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Saturday, 28 March 2015

Why Banning Something Isn't Always A Bad Thing!

Welcome Everyone,

Today I want to talk to you about a new film that's been recently banned, here in the UK, and why I don't have an issue with it being banned.

It was recently announced on   that James Cullen Bressack's film HATE CRIME had been banned by the BBFC. Now, for those who aren't aware of it, HATE CRIME is one of Bressack's latest horror films. According to his IMDB page  here  he's been a busy man, directing, producing and writing plenty of films, since his first work back in 2004. And he's still exceedingly young - 23 years of age.

The film follows a bunch of Neo-Nazi thugs, as they break into a Jewish family's house, and rape, torture and murder them. The film is of the "found footage" variety, and lasts a measly 71 minutes.

The BBFC banned the film, with the full statement reading:
HATE CRIME focuses on the terrorisation, mutilation, physical and sexual abuse and murder of the members of a Jewish family by the Neo Nazi thugs who invade their home. The physical and sexual abuse and violence are accompanied by constant strong verbal racist abuse. Little context is provided for the violence beyond an on screen statement at the end of the film that the two attackers who escaped were subsequently apprehended and that the one surviving family member was released from captivity. We have considered the attempt at the end to position the film as against hate-crime, but find it so unconvincing that it only makes matters worse.

The BBFC's Guidelines on violence state that: "Any depiction of sadistic or sexual violence which is likely to pose a harm risk will be subject to intervention through classification, cuts or even, as a last resort, refusal to classify. We may refuse to classify content which makes sexual or sadistic violence look appealing or acceptable [...] or invites viewer complicity in sexual violence or other harmful violent activities. We are also unlikely to classify content which is so demeaning or degrading to human dignity (for example, it consists of strong abuse, torture or death without any significant mitigating factors) that it may pose a harm risk."

It is the Board's carefully considered conclusion that the unremitting manner in which HATE CRIME focuses on physical and sexual abuse, aggravated by racist invective, means that to issue a classification to this work, even if confined to adults, would be inconsistent with the Board's Guidelines, would risk potential harm, and would be unacceptable to broad public opinion.

Of course, the Board will always seek to deal with such concerns by means of cuts or other modifications when this is a feasible option.  However, under the heading of 'Refusal to classify' our Guidelines state that "As a last resort, the BBFC may refuse to classify a work, in line with the objective of preventing non-trivial harm risks to potential viewers and, through their behaviour, to society. We may do so, for example, where a central concept of the work is unacceptable, such as a sustained focus on sexual or sadistic violence. Before refusing classification we will consider whether the problems could be adequately addressed through intervention such as cuts." The Board considered whether its concerns could be dealt with through cuts. However, given that the fact that unacceptable content runs throughout the work, cuts are not a viable option in this case and the work is therefore refused a classification.
Clearly, the BBFC have issues with the films amoral content. The certification was for a VOD (or Video-On-Demand) version of the film, to be viewable via TheHorrorShow.TV's site, rather than a physical release to UK cinemas or for home viewing on DVD/Blu-Ray. Bressack originally said:
I am honoured to know that my mind is officially too twisted for the UK. So it goes… I find it unbelievable that a film that shows little to no on screen violence and no nudity was actually banned. it just shows the power of what is implied and peoples imagination; and is a testament to the fact that the same crimes that happen in the world are truly horrifying.
Now, the problem I have, is that the BBFC - and this may surprise some of you - don't actually want to ban things! It does them no favours to do so. When they do, they receive a lot of criticism, not only from the film-maker themselves and/or the studio releasing their work, but also from anti-censorship campaigners.

Normally, I do become interested in something that has been banned, and have written many times about such works. It's usually a sign of something interesting and worth my time seeking out - usually via an import DVD/Blu-Ray. HATE CRIME is out in the USA, on DVD, and has been legally available there, since 15th October 2013, via Unearthed Films: a company who have released many other controversial, and/or films that would be banned within the UK, such as Nacho Cerda's AFTERMATH (1994) or the brutal and nihilistic PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE (2009, Andrey Iskanov).

HATE CRIMES (Image has been edited, to conform to various
global laws, in which Swastika imagery is illegal to show!)

Since HATE CRIMES release, it has barely raised a murmur online, showing at a few film festivals around the globe, often to extremely mixed reviews - mostly negative. Online reviewers have been similarly torn between rating it "excellent", "thought-provoking" and "harrowing", to "badly-made", "gimmicky" and "wretched"!

So why am I writing about this film? Well, first of all, I need to state that I have not seen this film. As such, what I am about to say, is liable to end-up with me being labelled a hypocrite, and a clueless idiot. But, that's fine with me. No one can ever claim to be a perfect individual, and I am certainly no angel. I say what I feel, and I write what I mean.

