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Bill Hastings on 'Banned' Sex-Violence Films

The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards Inc.

Media Release
24 September 2002


Bill Hastings on 'Banned' Sex-Violence Films like "Baise-Moi"

In an interview with film critic Steven Gray on Radio 95 bFM, Chief Censor Bill Hastings discusses the “strong” sex-violence films Baise-Moi (F*ck Me”), Visitor Q and Bully. He justifies their initial restricted release and says that one can view their “objectionable” content as designed to “pierce through the defensive shield” of film-goers emotions etc. to “actually make a social commentary”.

He appears to agree with Gray that Visitor Q which features necrophilia, degrading sex acts involving human excrement, mutilation of a female corpse for sexual arousal, incest, extreme lactation, explicit depictions of sexual violation and strangulation, is “a pretty amazing piece of cinema”.

Hastings describes his own view of its contents as “surreal” and “so beyond anyone’s life experience really in New Zealand that I thought it was … really super-intended for a Japanese audience.”

While admitting that both Visitor Q and and Baise-Moi go too far, his Office released both with R18 classifications, limiting them to tertiary film media studies courses and film festivals. Hastings discusses everything from “female ejaculation” (which he argues is urination) as depicted on TV in “Sex and the City”, the NZ First Party – which Gray calls “a sad little pathetic political party”, the restricted films “American Psycho” and “Boy’s Don’t Cry”and the “idiots” (as Gray calls them) from SPCS and NZ First (Peter Brown MP) who oppose his Office’s decision to release Baise-Moi and Visitor Q uncut for screenings in cinemas and university study courses.

He defends his Office’s decision on these films and the process of public consultation he carried out over Baise-Moi.


Chief Censor – Bill Hastings interviewed by Film Critic Steven Gray.

Live interview by phone played on Radio 95bFM
12.15 p.m. Wednesday 10th April 2002

Transcript prepared by SPCS based on an audio-recording.

[Introduction: Music with voice-over “The Wire”]

Steven Gray: Well, if you’re a regular listener to the Wednesday “Y” you’ll know I’ve been talking to Bill Hastings now probably for about two years and we usually talk every erh ..every couple of months ‘cause quite often the way he rates things annoy me. You know I think he errs, to side on the side of caution. But some people don’t, including Peter Brown the Deputy Leader of the NZ First Party and also the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards who were a bit annoyed by what Bill was saying on this show on the 27th of March and they’ve delightfully misquoted him as is often the want of community groups that worry about us. So let’s go to Wellington and talk to the Censor Bill Hastings. Hello Bill. How are you today?

Bill Hastings: Hi! I’m absolutely fine. How are you?

Steven: I’m good. What idiots I must say! It does annoy me a little.

Bill Hastings: Well, why does it annoy you?

Steven Gray: Well I mean the whole thing is – is – you, they’ve based it on the first time on Baise-Moi which of course last year you had got in yourself and had 33 people watch to check on what the community actually thought about the film.

Bill Hastings: Yep.

Steven Gray: And then they complained about it and it went to the appeal Review Board [The Film and Literature Board of Review].

Bill Hastings: That’s right.

Steven Gray: And the thing was originally it was rated for film festivals only ‘cause as we’ve talked about that that this is a different kind of mentality, it’s not just for the people on the streets, it’s for people who actually are making an effort to go to different kinds of cinema. Would you agree with that?

Bill Hastings: It was R18 plus ah ..further restrictions to film festivals and tertiary institutions

Steven Gray: So it also could not be released on video or DVD.

Bill Hastings: That’s right. That’s right.

Steven Gray: Then this group the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards complained. It went to the Review Board and its rating was lowered to R18 [in a decision dated 13 March 2002] and then it could play anywhere and come out on DVD. That’s correct as well isn’t it?

Bill Hastings: Correct, yep.

Steven Gray: So because of their actions they’ve actually had a film that should have just been for film festivals – and I think we agreed about that when we talked on the 27th [March, 2002] that Baise-Moi or “Fu*k Me” is the kind of film that should only play at film festivals.

Bill Hastings: Well yeah and that’s because of the nature of the film we felt that people needed to see it in an environment where they would be warned in advance – you know – quite fully informed about what they are about to see or, debriefed afterwards in some sort of – you know – class discussion about it.

