Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The art of banning a film

You should all go and buy the latest issue of Metro magazine, and read my censorship article in it (even though they didn't put me on the cover dammit).

Here's a portion (totally out of context, but you get the idea):

It isn’t just the OFLC who can exercise control over what adult Australians can see or do in the privacy of their own homes though; state boards have these powers too. Earlier this year the film 9 Songs (Michael Winterbottom, 2004) to mild acclaim for its honest appraisal of a romance between two twenty-somethings. The film featured graphic, non-simulated sex, yet it sought not to be pornography but a romance. It met with controversy and complaints during its cinema run, and didn’t last long, although it retained its R18+ rating. On 11 August however, the South Australian Classification Council deemed the film worthy of an X18+ rating. Of course, this doesn’t sound too bad until you realize – sneakily – that it is illegal to show or sell X-rated films in South Australia. What is more disturbing than any of the pointless bureaucratic wrangling surrounding the film’s rating though, is how it actually came about. There were no protests against the film, no outraged advocacy groups, no arguments against excessive, violent, or prejudiced content. No, just two complaints. According to the press release, the complaints came from – one, an individual, and two, the ‘Festival of Light’ . This is not a decision based on community outrage or democratic wisdom; rather, pointless pandering to the baseless complaints of an individual and a zealous group of fundamentalists.

Also in August, film director Gregg Araki found himself dealing with seemingly the never-ceasing wrath of Australia’s pro-censorship lobbies, when his film Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 2004) met heavy criticism from the Australian Family Association’s spokesman Richard Egan, and calls from Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock to have the film banned. The film’s star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, couldn’t understand the furore. ‘My impression of Australia, from the Australians I’ve met,’ he said, ‘is that people are open-minded and cool. I was surprised that Australia, of all places, was the country that tried to ban Mysterious Skin’ .

Mysterious Skin is anything but gratuitous. Margaret Pomeranz described it as a ‘film [with] the potential to inform, heal and possibly transform’ , and L.A. Times critic Kevin Thomas wrote that ‘it’s hard to imagine a more serious or persuasive indictment of the horrors inflicted on children by sexual abuse’ . Araki argues that the film helps ‘break the silence on child abuse’ , but disgracefully it is the very people who purport to act as advocates of such causes – like the Australian Family Association – who are seeking to have the film silenced.

Surely the longest-running and most infamous of all Australian cases of cinematic censorship is that of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final – and most divisive – film, Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1976). Based on the Marquis de Sade’s disturbing book The 120 Days of Sodom, Salò was completed just prior to Pasolini’s murder in 1976. Posthumously, the controversy was to continue.

That year, Salò was banned in Australia, and despite several requests for classification being made over the following years, the ban remained. Until, that is, 1993, when the old debates raging around it had apparently been forgotten, and it was unbanned. This was short-lived, however, and in 1996 – following an amendment to Australia’s laws – it came under review. In 1998 its classification was again withdrawn . Though the OFLC seemed to come half way – admitting that the film was intended to be a serious work of art, and a damning metaphorical critique of fascism, ultimately ‘the majority of the Review Board considered that this metaphor was not clearly established’ . Like so many that would come after it, Salò seems to have been banned without once considering the members of a democratic society’s right to exercise their own free will, discretion, and liberty. Metaphorical fascism? Well, who needed metaphor?


Jill said...

Censorship is something that really gets my goat. Now you may scoff, knowing me as the 'arch-conservative', but that is only compared to your ideologies. I am a classical liberal through and through and state interference in matters of personal discretion makes me absolutely 100% stabby.

Restriction, sure, to a certain extent (ie. age), but banning films that really (as shown by the objective critiques of reviewers et al) are not gratuitously violent, sexual (and if I was on the OFLC I wouldn't even care if it was gratuitous. Life is gratuitous fuckers.) and indeed probably portray and present a stronger moral message than many less exhibitionist but IMO more immoral films that are accepted freely by society as well as regulating bodies.

Gosh. This issue really gets me fired up.

I honestly believe censorship on ANYTHING, whether film, books, music, should be all but abolished. Age restrictions I agree with because I know very well that at 15 I thought I could handle a lot more than I could - but I believe once people are of age, it should be their choice whether to expose themselves to this material or not.

pandaobscura said...

Doesn't that just make you a libertarian? :D

Um yeah, I totally agree though, censorship shits me to no end.

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