For James Cullen Bressack, having his film banned, wouldn't have been an issue for me. However, what has caused me problems, is that a few days AFTER the film was banned in the UK, and he said how proud he was to have been banned, (why?), he then released this piece of ultra-defensive P.R.:
As a Jewish man, and a victim of anti -Semitic hate, I made a horror film that depicts the very thing that haunts my dreams. As an artist I wanted to tell a story to remind us that we live in a dangerous world; a world where racial violence is on the rise. It saddens me to learn that censorship is still alive and well. As a critic and journalist, you should at least see the film you are criticizing and do your research to learn that the filmmaker is Jewish. However I have to admit that I do appreciate the press.
I'm calling bullshit on this! He's clearly upset that his film can't now be legally viewed by UK viewers, which means he can't make money from this title. But to try and glibly claim what he does in the afore-mentioned piece of P.R., is hilarious.

So, let me get this straight: his film is banned for (presumably) being extremely violent and potentially anti-Semitic (under English Law, at least), but at the same time, the film contains nothing controversial that would warrant a ban, in his view, and - because he is Jewish himself - that that means his work is wholly defensible? Is that really how you want to go about things, Mr Bressack?

This reminds me of the very same defence that Srdjan Spasojevich tried when A SERBIAN FILM came out a few years back. As you will note in my blog post  here  he said that the infamous "baby-rape" sequence was a metaphor on the rape and murder of the Serbian people, by their Government. At the time, I didn't buy it, and neither did many others. Even those who quite liked the film, and stood up for its entire artistic existence. To my mind, this is exactly what Bressack has done. After the film's notoriety has gained attention, and been criticised, he is now desperately trying to do some major damage-control, and defend the indefensible: to justify why his work should be allowed to be seen by over-18's here in the UK. Claiming he is Jewish, means that automatically gives him the right to make a potentially anti-Semitic film, doesn't wash with me. Likewise, nor does it excuse the content that the BBFC have flagged-up as being unsuitable for classification.

Clearly, the film must contain some extremely contentious material, otherwise the BBFC would never have banned it, and/or the option of cuts would have been offered to the director. As that didn't happen, we can only conclude that the film must contain material that is potentially grossly inflammatory. If the BBFC can find a way to edit A SERBIAN FILM for an 18 rating, and we all know how extreme that film is in its cut and uncut versions, then HATE CRIME must presumably be far worse.

HATE CRIME has been compared to the 1977 film FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE from director Robert A. Endelson. In that film, a bunch of redneck prisoners flee from their prison, and wall themselves up in a local Black Ministers home. There, they terrorise, degrade and torture the Ministers family.

If you've not seen that film, it's certainly a movie worthy of your time. The main difference between this and HATE CRIME however, is that in FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE, the viewer is firmly put on the side of the victim, rather than the perpetrators. As such, at no time do you either sympathise with the aggressors, no matter how much venom and bile they spout about "niggers" and "coons"! Although the film was banned in the UK, back in 1983/84, and placed on the Video Nasties list, I suspect that if it were submitted today, that it would pass through uncut, with an 18 rating. Not because the film is especially violent, as it isn't, but purely for the racist language, which is extensive and potentially degrading. However, although the language is contextualised to a certain degree, it is still going to be seen as really inflammatory, and that is why I believe an 18 rating would be handed-out to it, rather than a more lenient 15 certificate.

HATE CRIME clearly doesn't side with the victims, and thus it can't use the same defence. According to some online reviews, there are scenes that feature the sexualised violence, from the eyes of the perpetrator, and you watch the scene unfold as if you were the aggressor, actively taking part in the torture. Much like a similar scene found in HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, when Henry and Otis rape and torture a family, in the infamous "home invasion" sequence. When that film came through the BBFC's doors, James Ferman the then chief censor, had real issues with this moment, and insisted on major cuts and alterations. (Full details of these cuts and alterations can be found at this 30-minute long video link  here  courtesy of Gavin Salkeld, which I should warn you all, is not suitable for under-18's, and isn't work-safe either!)

Now, stylistically, it may be seen as in interesting way to get under the skin of an audience member, just as happens in HENRY, but it will also - quite often - make the scene feel even more seditionary than you intended. And then, the power and impact of the scene, suddenly doubles or triples. That is why directors have to take great care when using this stylistic technique in films.

That said, such filmic techniques are nothing new. PEEPING TOM, the classic British chiller from 1960, had its killer use a camera on a tripod with a steel blade inserted into one of the tripod's legs, as a way to have an audience see the victim's suffering, to demonstrate that murder is often not quick, clean and painless. It too, was similarly controversial, and the film's notoriety permanently ended the career of its director, Michael Powell. So, this device is neither new or novel. And the recent upsurge in the "found footage" genre of horror films, stemming from films like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, have also rendered this once-innovative filmic device commonplace.

