't do that.
Dear Sirs, we regret we are unable to issue
a certificate for this spectacle of unbridled hooliganism.
The film company are desperate to get it passed with cuts.
Dear Arthur, have you any suggestions at all that could be
the means of changing the board's present decision?
It is terrible that a costly picture will have to be placed
on the shelf without a penny worth of revenue accruing from this territory.
Our concern about this film is related to the subject as a whole.
That is, the basic story, the beginning, middle and end.
My dear Arthur Watkins,
what our film portrays is a matter that could not happen in England.
The distributor brought the film back to the board again and again and again.
My dear Arthur Watkins, while in your fascinating city I do wish to mix
some business with whatever pleasure visits to London do provide.
This includes a respectful petition that you once again view The Wild One.
I am glad to hear you are shortly coming to London, but I do not think
there can be any question at this stage of our re-opening the subject.
We take no pleasure whatever in cutting or banning films.
There is no truth in the cartoon which depicted our President
and his colleagues, outside this theatre, and the President saying
"Gentlemen, let's see it through once again and then ban it."
The ban stuck until 1967, by which point it had become this
rather innocuous, rather archaic object.
A little message from the past.
The film that came along after The Wild One, that sort of tested it,
was Rebel Without A Cause, which was obviously the must-see film of 1955.
You're tearing me apart!
You! You say one thing, he says another and everybody changes back again.
That's a fine way to behave.
Well, you know who he takes after.
Notes on Rebel Without A Cause.
It is another story involving delinquency, this time
with the accent on the sins of neglectful and quarrelling parents.
When Rebel Without A Cause was submitted to the BBFC, the distributor was keen to obtain
an A classification rather than an X.
Obviously because the X certificate at the time not only limited the audience,
but limited the number of cinema chains that were prepared to show the film.
We have given the most careful consideration to
the request about regrading Rebel Without A Cause in the A category.
The main obstacle is the behaviour of the parents in the film.
It's in fact James Dean's rather caricatured dad.
This sort of effeminate figure played by Jim Backus, Mr Magoo,
who you see wearing an apron and being henpecked or whatever.
It's sort of suggested that if he were more of a man,
then James Dean wouldn't be such a screw-up.
I mean, you shouldn't... Don't...
What are you...?
Children, even accompanied, should not be allowed to witness
the spectacle of ridiculous and ineffectual parents.
You know, for the director, Nicholas Ray, this was the whole point of the film.
The weakness of these authority figures.
Dear Arthur, I have considered the cuts you suggest we make
in order to gain an A certificate,
but I feel they would reduce the film to nonsense.
Rebel Without A Cause was seen by us on 14th October 1955,
and after considerable deliberation amongst ourselves,
passed in the X category.
John Trevelyan was this wonderful scholarly, lined face.
He looked like the headmaster of Eton.
And he could go on television and defend his decisions,
and he washed away all opposition.
Mary Whitehouse, everybody. They looked silly compared to him.
He looked like the Brain of Britain.
John gave the same impression of a very senior citizen
who knew what he was talking about.
And, when John sat there holding his hand up with his cigarette,
you really believed what he was saying.
We had no rules,
which I think is important. I think it's the only way to do it.
If you have your rules, you've either got to stick to them right through,
or you've got to interpret them, and I think either is foolish.
So therefore, we've tried to assess what we believe
are public attitudes at any one time, and to work on those.
The Garden of Eden was an American naturism film
that arrived at the Board in 1955.
At the time, the Board had a pretty strict policy on nudity.
"Note from examiners."
"I think the Garden of Eden would produce very noisy reactions
"at tough cinemas like The Elephant."
"There are some unconsciously funny nudes,"
"especially one young lady with peculiar gluteal muscles."
"The question of precedent must be the overriding one here."
The British Board of Film Censors
couldn't actually legally oblige a film to disappear.
This was just advice for councils when they were handing out permits.
And it produces odd anomalies, so that the Board could disapprove
but that a council could pass it.
So, at first the board decided to resist the march of the nudists.
But this was something they couldn't get local councils to agree with.
And so councils allowed these films to be shown against the advice
of the BBFC, which made them seem very old-fashioned,
very out of touch.
