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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Once Legal, Now Banned!

Oh dear,

You have to feel sorry for followers of extreme cinema, over in Australia. Not only do they have to contend with differing censorship standards in different territories of the country, but what may be legal to own or purchase one day, can suddenly become illegal and obscene the next! Anyone who can collect controversial cinema in that country, deserves a medal, for keeping-up with these ever evolving censorship decisions!

Controversial shocker THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE) (2010, Tom Six) was originally passed uncut - a first for any legal censorship organisation anywhere around the globe - on 5th September 2011 - only for the meddling fingers of the New South Wales District Attorney, Greg Smith, and Australia's Justice Minister Mr Brendan O'Connor, to ask the Australian Classification Review Board (ACRB) to ban the film.

As of Monday 28th November 2011, the ACRB officially withdrew the R18+ adults only certificate, and replaced it with an RC "Refused Classification" on the grounds that the film's violence levels were intolerably high in impact, gratuitous, exploitative and offensive, as well as being "cruel". (An interesting choice of words!)

Outside of the Melbourne International Film Festival, most cinemas have refused to play the film, concerned over how their business may be affected on a both a local level, and nationally too. Adverse reaction from local people, politicians and media outlets, has caused many cinemas to simply refuse to programme the film, in case a backlash occurs, that could cripple them financially, or result in pariah status. In such economically-challenging times, this is the last thing that cinema managers are wanting to deal with!)

As such, the only country that had allowed HC2 to play uncut in theatres, has now reneged on that, and forced the film underground, in a decision that reeks of political matchmaking!

Even here, in little old England, although a few papers printed largely negative articles about the film, the director and the content, the film has largely remained under-the-radar. HMV - an international chain of high-street music and film retailers, sold the film in their stores, from 31st October 2011, without any major issues, and the film has now been made available from all other outlets, including as of last week. Again, without substantial problems or complaints.

I suspect that by the New Year, the film's notoriety will have predominantly faded away, and will have been replaced by another cinematic bete-noire.

It's a real shame that Australia has a certification system, that is both incredibly backwards and a logistical nightmare. Passing a film one day, and then banning it the next, makes it impossible for fans to collect anything vaguely controversial, for fear they will be caught out as owners of "banned" materials - something that can command nasty repurcussions in terms of hefty fines, and/or prison sentences. It also means that film distributors will prepare theatrical prints or large volumes of DVD's and/or Blu-Rays, only to find that a previously legal title, suddenly becomes a legal no-go.

Previously controversial films like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and SALO, have both had a yo-yo effect through the Australian Censorship system, over the years, being legal, then banned, then cut, then banned once more. For a country that has such a similar censorship system to the UK, it's a shame they don't model it on ours a little more closely. Over here, a film is either legal, or it isn't. Once a certificate has been issued, it cannot be repealed except under extremely major circumstances.

Even collecting so-called "Video Nasties" or banned titles is generally considered acceptable, as long as your collection is for your own, private and personal viewing. If you import controversial films, then whilst there is a small risk attached to that, for the vast majority of the time, you will be perfectly safe. Only if you start to sell these films, breach copyright by uploading them, or pass them onto minors, will the legal system have its wicked way with you. But view such material as passive entertainment, as a mature, adult, and you'll be left alone.

There's no regional censorship laws to be concerned with: a film is legal in any part of the UK, under the British Board of Film Classification, providing it has a BBFC certificate attached to it. And even if it doesn't, then - once more - as long as the material is not legally "obscene", nor of a "sexually violent" nature, then you won't be bothered by the police or the legal system.

I have been collecting banned and controversial films, since 1997, or thereabouts. I do own material that would - to an outsider - be considered sick or depraved. Morally-reprehensible? Probably. (SNUFF 102 anyone?) But, as a law-abiding, and quiet individual, who only enjoys watching these films on his own, as a responsible, respectable adult, then there's no real problems that I need concern myself with, and certainly nothing that any one else need be concerned with either.

Many people would complain about the BBFC in years past, but since James Ferman's reign ended some 15 years ago, the BBFC have matured, and for the most part, do stick to their rule of "classifiying" rather than "censoring" films for adults. There are still many people who feel that the BBFC is more censorial, simply because they do occasionally ban or cut films, and as a collector of extreme cinema - and purveyor of this very blog - I do get frustrated at times. Yet, with that all said and done, at least if I keep my proverbial nose clean, and don't break the laws by committing illegal acts and subsequently blaming such crimes on violent cinema, then the law leaves me well alone, and I can continue to enjoy controversial cinema.

I know where I stand when I import a controversial movie. I know what my legal rights are. I know what is legal to own, what isn't, and what the repurcussions could be for me, if the worst did happen. (Technically, someone sending me a Region 1 edition of the "GUINEA PIG" series on DVD through the UK postal system, is a breach of law, but like I say, it's what you do with that DVD upon receipt that matters more, than the content.) As such, I do not fear the law, and I know that I am safe to collect the kinds of films I do.

If only that same kind of assurance, could be given to Australian movie fans...

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