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Banning “Bully” a paedophile’s daydream

The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards Inc.

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Released 20 May 2002 at 3.50 pm

Banning “Bully” a paedophile’s daydream

The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards Inc. applied to the Film and Literature Board of Review on May 7, 2002, for an interim restriction order to be imposed on the R18 film “Bully” which was screening as part of the Beck’s Incredible Film Festival in Wellington. It applied under s. 49 of the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993 (“the Act”).

The President of the Board, Rotorua-based lawyer Ms Claudia Elliott, set a deadline of 12 pm Friday 10 May for submissions to be received from the interested parties: the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) and the distributor, Essential Films Ltd. The Society was notified late Friday afternoon 10 May of the President’s decision to impose a restriction order. Her decision was made after she had seen the film. The Society was instructed to serve notice of the restriction order on the OFLC and the distributor.

The film had been scheduled to screen at the Paramount Cinema, Courtney Place, Wellington, on Saturday 11 May and Sunday 19 May and these screenings were cancelled after management was served copy of the restriction notice by the Society on Friday 10 May. The Film Festival director, Mr Anthony Timpson had stated on the festival website that he intended to screen the film regardless of any restriction order being issued. He soon backed down from this bravado.

Bully is a restricted film carrying a censor’s warning, “contains violence, sexual violence, drug use and sex scenes”. The festival booklet of reviews describes “Bully” (2001: USA), directed by Larry Clark (who also directed the controversial film “Kiddies”), in the following terms:

“BULLY’S tale of friends who conspire to murder one of their own, is an insightful, powerful look into the dangers of group mentality among teenagers … Unflinching in its portrayal of nudity, sex, rape, and violence, BULLY threatens to be an unrelenting freakshow of parading teen flesh and debauchery (which it is, in spades), if not for its mordant, witty, gallows humour.”

The OFLC decision on “Bully” describes the individuals involved as teenagers. With reference to s. 3(4) of the Act, the “dominant effect” of the publication, the cinemographic technique is described as “somewhat gratuitous” and the tone “exploitative”. It states:

“Bully recounts the events leading up to the murder of a young man by a group of his peers…. With the exception of Bobby [the murder victim] … his circle of friends comprises bored, mostly middle-class teenagers…. [Bully] has a mildly exploitative tone, in terms of a somewhat gratuitous focus on the sexual activity [of teenagers] and some questionable camerawork.”

A number of respected film reviewers have gone much further, highlighted the degradingly exploitative and voyeuristic aspects of the film-making in “Bully” which panders to the paedophile and the prurient-minded perverts who have a penchant for ogling young teen flesh. For example, Sean Axmaker, who described it in his review as “A PAEDOPHILE’S DAYDREAM” is highly critical of the film’s director:

“From the evidence of his work photographer and film director Larry Clark (“Kids”) never met a teenage boy he didn’t want to see parading around in his underwear, or a teenage girl he didn’t want to shoot rolling around naked. There’s plenty of both in Bully… Amid the searing moments of emotional need and pain, however, is Clark’s obsession with the bodies of his pretty teenage cast and he shows them naked and promiscuous in scene after unnecessary scene. It feels like a peek into the closet of a paedophile and it’s genuinely discomforting. And not for the reasons the film should be.” http://seattlepi.newsource.co/movies/31979_bully20q.shtml

Another otherwise sympathetic review in the Austin Chronicle Movie Guide states:

“Clark sabotages his movie, however, with his gratuitous camerawork that lingers over little young bodies in the constant throes of sex and his ever-present crotch shots (particularly aimed at Phillips). . The film’s naked plenitude (and pulchritude) casts suspicion on Clark’s ulterior reasons for making the movie…” http://www.auschron.com/film/pages/movies/30155.html

Lou Lumenick writing for The New York Post states:

“Shun this trash … Exploitation reaches new depths [of depravity] in Larry Clark’s Bully, which sensationalizes the already-lurid murder of a Florida teenager by his peers with scant dramatic justification. Near-porn masquerading as social commentary…Mostly Clark seems interested in presenting his attractive cast members in various states of undress. There is much gratuitous nudity, ostensibly trying to make the point these kids have a lot of unprotected sex. “Bully” is a truly repulsive piece of trash that says far more about the absence of values from contemporary filmmaking than the waywardness of teens.” http://www.nypost.com/movies/29179.html

Another reviewer comments:

“Larry Clark’s offensive film Bully is pornography. In Bully, there are two blatant crotch shots of Bijou Phillips, who plays the thickheaded tramp named Ali with a penchant for short-shorts. Both of these leering angles are unnecessary, and both are exploitative. Clark doesn’t want to portray disaffected youth honestly; he wants to ogle young flesh. The prurient director manages now and then to turn his attention to the story. Clark isn’t just dramatizing the lives of his characters; he’s romanticizing them… When Bully comes to the murder sequence .. It’s as though he wanted to ridicule them because he can’t be them. In the long run, this poseur filmmaker insults his actors, by exploiting their bodies and their talents, and his viewers, by making puerile garbage and proclaiming it art.”

Section 3 (2) the Classification Act states:

“A publication shall be deemed to be objectionable for the purposes of this Act, if the publication promotes or supports, or tends to promote or support,

(a) The exploitation of children, or young persons, or both, for sexual purposes; or
(b) The use of violence or coercion to compel any person to participate in, or submit to, sexual conduct ….”

Section 3(3)(ii) and 3(3)(iv) deals with the same criteria in terms of the way a publication “describes, depicts, or otherwise deals with” them, factors to be given “particular weight” in determining whether a publication is “objectionable” (if it is not already found to be “objectionable” under the deeming provisions found in sections 3[2] of the Act.).

The depictions of “sexual conduct” of young persons of a “degrading or dehumanising or demeaning nature” (s. 3[3] of the Act) include the gratuitous “crotch shots” of young females which a number of film critics and reviewers have strongly objected to and the rape scene described in the OFLC decision as follows:

“[Bobby] forces a female character to watch a video explicitly depicting sexual activity between men while raping her.”

The OFLC declares that its vision is:

“A society which fairly balances the need to protect and encourage freedom of expression and the need to limit any social harm caused by the availability of material which is injurious to the public good.” [Annual Report 2001].

The Chief Censor, Mr Bill Hastings, is on public record as stating that there is a wealth of good research data showing that repeated exposure to graphic images of sexual violence is “injurious to the public good” and that the social harm caused by the availability of such material is real.

The Society President, Rev. Gordon Dempsey says:

“the escalation in brutal teen rapes (including drug rapes at a rate on one a week in some cities in New Zealand), viscous murders, sexual violation of young persons by young persons (e.g. the so-called “broomstick’ anal violation by schoolboys of a fellow teenager), gang rapes of teenagers, murder and domestic violence against young persons in our country, all constitute effects that must have causes….

“The Society has exercised its right to have the classification decision of “Bully” reconsidered by the Board…. Our view on censorship is not a bigoted view held by a narrow-minded fundamentalist group, but rather one shared by the majority of New Zealanders. The Society has a right in a free and democratic society such as ours, to pitch its viewpoint into the ‘marketplace of ideas’ and seek to influence the landscape carved out via the interaction of divergent ideas.”


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