So, in 1958, John Trevelyan,
a man really of deeply liberal instincts,
who can see that this is a preposterous situation
that is making them look utterly foolish.
"This film was recently reconsidered by this Board,
"and it was decided to rescind the previous decision,
"and to pass the film with an 'A' certificate. John Trevelyan, Secretary."
I think Trevelyan revoked the ban on Garden Of Eden
with a certain degree of reluctance.
This was probably because he felt that
this was the beginning of a slippery slope.
Other film-makers with perhaps even less reputable intentions
would try to jump on the bandwagon.
All the cheap distributors, and I was working for them at the time, said,
"This is it, we can make a fortune! We'll make a film with nudists." There had to be nudists.
My people rang me up. They said, "In two or three weeks' time, we're starting a nudist film."
"Where is it? You write it."
So I wrote this ludicrous film called Some Like It Cool.
Who are you writing to?
Mum and Dad.
I bet they haven't recovered from your last letter.
-My darling girl.
-Please, mother, don't make a scene.
-"Don't make a scene," she says!
Put yourselves in our place.
Have a cup of tea.
Tea? At a time like this?
Well, it is tea time.
The film was officially sold to the BBFC as an educational work of some sort.
But, of course, the Board knew that it was nothing of the sort,
and that it was an excuse to show breasts and buttocks.
It cost £9,000.
It made its budget back the first week.
Unheard of in the history of cinema.
And, strangely enough, although it was a rubbish film,
it greatly impressed people in Wardour Street
which was then the movie capital of London.
"My God, Winner's made a film for £9,000, he's making £200,000!"
"We're not getting results like this with our films, with people with clothes on."
The horse had very much bolted after Garden of Eden,
and the Board simply had to concede that it had lost the argument on nudity.
I believe that John Trevelyan created the sexual revolution.
Suddenly, nudity and pubic hair could be shown.
Trevelyan wasn't the man who stood aloof from the film business.
There are lots of pictures of him hanging out with Andy Warhol, and people like that.
He was a member of a cinema club in Soho that showed uncertificated films.
When he came back from a very good lunch at a local restaurant,
he would say to us, "Who's fucking who today?"
Which went down very well!
You love the idea of being the guy who would go through Soho,
and everyone knew who was, because in a way,
he was the person who was keeping everyone's house in order.
So, throughout the 60s, Trevelyan is overseeing this process
of liberalisation and permitting more and more as the decade progresses.
So, in 1967, you get the first use of the word "fuck",
in the film of Ulysses.
In the same year, you get full frontal female nudity in Blow-Up.
And in Hugs And Kisses.
And in 1969, you get full-frontal male nudity,
historically much more problematic but there it is in Ken Russell's
film, under that candlelight, on that Axminster carpet.
We've got two pretty big stars, pretty hip stars at the time as well.
Full-frontal nudity, lots of it and quite a protracted scene.
I think it needs to be remembered that this is only two years
after sodomy for men over 21 is made legal in Britain.
We have a scene here which may be a healthy heterosexual bit of
wrestling, but is probably something else and Lawrence's novel and his
prefaces to the novel, evidences that there is certainly something else going on.
This was an extraordinary climate in which film-makers are in cahoots
with sensors from the outset, from the shooting script.
Larry Kramer, who writes the screenplay of Women In Love
and produces it and collaborates very closely with Ken Russell,
wrote to Trevelyan asking that he be part of the creative journey.
"Dear John, I have pleasure in enclosing my final draft script
"on the DH Lawrence novel, Women In Love.
"We would very much like to lunch with you after you have read the script.
"We feel we are embarking on an extraordinary creative experience
"which we would like to have you share with us. Larry."
There is some sense in which the film-makers are operating
in a climate of collaboration with the censors,
which is extraordinary these days, the idea that you can see the chief censor as one of your buddies.
"Dear Larry, this seems an exciting production.
"I know Ken Russell and his work well,
"and I am very happy that he is
"going to do this picture with you. John."
Women in Love had been discussed with Trevelyan,
as was common at the script stage and Trevelyan had urged the makers of
the film to be cautious in how they shot the famous nude wrestling scene.
"Dear Larry, I think we should have a talk about your script.
