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Should The Chief Censor Be Sacked?

Monday 8 April 11.30 pm

The Chief Censor, Bill Hastings, recently endorsed a Japanese film called Visitor Q on Auckland University student radio – Radio 95 bFM. It contains graphic depictions of necrophilia (sex with a female corpse) in association with human excrement, incest, sexual violation, drug taking, degrading and dehumanising acts and other gross obscenities. He gave his personal views on the film, on air, in an interview with Steven Gray on Wednesday 27 March, describing it as “accomplished and funny”.

Such personal endorsements on a specific film, in the context of an interview dealing with films in the forthcoming Becks Film Festival, is totally inappropriate, given his statutory role as Chief Censor. The film had only just been classified on March 14 as R18 for the festival and the decision has not yet been published by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) in its monthly list of decisions.

He endorsed another festival film in the interview, one called “Bully” which features self-mutilation, underage sex, drug taking by youngsters, sleazy sex acts and criminal acts. On air he described this film, which was only recently classified by the OFLC as R18 in its decision dated 21 March, as “a masterpiece”. His personal comments on both films have been posted on the film festival website www.becksincrediblefilmfest.co.nz to promote the films.

So how can our Chief Censor endorse obscene films on public radio and continue to head the Office of Film and Literature Classification on a salary of over $150,000? Why is he not being called to account by his Minister, the Hon George Hawkins who is responsible for his appointment as Chief Censor? One politician is calling him to account – Mr Peter Brown, Deputy leader of NZ First. In two recent press releases he has called for his removal as Chief Censor by the Minister.

Is Mr Hawkins, who is the Minister of Police and Internal Affairs, aware of the filth and obscenity Hastings is publicly endorsing? Is he aware how far Hastings has stepped outside his statutory role in making favourable comments about such films?

Mr Hastings appeared to defend the French sex-violence film Baise Moi on TV One evening news on 8 May as suitable for adult viewing. This film, which is also scheduled to be screened at the festival, is unrelenting in its depiction of sexual violence, graphic sex and graphic violence as Hastings admitted in the news item. It has been banned and cut in Commonwealth and other jurisdictions. Not so in New Zealand. Mr Hastings has described it as having “artistic merit” and his Office refused to recommend cuts or ban it.

But surely Mr Hastings is entitled to praise the merits of a film like “Visitor Q” which is scheduled to have its premier screening in NZ at the Civic in Auckland on Friday 12 April? Well let’s consider how the Classification described one scene in the film.

“This scene begins with him in his suit and tie, marking out the dead woman for cutting up and disposal. The marking-out includes some preoccupation with the breasts of a sexual nature, that to mutilate the breasts in particular is to express his anger or to punish her for being a woman. He cups his crotch. He has intercourse with the body after talking to the camera (and viewers) about his feelings as a father seeing his son bullied – not angry or sad, but sexually aroused. That the dead woman is available to him seems more significant than that she is dead; "Come on let's do it, I don't care if you're a corpse" he addresses her directly.

Intercourse is expressly depicted, and his direct verbal abuse of the female continues. He continues filming and addressing viewers. The body defecates on him and then contracts around his penis so that he cannot withdraw. Sound effects exaggerate this situation. The scene becomes increasingly absurd and grotesque as it cuts back and forth between the panicked man calling for his wife's assistance and scenes of her indoors expressing her breast milk until the kitchen floor is awash with it and an ambiguous fluid that is dripping from between her legs. The pained husband and the excrement-smeared body are bathed in vinegar to extricate him, however when this is unsuccessful his wife injects him with what is probably heroin but which is not revealed to him on his request.”

The Classification Office decision described the film as a “shocking” satire of contemporary Japanese society and Hastings described it on Radio 95 bFM as “out there”. The decision states: “This classification is mainly due to the complex manner in which sex, crime, cruelty and violence are presented for viewer entertainment…Matters of sex, crime, cruelty and violence are combined in this publication to effect a complex and frankly shocking satire…” (Emphasis added).

Can the New Zealand public have any confidence in a Chief Censor who considers films like Baise Moi and Visitor Q to not be objectionable when viewed by those 18 years and older? Can the public have any confidence in a Minister who allows Mr Hastings to give his personal views on films containing “objectionable” material, on public radio, effectively endorsing them, before the decisions have even been notified to the public and hence available for challenging via the review process?

Society for Promotion of Community Standards Inc.

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