Steven Gray: Because from everything I’ve heard, it is a film which you will make you talk about. I mean if it’s exploitational or whether it’s justified seeing that. It’s not just the light typical kind of film that people just go and see.

Bill Hastings: No, no, no. It’s hard work.

Steven Gray: Yeah.

Bill Hastings: It’s very hard work.

Steven Gray: Which is why I always thought it was great it was in the [Incredibly Strange] Film Festival and not just playing anywhere.

Bill Hastings: Yeah a lot of people don’t like that film festival classification though ‘cause they think it’s sort of élitist.

Steven Gray: Yeah and I’ve had someone else say that to me and I was like ‘No it just means that you should be aware that this film is not just the normal thing that plays at the Multiplex’.

Bill Hastings: That’s right.

Steven Gray: And Baise-Moi’s certainly not! And now they’ve kind of come out and also because we’re taking out [the Japanese sex-violence film] “Visitor Q” which is now had an injunction put against that film as well.

Bill Hastings: Oh, is that right, I didn’t know that.

Steven Gray: Yeah I think that’s meant to be heard tomorrow with Baise-Moi as well. But I mean the thing is you’re not an idiot and you covered everything really well. I mean as I’ve said to you before - I do think sometimes you err on the side of sillyness, but I mean that’s part of your job as well isn’t it to think about the whole of New Zealand society and not just a few.

Bill Hastings: I am the censor that’s right.

Steven Gray: Yeah.

Bill Hastings: It’s in the nature of the job that we’re kind of opposed – in an oppositional stance I guess – to distributors and film festival people and that sort of thing.

Steven Gray: So I mean yeah you never just let things slip in. These people [SPCS] just evidently have no idea about it ‘cause one of the things that annoys me in the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards quote – they say – talking about Baise-Moi – they say his [Bill Hasting’s] office “refused to recommend cuts or ban it”. But I mean of course the thing what you did – is you got normal New Zealanders in to view the film. You got their input into what they thought about it and then you didn’t ban it but you – it’s only to be played at film festivals and it’s not allowed out – or was, in the past – not allowed out on video or DVD – so I mean you controlled its release. You didn’t just let it go out there as anything to be seen anywhere either.

Bill Hastings. Well that’s right. I mean the restriction we put on it – I mean we did consider cuts I have to say – we have to consider cuts by law, but we felt that we just couldn’t make sensible cuts without completely changing the nature of the film and altering the director’s intentions and possibly making the film worse.

Steven Gray: Then you’d lose a lot of it.

Bill Hastings: That’s right. And the restriction we did impose – one of the highest in the world short of a ban.

Steven Gray: Right. And it has played a lot

Bill Hastings: If I could say hahahahaha ….It wasn’t just 33 members of the public. I mean we did consult three rape crisis centres two of which thought it should be banned but one of which didn’t.

Steven Gray: Right.

Bill Hastings: We also consulted Women’s Refuge which didn’t think it should be banned at all although they thought some - one bit should be cut from it. But you know, Merepeka [Raukawa-Tait] said “well it didn’t have any artistic merit and wasn’t any worse than anything else out there” and we did consult an academic film person who thought it should not be banned at all.

Steven Gray: Well, I mean, isn’t it part of a free society that it - well I mean, it’s not like it’s playing on TV. You actually have to seek it out and pay your 12 dollars to see it. So I mean surely people are allowed in an intelligent society to make that choice for themselves.

Bill Hastings: Well yeah I mean it’s with the Board of Review I guess in the end. I mean our classification is now completely redundant. It’s been replaced by Board of Review’s [decision].

Steven Gray: Right.

Bill Hastings: But the Board of Review I suppose made a call that the New Zealand public was sufficiently robust you know.. to be able to, to…to view or withstand or whatever this film – just, I mean when it was in Australia it was R18 with no fuss… [Since the Board of Review made its decision, and after this interview went to air, the Australian Classification Review Board ruled in its decision dated 10 May 2002 to ban the film throughout Australia and this law is now being enforced].

Steven Gray: Right. That’s strange! Do you think it’s also maybe because it’s a woman taking power for once as well ‘cause they’re attacking the men rather than usually with these films that come out all the time it’s men attacking women.