"I got the impression you had probably hotted up Lawrence
"a bit here and there.
"If they were just indulging in horseplay as two friends,
"there would not be problems, but we have already had clear
"indications that there are homosexual feelings between them
"and this kind of scene could be troublesome if not handled discreetly.
"I can only advise you to be very cautious about it."
It is a gay scene.
It is a gay scene as well as a straight scene.
It is a sexual scene which is going in all sorts of directions
and all the more powerful for that.
But Trevelyan really wanted that toned down
because he felt the public climate wasn't ready for such
explicit representations of this on screen.
we can't also have penises engaging in homosexual activity.
When the film finally came in, there was a lot of horse trading
between the distributor and the board.
"While we are prepared to accept the wrestling scene,
"we would like you to remove, if possible,
"full-length shots in which genitals are clearly visible.
"The main trouble lies in shots where the two boys are standing still.
When they are moving around, maybe everything is flapping around but it's not quite so visible.
When they are standing still, you can focus on everything.
"Dear John, I gather there is one full-length shot of Gerald which gives offence.
"The only way out of this is to darken the shot and this I would be quite prepared to do.
"I have not included anything in the film that is contrary
"to the ideals and philosophy of the author.
"Throwing myself on your good judgment, Ken Russell."
I think that they knew that this was done with good artistic intent
and I think the censors really prized this.
They were not just gatekeepers.
They were actually trying to foster a kind of aesthetic.
"We all think it is a brilliant film
"and are taking this in account in our judgment of it.
"We would like you to make some small trims in the early part
"of the scene so as to avoid undue emphasis on genitals."
"Dear John, can I say how grateful Ken and I are
"for your understanding help throughout these past months.
"Dear Larry, we will accept the wrestling scene
"on the understanding that the prints are darkened. Yours, John."
The darkening also had the effect of giving it a more classical,
fire-lit aura so they seemed like figures from a Greek drama,
rather than male figures from a porno movie.
too much for you?
It became incredibly talked about, although I think some people
were rather impervious to it.
Ken Russell tells a story of going into a cinema in the middle
of nowhere somewhere, sitting in a very badly attended
screening where there are just two old ladies and him in the audience.
He sits behind the two ladies and he watches their responses
during the wrestling scene and they look at the screen
and it comes to an end and one says to the other,
# Alleluia, alleluia...#
I think I am the saviour of the British film industry.
Trevelyan liked Russell.
Of course, he had allowed Women In Love to be passed
pretty much intacto.
I think one thing Ken Russell learned was,
it really paid to have Trevelyan on side.
I care very much about the kind of film that the artist makes.
The artist may well be in advance of public attitudes.
And he may shock but shock deliberately.
I think this is fair enough.
1971 is a big year for British censorship and for extreme images on
British Screen and it is also a big year in the career of Ken Russell.
He has done Women In Love, he's done The Music Lovers.
These are films with extreme context and extreme content.
We get to The Devils and it is really pushing it even further.
Once I had decided to do this film,
I just had to go along with the truth as it was reported.
On August 18th, 1634, in the small French town of Loudun,
sister Jeanne of the Angels declared herself the victim of satanic visitations.
Jeanne's claim of diabolical rape brought a team of exorcists
to the convent and these good men soon provoked
all the nuns into spectacular obscenities.
Loudun was visited by tourists from all over Europe,
who came to view the antics of the nuns.
In 1952, Aldous Huxley published his famous account which formed
the basis for a film by Ken Russell.
When the BBFC first saw The Devils, there were
members of the board who thought that it should be banned outright.
"I consider this to be a nauseating piece of film-making.
"Whatever the deeper meaning intended by Ken Russell,
"it comes to the screen with such elements of sadism, cruelty,
"pornography and blasphemy, it will appeal chiefly to the prurient."
It is, of course, brilliant, but the question it raises is
whether brilliance justifies complete artistic freedom?
You carry on in the background, enjoying ourselves
all nudging and saying, "Isn't it camp?"
There were sequences all through it that seemed to go beyond anything
we had passed until that time.
"I have no personal knowledge
"as to the shape of nuns under their habits,
"but I doubt they all look like the playmates of this film.
