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Saturday, 25 February 2012

Warners, Wanking and Wingrove! Blasphemy in 21st Century England!

Welcome, welcome, one and all!

Yes, your eyes haven't deceived you, I am back, albeit after a very lengthy delay. Sadly, things for me aren't so great, hence the reason for a severe lack of updates, (illness, lack of employment, etc), but I haven't forgotten about my readers, and I'm still eager to keep this blog up-and-running as best I can.

So what news do I bring? Well, there's been some interesting developments over the past couple of months, in the world of censorship.

Firstly, the BBFC are now producing monthly podcasts, that I would heartily recommend to my readers. Not only do they discuss various issues on censorship, but they also delve into the history of the BBFC, how it has been run over its 100 year's of operation, the problems it has discovered, and some of the high's and low's within the organisation itself. To-date, there have been three podcasts, as follows:

Podcast 1 - An introduction to the BBFC, the creation of the 12A certificate, the old "H" certificate from the 1930's (originally used for horror films), and discussions on a few recent controversial films. You can download it here, by simply right-clicking and "Save Target As". The file is in the MP3 format. BBFC Podcast Number One

Podcast 2 - Violence: How violence on-screen has affected various film classifications over the year, and there's a special in-depth discussion about "The Human Centipede II" and the problems it encountered at the BBFC. You can download it here, by simply right-clicking and "Save Target As". The file is in the MP3 format. BBFC Podcast Number Two

Podcast 3 - Sex: How the BBFC deals with all manner of depictions of sexual activity, discrete and explicit, across all of the UK film certificate classifications. You can download it here, by simply right-clicking and "Save Target As". The file is in the MP3 format. BBFC Podcast Number Three

The next Podcast should be available in early April, from the BBFC website. As soon as it is announced, I will post a link on this blog. For obvious reasons, some of the pocast content is going to be frank and mature, and so they aren't intended for younger audience readers of my blog. However, I'm sure that won't matter to any of you. Each podcast runs for about 25 minutes, and they do make for excellent listening.

Moving on, at the end of January 2012, a very shocking and surprising decision came out of the blue - pun fully intended. After 20 years, the BBFC have finally passed the (originally) blasphemous short film VISIONS OF ECSTASY (1989, Nigel Wingrove) fully uncut and uncensored. For those of you who don't know, Mr Wingrove was most well-known in the UK for his old 1990's VHS label REDEMPTION VIDEO that ran for several years, and introduced many UK horror fans to the joys of obscure European horror. Whilst many of his films were bete-noires with the BBFC, (many were cut for explicit or bloody violence), the videos were a great way for many people - myself included - to get to see films we had previously only heard about or seen pictures of screen-captures in reference books.

Wingrove made VISISONS... many years ago now, and even he has admitted that the film isn't as shocking as it originally was, and isn't even that great as a film. However, the film's certification and UK DVD release on 26th March 2012 (Region 2 only, I'm afraid), came as a big surprise to many - Wingrove himself included. It happened after the Common Law Offence of "Blasphemy and Blasphemous Libel" was abolished in 2008: an act that formed part of Section 79 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act.

This offence meant that:
"Any publication is liable to be found blasphemous if it contains any contemptuous, reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous matter relating to God, Jesus Christ, or the Bible, or the formularies of the Church of England as by law established. Whilst it is not blasphemous to speak or publish opinions hostile to the Christian religion, or to deny the existence of God, such a publication must be couched in decent and temperate language. The test to be applied is as to the manner in which the doctrines are advocated and not as to their substance. Anybody who publishes any blasphemous document is guilty of the (offence) of publishing a blasphemous libel. Everyone who speaks blasphemous words is guilty of the (offence) of blasphemy."
As VISIONS contained a sequence in which a figure representing St. Teresa of Avila performs sexual acts with a figure representing the crucified figure of Jesus Christ, the BBFC understandably banned the film outright. Wingrove took the BBFC and his film to the European Court of Human Rights, but quickly lost his case. As such, the film had to be shelved indefinitely. At just 19 minutes in length, the film is most assuredly an art film, rather than a mainstream narrative piece of cinema. But even with that defence, the film had to be rejected for classification, purely because - at the time - it would have been in breach of English Law, and the BBFC are under a statutory obligation to not certificate anything that breaches law. (This applies to obscenity in pornographic works too.)