So, with the film now being banned here in the UK, what does this mean. Well, whilst many horror fans will now be eager to download or purchase this film, which is freely available from places like Amazon, I won't be one of them. I think the film is as crass and dumb as it appears to be! Just another excuse for a director with no talent, no creativity and no ability, to make some money by being infamous. Someone whom, once all the fanboys have stopped wetting themselves over this film's ban, will realise has produced a work with no purpose, point or relevance, other than being a grubby, repellent exploitation flick. In-and-of-itself, that's not a problem. But the problem the BBFC has, is that the justification for the extreme content, does not override the "entertainment" side of things. Namely, the film has been created to entertain first, rather than suggest or inform the audience that such on-screen-violence is contextual or has some moral fibre to it.

Ultimately, I know people will condemn me for my view - namely being a hypocrite for being okay with a film being banned, that I've not actually seen myself; and being a hypocrite for being okay with this film being banned, yet readily admitting to watching, owning and liking other, similar banned films (e.g. SNUFF 102, PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE, etc, etc), and that may all be true, but it's my viewpoint.

As I've got older, I've become less and less tolerant towards films that have no moral purpose whatsoever in them. I get fed-up with the horror genre as a whole being tarnished, by directors just coming-up with more and more excuses to show ever-more-extreme content, when there's no point for the violence in the first place, and no story. For every worthwhile work, that attempts to subvert the genre, there are a hundred others who just want to peddle ever-more brutal violence. I've not become desensitised to it. I'm just bored by it. There's only so many eye-gouging's, beheading's, blood-letting's, and amputations of all known bodily organs - both external and internal - I can stomach, before it all gets rather coma-inducing.

Don't get me wrong. I still like violence. I still like gore. There's nothing wrong with liking that stuff, or including it in your films, but for goodness sake, give me some kind of story, or point, if you want me to give you 60-120 minutes of my life, to viewing your work. Show me something innovative, rather than derivative. Give me a new take on a story or plot, not just a rehash of someone else's ideas. If, as a director, you think that showing excessive violence is the coolest thing possible, then clearly you are not as smart as you'd like to think you are.

And on that note, I will see you back here shortly.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hi Plough Your Own Furrow. Thank You for your comments. My apologies it has taken me so long to respond.

      Why write about a film I've not seen? Because I was interested in the story of the ban. Because I was interested in why the film was banned. Because I was interested in what happened, after the film had been banned in the UK. Why should I not write about something, that I've not seen? Does it make my viewpoints any less valid? Does it mean that I have no right to comment or air my views, just because I've not seen it? The fact that you answered the question yourself, when you said I was "writing a perception of something" is exactly why I did write on it. This is my blog, and this posting was my opinion on this story.

      Subliminally (and subtly) labelling me a "reactionary" really doesn't help win your side of the argument. I wrote what I did, because that is what I believe. I stand by everything I write, because that's who I am. You may disagree with me, and that's your choice, but so be it. It doesn't make my argument wrong (or right, for that matter)!

      You went on to suggest that I should "ask why a government thinks it's right on the one hand to believe in small government, but on the other thinks it's important that it gets involved with checking off what we as adults watch" (your words).

      I don't need to do anything of the sort.

      Actually, it's up to me what I decide to write, on my blog. And that's why I've written what I have. I don't need to ask anything I don't want too. I've written plenty of articles over the past four years, all of which you can see on here, where I've questioned why something has (or has not) been banned/cut. In some instances, I've said that the BBFC (or MPAA) are wrong, and in others - like in this particular article that you've commented on - I've sided with the BBFC.

      The reason for the ban, is also something you've answered yourself. The film was made solely to entertain, and the BBFC have a real issue with sexual violence, sexualised violence, and hate material being sold in the UK as entertainment. The fact that HATE CRIME has been banned by them, is not a precedent. They've banned other similar works, including titles like TERRORISTS, KILLERS AND OTHER MIDDLE-EASTERN WHACKO'S, which was famously banned in 2005, for the very same reasons that HATE CRIME was.

      And to be fair, the company submitting HATE CRIME should really have known whether their chance of getting the film classified was likely or not. The argument that they felt it was a good or worthwhile film is immaterial to a classification decision. The only argument, as far as the BBFC is concerned, is whether the film is legal under English Law, and can be suitably confined within the remit of the Video Recordings Act and/or to a far-lesser degree, the Human Rights Act, with an age-appropriate film rating. If any film breaks any section of any of those laws, then unless the film can be cut (as happened with both A SERBIAN FILM and THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2: FULL SEQUENCE), then the BBFC will almost certainly ban it.