The main sequence was the orgy with the nuns and there were
so many shots in that that were way over the top at that period
of time, that I was quite convinced it could never be shown
in public without a police prosecution following it.
Essentially, what you're dealing with here is what came to be
known as the rape of Christ sequence.
Well, I didn't think it was suitable for public viewing.
"Reel 9, 10 and 11.
"There is far too much of the orgy, too much nudity,
"too much masturbation.
"Scenes of nuns making love to the effigy of Christ which seemed
"to me to be prohibitive."
On a visual level, that film is so fiery, so Russellian, so everything
turned up to 11, it is the distilled essence of what Russell does.
If you see that film
and you don't feel like you have been run over by a truck,
you didn't watch the film properly!
The Devils - points for discussion with Ken Russell.
Russell says that the way that he described to him was,
"I'm just about to cut your best scene but don't blame me, that's my job."
Removed shots of Mother Superior masturbating.
Further reduce the orgy, removing all shots of nuns masturbating
on the figure of the crucified Christ,
Father Mignon masturbating on the gallery
and shots of the nun rubbing the candle sexually.
There's this wonderful sequence of letters batting backwards and forwards,
with Russell pleading to keep his film for reasons of integrity.
Dear John, I did not set out to make a cosy religious drama that would please everyone.
Actually, I have turned this down of my own accord.
For instance, I do not show the nuns throwing their habits over their heads
and running through the audience, inviting them to "Fuck me".
I have butchered the film at your bidding far and away beyond anything I dreamed of.
I beg you now it to leave it as it is. Sincerely, Ken Russell.
He's a Catholic himself. He sees that as really important.
This is a film about blasphemy and I need to retain it as it is now,
please, please, please, otherwise,
the meanings of it will break apart and blasphemy as an issue will
not be represented in the way that I want it to be represented.
"Dear Ken, we saw your modified version of The Devils today.
"The orgy sequences have been very substantially shortened,
"but remove the shot of the naked girl twirling on a kind of swing."
Look, do this, all right, I've done that, but can I have that? You've taken the shit off the altar.
I've done the thing, can I please have the nun with the candle?
I mean, it's that level of almost comic interplay.
I'm sure it wasn't funny at the time.
"Dear John, I have cleared up the shit on the altar,
"slashed the whipping and cut the orgy in two.
"I hope you don't feel tempted to tamper with the sequence as it now stands.
"Christ must be debased and must be seen to be debased.
What happened was that essentially, a block sequence came out.
That block sequence came out, little elements of it remained in the various versions of The Devils,
but the hints about the whole sequence of the cross coming down,
of the big statue coming down and being ravaged went in its entirety.
"We are satisfied with what you have done to meet our wishes
"in the way of further cuts on The Devils.
"Passed X with deletions."
Well, I've always been idealist and I've always been a libertarian
and that means I've always hoped that some day, censorship would not be necessary.
I think it's necessary now.
I don't think it will disappear entirely, maybe even in my lifetime.
It may disappear in my children's lifetime,
but it means a whole lot more personal responsibility than exists today with just a few people,
who are out to make money out of human weakness.
John Trevelyan, thank you very much for talking to us.
John Trevelyan knew what was going to come
and it was a case of apres moi la deluge.
And Stephen Murphy, who took over from him, caught the lot.
I don't know how far society can go
and it's not a question that I'm called upon to answer.
People will submit films to the Board and even talk about
the films before they make them and a great deal depends on
the quality and integrity with which those films are made.
What happened with Stephen Murphy was that
he inherited a very difficult situation,
which was that he came to power in the middle of the most almighty shit-storm.
The whole world has a problem with moral culture and once again,
Britain has the chance today to give leadership to the whole world.
The Devils comes out in a climate of worry.
Once it reaches the sort of wider environs of British society
it's picketed by the Festival of Light.
It becomes a scandal film in a much wider sense.
Lots of letters arrive on his desk.
"Dear Mr Murphy, I saw The Devils yesterday.
"I was disgusted at the blasphemous implications."
"Pornographic to the worst degree, moronic and depraved."
"I found this demoralising, highly indecent and blasphemous and certainly harmful."