Now, the film is getting its World Premiere, and the UK DVD release includes plenty of extras, putting the film into context, discussing the controversy and censorship history within the BBFC, as well as including numerous featurettes, other short films, and contextual material. The disc can be per-ordered from for just £8-99. Just click here for further information. I can safely say that this would make an ideal Christmas present!

Whilst the issue of blasphemy, heresy and infamy haven't completely gone, the release of VISIONS OF ECSTASY is certainly a landmark release, and in Britain, it will undoubtedly cause offence to many. Yet, it is the 21st Century, and I believe it is wrong that blasphemy still exists. Now, I have nothing against anyone who chooses to follow a particular religion. Nor do I have an issue about those who believe in a higher power or being. What I most assureedly do have a problem with, is those people who then condemn the rest of us for either not believing, or where such relgious devotees berate those who are "ungodly", such as homosexuals, for example.

Personally, I think religion is evil. It's a global tool, dressed-up as factual evidence, in the form of a cult, and used to put down those who freely choose to follow alternate paths. Just because certain words are written down in a book, does not make them true. However, if you wish to believe in them, that's fine. Just don't use that book and your beliefs to condemn others who refuse to think in the same, narrow-minded way you do.

There are numerous films that have been condemned as blasphemous, and the most well-known, is another British shocker - Ken Russell's THE DEVILS (1971). Sadly, Ken died on the 27th November 2011, not long after the British Film Institute (B.F.I.) announced that they had been (reluctantly) allowed to release the original X-rated cut of this infamous historical shocker. (It's due out on UK DVD on 19th March, as a 2-disc Special Edition>)

All of you who know about this controversial title, know that it contains many scenes of nuns masturbating, and was a cause-celebre in the 1970's, all over the globe! To this day, Warner Bros still see it as a cinematic hot-potato, and have always refused to release the film. In fact, it took the B.F.I. over two years of negotiating with Warners to get them to give permission for the film to be released at all. Simply put, Warner's only agreed to a release, with numerous proviso's:

1) Warners would only allow the UK "X" certificate version from 1971 to be released here. (They veto'd the "Restored 2004" version, for release, but refused to say why.)

2) Warners would only allow a DVD release, and not a Blu-Ray. (Again, they refused to explain why this could not be done.)

3) Warners only allowed the B.F.I. access to a Standard Definition Digibeta master, of the 1971 UK version. Unfortunately, this is also why there will be no Blu-Ray release, as the Digibeta Master would not be suitable for a proper 1080p release, according to the BFI themselves.

4) Warners have demanded that the "Rape Of Christ" scene has to be deleted from the Mark Kermode documentary, and nor can this scene be re-inserted into the film, at the relevant point. Once more, they refused to say why, but demanded it not be included at all, not even as a "Deleted Scene" or "extra".

Ultimately it seems that Warners are making it as difficult as possible for anyone other than themselves to release this movie in any kind of decent manner, even though they themselves don't seem to have any intent of releasing the film at all, either! It's almost as if they don't want Russell's film being made available at all, in any way, shape or form, unless they approve or endorse it! (Me thinks Warners are trying to rewrite cinema history!)

For a film that could make them a nice fortune around the globe, this seems like a sign that it's simply a case of prudishness and overt censorship, more than anything else! They got a lot of hassle back in the 70's, and are now scared that there will be blowback if they (or anyone else) releases the film today, from the Christian right in the USA. Rather than actually see if there would be problems, they've simply said "This film isn't going to be released", and are blocking it, in every manner they can!

Considering Warners also received a lot of flack for a couple of other 1970's shockers - A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971, Stanley Kubrick) and THE EXORCIST (1973, William Friedkin) - I don't truly understand why they are determined to make a lesson from THE DEVILS. All three films were extremely controversial, as many of you will already know, and the other two have both been released uncut and uncensored, for many years now, without any blowback or major negative publicity. So what problem do they have with Russell's incendiary masterpiece?

With all of the cinematic outrage that exists, legally and illegally, with titles like PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE (2008, Andrey Iskanov) or SNUFF 102 (2007, Mariano Peralto) having being released onto DVD over the years, THE DEVILS is considerably tamer. One can only assume that the Religious Right in the USA really do wield immense power, and Warner's simply refuse to risk tangling with them over this particular title.

That, in itself, is interesting, seeing as Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a Conservative member of Parliament has recently complained that Britain is becoming less and less religious, to the alleged detriment of society. She stated in various press and media outlets, that she wanted Britain to embrace its Christian heritage, despite the fact that only around 40% of the British Population believe in any kind of god-like figure.

We do indeed live in strange and startling times!