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Big News: You're Just Sick

BIG NEWS with Dave Crampton

You’re just sick

Break open your piggy banks because it is nearly film festival time, when the incredibly strange, wonderfully weird and R-rated sex films are shown to film buffs. But this year is a little different. Public standards watchdog, the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards (SPCS) has focussed public attention on films that feature rape, and sex with corpses - and is trying to get them banned.

Two films in particular come to mind: French film Baise Moi and Japanese film Visitor Q. One has a graphic rape scene and the other has sex with a corpse and incest. Both films had been classified R18 for the film festivals, but the SPCS had the Baise Moi decision reviewed. Now they are appealing the review decision in the High Court today as it’s classification was scaled down to R18 by the Film and Literature Board of Review, with no further restriction. They are seeking to do the same to Visitor Q, which has been certified as having objectionable content. Baise Moi is supposed to screen in Auckland on Saturday.

What this all throws up is how censors classify films.

If a film has objectionable content, as both Baise Moi and Visitor Q have – should it be screened to limited audiences? What is clear under the Films Videos and Publication classification act is that the labelling body shall not issue a label in respect of any film that has been classified by the Classification Office or the Board as objectionable. So is there a distinction between a film that is objectionable or a film that has objectionable content?

SPCS President Gordon Dempsey says about Baise Moi that “when the law is applied correctly this film must be classified as objectionable, and hence banned, for all ages, due to the repetitive juxtaposing of explicit sex and graphic violence. These activities tend to be promoted. The overt glamorisation of extreme cruelty, revenge killings, criminal activity and obscenities is injurious to the public good.”

Well, what is the definition of “public good?” Visitor Q may have objectionable content and had exactly the same rating as Baise-Moi before the French film was scaled down by the Review Board to a general R18 classification. SPCS has an uphill battle as the censors have decided that these necrophiliac and incestual acts are not promoted or supported – despite being objectionable. So both films can be screened. That’s what is wrong with the way our censorship laws seem to be interpreted: If films have objectionable scenes, the film is not objectionable – only the scenes in them are. Therefore they can screen as they can be labelled.

Meanwhile Auckland and Wellington Incredibly Strange Film Festival director Anthony Timpson said last week that Baise Moi has a court order banning it, but he will screen it anyway. Well, he and his lawyer both know there was no court order as that court appearance was 10am yesterday morning (Monday), and he was going to oppose any restriction imposed by the High Court. He even swore an affidavit last Friday opposing any interim restriction. So why did Mr Timpson say there is a court order - to get a bit of front-page publicity for his film festival?
Following yesterdays hearing there is another half-day hearing at the High Court on Thursday, so we`ll see how well Mr Timpson gets on in his opposition to a restriction..

A report in last weekend’s Sunday News said that 33 different community groups saw the film before the rating – but what the report didn’t say was that 25 percent of those groups called for it to be banned and many of the rest called for scenes to be cut.

But should a film of rape, incest and necrophilia be banned just because some groups object to it and consider the acts are promoted or supported. In both films the acts – as I understand - are not promoted or supported, they are there to describe a sick society.

Just because these sick elements are in a film gives it no reason to be banned as such acts are not objectionable under the law unless the film perse is deemed objectionable. Yet Chief Censor Bill Hastings in a recent annual report quoted a Minister of Women’s Affairs saying, “a number of things are completely off-limits as being inappropriate. They are described in legislation as being objectionable. They include such things as necrophilia…. and will be banned outright. Censors will not be required to waste their time considering material that promotes or supports any of these particular behaviours.”

Well, are inappropriate, objectionable acts off-limits or not? They are not off-limits under the law, apparently. Objectionable acts in movies will be banned outright only of they can be seen to be promoted or supported. Now what sick individual will promote or support sex with corpses, bestiality etc and expect to get them past the censors? Not many I’d suggest.

The problem with such a change in legislation is that film-makers will see that as curtailing freedom of artistic expression, which is protected by section 14 of the Bill of Rights. I’m sure that Parliament never intended that publications deemed as objectionable under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act (1993) fall inside the scope of freedom of expression.

How far does freedom of expression need to go before it becomes objectionable to the point where it is banned?

As far as censors – and the courts - allow it under the law. Freedom of expression carries more weight that whether it is injurious to the public good or objectionable and that’s what is wrong with our legislation. If the SPCS take the line that scenes in Baise Moi and Visitor Q are objectionable because such acts are being promoted, they will have to come up with another plan if they want to win their court case.

The law in this area needs to be changed so that disgusting acts in films should be banned outright, irrespective of whether they are promoted or included to make a point or to provide artistic expression.

But there may not be much of the film left –so why not just ban the film? If you see one or both these films, well, you’re just sick.

10am Thursday. At high court.

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