"We are amazed the confidence that the people of Britain
"have placed in your wisdom has been so sadly abused."
Stephen Murphy has to pick up the flak.
"Your letter makes me very sad.
"My personal knowledge of The Devils is not great since, in fact,
"the work on it was done by my predecessor.
"I am grieved that you should find the film so hurtful.
"Yours sincerely, Stephen Murphy."
Stephen Murphy was very much the family man.
He'd made films before and in fact,
the tallest transmitter in the Pennines was the subject
of one of his documentaries, which he took me to see at the time.
1971 is a huge year for scandal movies.
Suddenly, there were movies before him that, to this day, remain controversial.
# Oh dear land I fought for thee... #
'Seeing Clockwork Orange,'
the two things that were genuinely shocking were one,
at the beginning, where the tramp
gets kicked to death in this underpass.
And secondly, Adrian Corry being raped while they all sang Singing In The Rain.
Which, by the way, upset Gene Kelly mightily at the time.
"Examination notes: The visuals, however restrained,
"could not possibly get into even the X category
"unless we're willing to turn our existing standards upside-down for the sake of this one film."
Even to this day, it's reckoned it was a very, very brave move on the part of the Board to pass it.
"Passed, X. Stephen Murphy."
Well, it was the usual outcry.
But basically, the Board stuck to its guns and said,
"No, we consider that this film should be shown in its entirety."
And of course, this myth develops that Clockwork Orange was withdrawn from distribution because of Murphy.
It wasn't, was entirely because of Stanley Kubrick.
It was passed, it went the rounds, I saw it
and then Stanley Kubrick got this rather unfortunate letter, threatening his family,
saying that violence would happen to his family
and he was rather a paranoid disposition anyway, so he insists
only in England - the only territory insisted on - that this film gets withdrawn.
He's so powerful, Warner Brothers agree.
So, it had nothing to do with Murphy.
You will judge each film on its own individual merits?
On its own individual merits.
And I'll be wrong and it'll be for the public
to decide how often I'm wrong,
how often I'm right, I can't give you the answer to that.
Straw Dogs really upset people.
# Hello, darkness, my old friend
# I've come to talk with you again... #
It's a stomach-turning movie.
Even the author of the original novel on which it was based
disassociated himself because he thought
there was too much mayhem going on.
I wouldn't like to be sitting in the censor's chair
making the decision about Straw Dogs.
In the case of Straw Dogs, it has the infamous rape sequence.
PANTING AND MOANING
The problem of the Straw Dogs scene is the same now as it ever was.
It's a scene which has a philosophical problem,
which is if you read it one way, you can say that it says, "No means yes."
I think it's more problematic now than it would have been in 1971.
Nevertheless, it was really pushing buttons in 1971,
but was passed with minimal cuts.
It was released to this howl of public outrage,
which wasn't to do with individual shots,
it was the whole tenor of the movie.
One of the main critics at that time was Alexander Walker
of the Evening Standard and he really disliked the film.
"After this, anything goes.
"What the film censor has permitted on the screen in Straw Dogs
"makes one wonder whether he has any further useful role to play in the cinema industry."
I think a big moment of crisis comes for the censors in the '70s,
when you get films like Straw Dogs and Death Wish,
that are films that ask for the privileges of liberal art but aren't liberal art themselves.
They're films that are against the idea of liberalism.
They don't profess liberal opinions.
Yet to exist at all, they require the existence of the liberal society
which they seem to be at war with.
God damn rich cunt!
I kill rich cunts!
Mother's getting the shit kicked out of her.
The rape scene in Death Wish is comparatively mild.
I can't remember now the stupidity letters that I sent and they sent.
"Dear Stephen, as you know, the picture has had great critical and public acclaim in America.
"I'm hopeful and I believe, realistically so,
"that we can have this receive a certificate in this country without any to-do.
"Your sincerely, Michael Winner."
"We saw Death Wish on Friday.
"As it stands, the rape scene is likely to be very offensive
"to some British audiences, not only on account of its visual content,
"but on account of some of the language used."
On...page 18, scene 37...
..honestly, we cannot have language like this.
He was crazy, this idiot. Crazy.