Bill Hastings: There is a very definite feminist reading you can put on this film that was one of the things we had to take into account too in that you could read this film in a number of very different ways you know I mean there are some men who would find it highly offensive.

Steven Gray: Right.

Bill Hastings: But offence doesn’t equate to injury to the public good. There are some women who who were on record as saying well this is actually a feminist statement against sexual violence [Steven Gray: “Right”] and can only be read that way and cannot be you know salaciously read or read for any sort of titillation, so I mean given that ambiguity – the many different ways in how you read the film the Court of Appeal has directed us to give a lot of weight to the freedom of expression.

Steven Hastings: Right.

Bill Hastings: We have to balance - you know - the freedom of expression on the one hand with preventing injury to the public good on the other which results you know erh that equation results in some sort of restriction.

Steven Gray: And surely you have to take into consideration what films have been doing for the last 10 or 15 or 20 years even. They’ve been getting a lot more adult. And I remember when we talked about “Boys Don’t Cry” you were very worried about the rape scene in that. But then…

Bill Hastings: I was yeah. I had to see that reel twice.

Steven Gray: Yeah and you had to take into consideration though the whole film and the whole power of it

Bill Hastings: Well exactly, I mean if you took the rape in isolation …

Steven Price: From any film.

Bill Hastings: You know it’s definitely banable but in the context of the film it was a very sort of powerful repulsive statement about sexual violence, which is a good thing.

Steven Gray: And that’s the whole thing if you take any scene out of context of a film it can be revolting and offensive but in the whole film it has something that’s supposedly sane.

Bill Hastings: Well that’s what’s good about the {Films, Videos and Publications] Act [1993] is that it does say that you have to take into account the publication as a whole

Steven Gray: Right.

Bill Hastings: And even the automatic ban provisions [under section 3[2] of the Act] the a lot of people think oh well to have necrophilia in it, or to have sexual violence in it, it therefore must be banned. But that’s not what the Act says. The Act says that the publication actually has to promote or support sexual violence, or support necrophilia before it can be banned.

Steven Gray: The thing that annoys me most is that they’ve done this whole you know – well he should resign or I’m going to go somewhere. They don’t seem to realise or have any idea of what your job actually is or what you’ve done over the last few years of actually being quite hard on films that in other places have got through quite unscathed.

Bill Hastings: Ah much to your displeasure!

Steven Gray: Much to my displeasure [much forced laughter] constantly Bill [forced laughter continues]. That’s what annoys me as well.

Steven Gray: They [SPCS] seemingly thought you know, these comments that they’ve taken from you out of context and attributed to other films.

Bill Hastings: That might be our fault though Steven. I mean it might be that we just haven’t done enough to get out there – you know- to disseminate information about the classification system and about the job that we do.

Steven: And also maybe it’s because we have been talking for so long I do feel I think a lot of listeners have talking to me about it over the last few weeks well you know we’ve talked about this for years.now so there is like kind of a background here for our listeners of what films are and where they come from and how you know film festivals are different. They shouldn’t be judged as everything else and I don’t believe that that is you know snobby or anything. I just believe that normal people don’t just go along to a film festival film.

Bill Hastings: In fact some members of the public actually said that when they watched Baise-Moi. I think there was a … prison guard there and one of the questions was “Is this film pornography or is it art?” – you know the usual kind of questions that you hear on talk-back radio.

Steven Gray (laughter)

Bill Hastings: And the prison guy said look you know the men he guards in his prison are not going to go out and hire an arthouse movie in French with subtitles to get there jollies you know there’s are a lot of other things out there that they can have more access to for a more immediate sort of release.

Steven Gray: And a lot easier. One thing I found strange though I mean we’ve talked about it before female orgasm is banned in films you can’t show them. I was watching “Sex in the city” last week and they had Sonja Bragga [?] female ejaculating into Kim Catrall’s face [who plays Samantha Jones] and I thought well my God you’d have to cut that from a film and they’re playing that on TV. I found that quite an interesting oxymoron though of what - how we are censored quite strongly with our cinema but with TV they seem to get away with bloody blue murder nowdays.

Bill Hastings: Well it’s not female orgasm that’s banned it’s female it’s it’s it’s

Steven: ejaculation.