      Sadly, HATE CRIME breaches English Law. And therein lies the problem. A problem, I might add, that the BBFC can't sidestep. If a film breaches English Law, and cuts can't sort out the problem, then a film gets banned. There's no if's, but's or maybe's about it. They can't use the "it's only a film" or "it's only for entertainment purposes" clauses to legalise its release. The film breached English Law, so that's it! A ban was inevitable!

      (Continued in next comment...)

    2. (Continued from previous comment...)

      Likewise, they can't, won't and shouldn't "let the market decide" as you say. Too many anti-censorship people say they want freedom of speech; that they value being able to decide for themselves of what they (as adults) can and should be able to see. Sadly, these same people state that censorship is wrong, but as soon as you say to them "So you wouldn't ban anything at all", and they reply "No", you know they are lying. Why? Because no sane adult who champions freedom of speech or takes an anti-censorship stance would be happy for child pornography to be legalised, as one example. When I say "So you'd be okay, with child porn being legal" and they say "Of course not", then by that very definition they can't be completely anti-censorship.

      Child pornography is illegal in most countries, and rightly so. Who wouldn't want such material banned? But it's still a form of censorship. It's still stopping some sections of society from seeing something that others find grotesquely offensive and distasteful. The fact it's illegal to own, produce or be involved in the selling or transmission of such material, is by-the-by.

      Hate speech is also illegal in the UK. You cannot go into the street, or produce then distribute a film, that belittles, denigrates and certain sections of society, purely because you want the right to do so. HATE CRIME is - in its own narrow way - a form of hate speech. It's a film that is purported to be deeply offensive, racist and homophobic. So, for that reason alone, it was always going to be a risky film to get past the BBFC.

      According to the BBFC, the film contains nothing in it, that mitigates the hatred, and that the on-screen written coda is seemingly a joke, in the way it tries to justify itself. So, that is why it was banned. Unlike FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE would probably be. Why? Because as I state in my article, FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE puts the viewer firmly on the side of the victims, and not the aggressors. It's also because, the film depicts the victims as human beings. Something, that I'm safely going to assume, HATE CRIME does not.

      Yes, the C in BBFC has changed to mean "classification" not "censorship". However, the material they classify still has to be legal within English Law, and HATE CRIME breaches that, on various grounds. So, the BBFC couldn't have passed it uncut, even if they'd wanted too, not even as "entertainment" or "a bit of fun for adults"! So, I'm really not sure why you think that the BBFC had any other choice. They didn't. You can't blame them, for following the laws of the land. If you don't like the laws, then you need to direct your anger at the Governement. However, if Government had it's way, and knew some of the stuff the BBFC DO pass, e.g. A SERBIAN FILM, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2, and many, many other extreme films, I can guarantee that the overarching majority of MP's would be having kittens!

      (Continued in next comment...)

    3. (Concluded from previous comment...)

      Lastly, you asked me why I thought banning films on taste/quality grounds is acceptable. Well, firstly, I didn't side with HATE CRIME being banned on "quality grounds". A film being reprehensible mush, isn't a good enough reason to ban it, and I'm pretty sure the BBFC pass a lot of films uncut, that could easily be labelled "reprehensible mush", by me or by others. As for the issue of "taste", well, that's easy.

      Taste is subjective. Again, "taste" is not a reason in and of itself to ban something. God knows, there's plenty of stuff I would prefer not to be allowed, which I find degrading, offensive and odious, but which I accept, others do like and don't have an issue with. Likewise, I'm sure there are titles I've seen and owned, that many would question my owning and viewing of. But "taste" has to come within certain restrictions and legal limits. As does "freedom of speech". Too many people think that "freedom of speech" means you have the right to say whatever you like, to whoever you like. No, it doesn't mean that at all. That's what anti-censorship people would like you to think it means, as it backs up their cause.

      Ultimately, HATE CRIME was banned for breaching English Law, not because I personally find it reprehensible or offensive. However, if it means that a film like HATE CRIME that appears to have no purpose for its existence, other than to subtly put on display 70-or-so minutes of racially-offensive, sexually-explicit violence, under the disguise of a "morality tale", then I think that either the director thinks everyone in the UK is stupid, or else, he's a talentless hack who couldn't find a better, smarter way to tell the same tale, without resorting to scraping the bottom of the cinematic barrel. The fact it has been banned because it has been deemed a piece of cinematic crap, with no redeeming factors to it whatsoever, from what I've read, is something I don't have a problem with, if it means that the people the film so violently agitates and provocates, are allowed to not be demonised as lesser than others in society, because of it.

      I trust this answers your question adequately. Thank You for taking the time to comment on my article. It is appreciated.