"Dear Stephen, I'm genuinely surprised (though why I don't know)
"that you take exception to any of the rape scene. I'm still hopeful
"this picture can be released without being savaged by you..."
"And without a public fracas."
It's always good to threaten them with TV and public fracas
because I'm good at public fracas. I'm better than they are.
"Let us hope our meeting will permit this". We had a meeting!
"Dear Michael, personal accusations and hints of a public fracas
"are not likely to help us reach a positive solution."
Positive solution?! The answer is they DID help us!
And the final paragraph in this letter from these idiots...
"In two respects, the aerosol and repeated use of the word "cunt",
"this sequence goes further than anything we have seen.
"You may find it illogical that a society can accept many shootings
"and still object to a word of dialogue. But it does."
Society does not! Murphy does.
What are you talking about, society? He doesn't represent society.
He's some individual moron who happened to get a job.
He didn't stand on any of this. He collapsed on all of this.
"Passed X, all cuts waived."
Page 22, scene 36.
This shooting, as it stands,
is far too gruesome.
'In a way, in histories of censorship, Stephen Murphy is unfairly treated.'
He's been dumped on, partly because he was the right person
at the wrong time, and partly cos all these films came out
and things happened to them which weren't in his control.
"An open letter to The Times.
"Sir, we wish to draw attention to the now serious
"and growing inconsistencies of film censorship."
And it was very, very unfortunate for Stephen,
who was a very nice man,
but I'm afraid it all proved rather too much for him.
Mr Murphy is the present censor.
Are you calling for his resignation?
I don't think that he is necessarily the man to be the final arbiter.
I think he would be better employed maybe on a panel
or as an examiner, but not as the final arbiter for the job.
For that, I think he's the wrong man.
Due to this extreme pressure on Stephen -
and he told me that his family even received obscene phone calls -
this was really proving too much for him,
and I don't think that when he did retire from the Board he was at all sorry to go.
James Ferman had impeccable credentials,
perhaps the best of anybody for this role in charge of the BBFC.
He knew about filmmaking, he'd trained as a TV director,
he'd made documentaries about drug problems, children problems,
and I think he had the best of liberal intentions when he arrived.
I had enormous respect for Jim when first I joined the Board.
He was a man of intellect,
he came from a background, as he constantly told us,
of making films for television, dramas,
so he said he knew about these things.
To be fair, we are the most conservative censorship body
of any of the major Western countries as far as sex is concerned,
and although there was quite a restrictive backlash a few years ago,
I don't think there has been now,
I think they do realise that we have held a line.
On the other hand, what I've tried to be is more reasonable about the line we hold.
He ran headlong into various moral panics,
as tended to be of the times, late '70s, early '80s.
Salo by Pasolino which would push anyone's definition of taboo,
this film set in 1944 in North Italy which was based on De Sade's 120 Days Of Sodom
where virtually every deviation in the book is gone through
by these four aristocrats including coprophilia - eating shit to you and me -
which is not exactly something that's featured very often in the movies.
HE SPEAKS ITALIAN
'There is a lot of sex in it.
'It represents what power does to the human being, to the human body,
'that is to reduce the human body to a saleable commodity.'
When Pasolino's Salo was submitted to the BBFC,
it was pretty clear to everyone within the Board that the film
was beyond any of the standards that the Board had accepted to that point.
However, it was accepted by James Ferman in particular
that it was an important and interesting film
and that it should be shown.
When the film opened in club cinemas,
it was seized by the police
and the Director of Public Prosecutions stated his view
that the film was likely to be obscene under the Obscene Publications Act.
"Dear Mr Ferman, the decision to seek a search warrant
"under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act in respect of Salo was taken.
"The film now having been seized, the matter is sub judice.
"Sir Thomas Hetherington, Director of Public Prosecutions."
James Ferman disputed this, saying that the point of Salo
was that it showed material that was depraved and corrupt,
but that the film itself would not deprave and corrupt an audience.
The whole point of Salo was to show revolting, disgusting behaviour
in order to revolt and disgust, not to turn people on.
"Dear Sir Thomas,
"this would be the first case in 20 years
"in which the work of a major internationally acknowledged artist
"has been prosecuted in the British courts.