Bill Hastings: No, no. It’s the use, it’s it’s the use of urine in association with sexual conduct.

Steven Gray: Ah right.

Bill Hastings: So you know we have to … this is the law it’s not not me.

Right. No it’s law.

Bill Hastings: We have to make a call on whether what we’re seeing in explicit sex videos is in fact urination or whether it is female ejaculation. If it is female ejaculation it’s fine it can stay.

Steven Gray: (excitedly) Oh, so it is O.K?

Bill Hastings: Yep

Steven Gray: So it’s just..?

Bill Hastings: It’s urination that’s the problem.

Steven Gray: What are the big things that are banned by the Act still ‘cause I had no idea about the whole shit thing? I didn’t realise that that was one of the big things. What – so and it’s urination as well connected with sex, that’s banned?

Bill Hastings: Yes, that’s right. You got it’s. In order child - exploitation of children for sexual purposes

Steven Gray: Right

Bill Hastings: sexual violence, necrophilia, bestiality, the use of urine or excrement in association with sexual conduct and extreme cruelty and extreme violence That is, that again - it’s not enough that those things are there. It’s not a shopping list at all. The Act requires us to make a call on whether the whole publication actually promotes or supports those things. Only if it does – you know like unambiguously promotes or actually encourages advocates - only then can we ban it.

Steven Gray: And so basically nothing ever would advocate it would they?

Bill Hastings: Well no you see we get we we we we ….nothing from Hollywood probably but we get we get things seized by the Police and Internal Affairs that are real you know like they are real videos of children being molested or of women being raped. Those things are banned.

Steven Gray: Oh absolutely! So they should be!

Bill Hastings: When acted in movies you know it’s kind of a continuum They’re less likely to be banned. But again it’s the whole film even though it’s acted if it does promote or support rape then it’s going to get banned.

Steven Gray: I mean, I think it is good to have these kinds of discussions in an intelligent society to say what we do want and what we don’t.

Bill Hastings: Absolutely! That’s what I said right at the very beginning. There is part of democracy. You know everyone ought have a say. If they have a vote they should have a say. The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards does have a vote and they are entitled to their say and they have had quite a lot to say.

Steven Gray: [laughter] Do you think it is because it is an election year though and I mean and it is NZ First this man Peter Brown is from? Do you think it’s that?

Bill Hastings: Undoubtedly! And I think ... you know I’m I’m I’m apolitical by necessity.

Steven Gray: Yeah but I mean the funny thing for me is that we’ve heard nothing ….

Bill Hastings: .. Peter Brown was calling for my sacking over a decision I didn’t even make!

Steven Gray: Yeah well that’s the whole thing and it was also his fault that that decision got made as well. It’s, it’s, it’s very strange. I just think you know I haven’t heard of anything NZ First and this is the first time for years they’ve actually had their name in the paper without Winston Peters attached. So I mean you have to take it that that’s where it’s coming from. It’s an election year - they need to get attention somehow.

Bill Hastings: Yep, and again you know they’re entitled to do that.

Steven Gray: Yeah absolutely!

Bill Hastings: As long as I’m secure in the fact – in the knowledge that I’m doing my job well you know they can say all they want. In fact it’s part of my job to defend to the death their right to have an opinion about me and to express it.

Steven Gray: Absolutely! And I’m sure there’s nothing we can do to stop them having their opinions as well.

Bill Hastings: We wouldn’t want to.

Steven Gray: Oh Absolutely! They don’t seem to realise either that “Bully” [a film directed by Larry Clark] is coming back as well. It’s always been coming back.

Bill Hastings: Ah is it going to be commercially released now is it?

Steven Gray: I think so yeah [Essential Films have plans to release it through the Rialto Cinema network. Its classification is currently under review by the Review Board].

Bill Hastings: Do you know more about this than I do Steven?

Steven Gray: Well I’m just up the … I see all the bloody distributors all the time ‘cause I review films as well. God they’re hard to deal with.

Bill Hastings: Have you seen Bully?

Steven Gray: No they won’t let me see it ‘cause they love my reactions to films like that ‘cause I do get so angry sometimes about cinema and things – which is you know great! I love stuff that makes me think and makes me go places. You know I think that’s part of its job and so much of – we’re so you know, don’t feel anything now ‘cause we’re so often into seeing people just shot in the head or just absolute cruelty.