"The sexual and other horrors are presented either in long shot or offscreen.
"There is no exploitative sensationalising.
"This is a turn-off film, and not a turn-on."
When it came to the negotiations with the DPP
as to whether the film should be cut or not,
James Ferman sent a very long and memorable letter
to the Director of Public Prosecutions,
informing him that, in his opinion, the DPP had misunderstood the law.
"It seems to me that your advisers have misunderstood
"the law of obscenity in Britain,
"and have allowed their own sense of outraged propriety
"to colour their view of the film's legality.
"The portrayal of evil in works of art
"is not the same thing as its endorsement."
It was quite typical of James to feel that he understood the law
better than the law-enforcement agencies.
Indecency, in other words the control of sexual manners,
should no longer be criminal, because I do think that in a modern society
what is criminal should be what is harmful,
and I think simply to be embarrassing or offensive
is not really a criminal activity.
The DPP reached an agreement with James Ferman
where James would cut the film in the event by seven minutes,
simply so that a legal version could be shown in club cinemas.
The film was never formally submitted to the Board again until 2000,
when it was passed uncut.
Imagine a machine that plugs into your television
and records programs from the aerial onto a two-and-a-half hour cassette.
A machine that records one channel while you're watching another,
and even switches itself on.
40% of five- and six-year-old children have seen a video nasty,
showing scenes of sadistic sex and violence
horrific enough to have been seized by the police.
# It's close to midnight
# Something evil's lurking in the dark... #
There was no certification system for home entertainment,
so all these videos are coming out, uncertificated, between '82 and '84.
We see a lot of blood,
we see a lot of people getting their heads chopped off
and slaughtered all over the place.
It turns into a huge moral panic.
# Creatures crawl in search of blood
# To terrorise your neighbourhood. #
Distributors of videotapes want to introduce classifications
similar to those operated at the cinema.
They warn which films need parental guidance,
and which should be limited to the over-15s and the over-18s.
Suddenly, in '84, it's legislation.
For the first time in the history of the BBFC,
it is a statutory body, it has a statutory duty to censor videos,
to watch them all and to censor them, and this completely changes its role in society.
It's no longer a voluntary industry body, a self-regulating body
that the industry sees the value of, it's a wing of government.
Ferman just locked everything down and said, "I'll deal with it,"
and sort of restored this sense of patrician authority, which is,
"OK, trust me, I'm dealing with it."
We've had to classify every video in the shops by tomorrow,
so at midnight tonight, the job has to be done.
And on top of having this tremendous job, you've also had Rambo III
and The Last Temptation Of Christ thrown in on top.
Just the month we didn't need it!
How many more videos have you to do?
I'm going back to the office after this programme tonight.
The BBFC was James Ferman.
He did a very interesting job of essentially becoming
the judge and jury and having the final word.
Even getting an interview with him was like an audience with the Pope.
It's like, "I've actually got to interview James Ferman."
Arising out of all this storm of controversy in '84,
the name of the organisation changes from Censorship to Classification.
Which was Ferman's idea, and it's very clever.
You don't look heavy-handed - you're not a censor -
you're a classifier. It's an objective thing,
you're like a library person who does library cards
and does all the index numbers. You classify.
Classification is very different to censorship, and so it has remained.
Good evening. The headlines at 6:00.
An armed man has opened fire
with an automatic weapon in a Berkshire town.
At least nine people are dead, 14 are injured.
From my impression, he was playing Rambo.
Tonight, the town of Hungerford has been sealed off.
The gunman is still at large, and still armed.
The day after Hungerford, we had a board meeting,
these monthly board meetings that we would have.
And Jim came into the meeting in a state of mind that
I would only describe as hysterical - that is, completely beside himself.
And the hysterical response was to say, "As a result of this,
"we must absolutely look at how guns are portrayed in films,
"and we must absolutely hack it back, because this is what's happened."
Because there was... a completely ill-advised linking
in the media's mind between what Michael Ryan did in Hungerford
and the Rambo films.
First and second Rambo, certificate 15.
Rambo III, certificate 18. Hungerford had happened in between.
"This silly, rather enjoyable movie is likely to be
"a political red-hot potato, what with all the hoo-haa about Rambo II,
"and then Hungerford."
"Two thirds of the film - that is, about an hour and a quarter -
"is non-stop shooting, explosions, bodies falling, impact shots.
"It's not so much what is shown but how much and how relentlessly."
The issue was a category issue - that is, whether it should be 15 or 18,
and whether it should be cut for either or both categories.
"Notes on viewing.
"Another all-action attempt to further the Rambo cult
"and swell Stallone's bank balance.
"Given that we've passed the second film and the cult is here,
"I reluctantly go for a 15."
"Expertly made, pity about the script
"and the wooden actor in the lead.
"My inclination in the current climate would be to pass 18."
"My instinct would be to pass it 15.
"Give Rambo a break!"
There was a feeling at the BBFC that Rambo III was probably a 15
under normal conditions, but at the time,
if they gave it a 15, they would just have
such a howling storm of protest that it wouldn't be worth their while.
"Public disquiet is at its height.
"It is naive to believe we can always act without regard
"to political realities.
"Indeed, I would go further and argue that it's irresponsible.
The final decision was it was made an 18, but a cut version.
What we all want is a quiet life.
It's fascinating what they thought... It's fairly unpleasant throughout,
but what they thought was particularly unpleasant.
One is a little boy fingering a knife delightedly.
In other words, the emulation effect,
somebody, "I want to be like Rambo." That upset them.
What is this?
-It's a knife.
-Can I see this?
Very good. Can I have it?
"Remove sight of Rambo's knife being twirled by young boy
"after he takes it from holster."
James developed the Board's weapons policy to such an extent that
any sight of certain weapons,
including certain types of knives, was just unacceptable.
The examiners knew it was unacceptable,
and it came to a point by the 1990s where generally
it wasn't worth an examiner even making an argument.
I do think there is a problem in the gradual increase, step by step,
drip, drip, drip, over the '80s, of slightly more violence in films.
Even in junior-category films.
It is a worry, because kids nowadays are becoming acclimatised to
more violence than kids 20 years ago.
I think, on the whole, that is not a healthy phenomenon.
I think for James Ferman it was a key thing,
"Movies are harmful, or can be harmful,
"and you have to trust me on this, I know better than you."
James' most famous concern was with the so-called chain sticks,
which are two pieces of wood with a chain between them,
most famously used by Bruce Lee.
Probably the silliest and most notorious example of James' obsession
was the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II,
where there's a sequence in which one of the turtles uses
a string of sausages in a manner that suggests that they are chain sticks.
Of course, they're not actually chain sticks - they are sausages.
Combat cold cuts!
James was having none of it,
and decided that the sequence had to be removed.
We were only able to reinstate the sausage sequence
after James' departure.
Now I have actually a great deal of sympathy with James Ferman.
I think that he at least was trying to do an extremely difficult job.
In a way, talking about the BBFC today is like
talking about it 100 years ago, exactly the same issues.
If you're too heavy-handed, the liberals don't like you,
if you're too light-handed, then the conservatives don't like you.
You've got to walk this narrow path between the two extremes
who don't like you whatever you do.
Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
We only allow access to files and correspondence
up until the last 20 years.
Partly to protect the identity
and comments of the Board's current examiners, but also because a lot of
the Board's work is commercially sensitive to the distributors.
Well, of course there are now 20 years of film notes that are
still under lock and key, that we don't know about.
Natural Born Killers, Reservoir Dogs...
There is, for example, some very interesting material
between James Ferman and Oliver Stone on Natural Born Killers,
but I'm afraid, for the time being, you'll just have to wait to see it.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Lifting the lid on the world of cinema censorship, this programme has unique access to the files of the British Board of Film Classification. Featuring explicit and detailed exchanges between the censor and film-makers, 'Dear Censor' casts a wry eye over some of the most infamous cases in the history of the board.
From the now seemingly innocuous Rebel Without a Cause, the first 'naturist' films and the infamous works of Ken Russell, and up to Rambo III, this frank and surprisingly warm documentary demonstrates how a body created by the industry to safeguard standards and reflect shifts in public opinion has also worked unexpectedly closely with the film-makers themselves to ensure that their work was able reach an audience.