Bill Hastings: Well yes. Do you remember [the film] “American Psycho”?

Steven Gray: Yep.

Bill Hastings: … [based on] Bret Easton [Ellis’] book. The Indecent Publications Tribunal basically sort of considered that and said ‘Well it’s strong, but it’s basically addressed to New Yorkers and it has to be strong to get through their defensive guilt .. to tell them to wake up and look at society’s problems. You could say the same about Baise-Moi, the same about Visitor Q, the same about Bully. Yeah they are strong films but

Steven Gray: You do need that. People are so dis... not feeling anything that happens now. It’s like you really do need that – not shock so much but that real attacking thing that makes people draw a breath a go – “that’s too far!”.

Bill Hastings: That’s right. Pierces through the defensive shield and actually makes a social commentary.

Steven Gray: Yep and because I mean look at society is pretty savage and foul-mouthed. I mean I’ve always said that films like Visitor Q and stuff reflect how society is going.

Bill Hastings: Yeah, yeah. Have you seen that one?

Steven Gray Yes, I thought it was I thought it was a pretty amazing piece of cinema but I did keep have to adjusting my views and the way I felt about things and the way I’ve been trained to think about things.

Bill: Yeah. I mean. It didn’t It was surreal for me.

Steven Gray: Well it is!

Bill Hastings: It was so beyond credibility that not credibility but you know sort of believability – so beyond anyone’s life experience really in New Zealand that I thought it was you know really really super-intended for a Japanese audience.

Steven Gray: And you have to take we said that into consideration with the film and think my God what is the state of that society also because Visitor Q played on the television over there as well I mean.

Bill Hastings: Did it? I didn’t know that either.

Steven Gray: Yes! They made it for a film festival of young film-makers but then it played I mean that is a bit amazing that they’d do that.

Bill Hastings: Again, you know that’s one of the nice things about your New Zealand law is that it does allow you to take artistic merit and cultural importance and social importance into account.

Steven Gray: But surely you have to. I mean we can’t just look at our little .. look at our navels now. We have to have a world-view because we involved with everything out there as well.

Bill Hastings: That’s right.

Steven Gray: Well Bill it’s going to be interesting now to see what happens tomorrow with the call on Baise-Moi and also Visitor Q now. I think – I mean I’ve always said I thought the Office covered themselves really well with everything you’ve done. You’ve done it intelligently. You’ve had feedback from people right from the start.

Bill Hastings: We’re utterly transparent so I mean you know…

Steven Gray: Yeah.

Bill Hastings: Everything we do we try we try to be as transparent as we possibly can.
Steven Gray: Mmmm… A sad little pathetic political party [reference to NZ First Party] just trying to get any kind of attention in an election year. It’s pretty it’s pretty horrible actually.

Bill Hastings: Well it’s their job Steven.

Steven Gray: Yeah they’ve got to do something. So we are talking to Peter Brown later so that’s going to be interesting to see where he’s come from.

Bill Hastings: Yep, yep.

Steven Gray: Thank you Bill. We’ll talk to you soon I’m sure.

Bill Hastings: Thank you Steven.

Steven Gray: Take care

Bill Hastings: Thank you very much

Steven Gray: Bye.

[Music with voice-over “The Wire”}

Steven Gray: It does actually embarrass me a little that they [SPCS] did use our quotes - Me and Bill’s quotes – and misquoted from what they are saying and they don’t seem to understand that he covered himself – they did everything, they asked all the right people and it’s in the Act that if it is covered in the film and they are saying something more than just you know – it’s not it is a snuff movie or something – they’ll get away with it Mmmmmm.

****************


Note: The SPCS executive confirms that this transcript is accurate. It has made every possible effort to produce a high quality transcript. A tape of this interview can be purchased from Newsmonitors Services Limited Auckland. This transcript has been submitted to the 9-member Film and Literature Board of Review which is reclassifying the films Baise-Moi., Visitor Q and Bully. The Society is the applicant for each of these reviews. Extracts from an earlier interview between Gray and Hastings recorded from Radio 95 bFM on 27th March 2002 and also dealing with the classification of Baise-Moi, has been featured in earlier SPCS Scoop news articles this year.

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