Chief Censor and Anal Rape film “Twentynine Palms”
Chief Censor Bill Hastings and Anal Rape film “Twentynine Palms”
The classification decision for the film “Twentynine Palms” was entered into the Register by the Office of Film and Literature Classification on 28 April 2004 (see Appendix below for full copy of decision). The film’s “nightmare-inducing” representation of rape, is one of the sickening ‘treats’ on offer for film-goers at the Telecom sponsored NZ Film Festival, fully approved by Chief Censor, Mr Bill Hastings.
His Office reports: “Katia has been stripped naked and is restrained on the ground, held by her hair and forced to watch [her lover David being anally raped]. The camera emphasizes her naked vulnerability as she ends up screaming hysterically for the attack and rape to stop. By the time the rapist has put David into a kneeling position and begins violently anally raping him, viewers can see that his face has been deliberately pushed into the mud. One eye is staring and he is barely conscious. The [rape] attack is particularly chilling for its focus upon the arousal and grimacing climax of the rapist who appears to be driving considerable sexual pleasure from the fact that his victim is bloody, bowed and emotionally humiliated... “[it] depicts the rapist achieving an organism from the emotional and physical cruelty he is inflicting. As part of this both the victim and his girlfriend are degraded and dehumanised.” Much of this film described by film critics as “explicit” and full of “hard-core porn” depicts Katia and David “copulating” (the emphasis is on the animal-like instincts and David’s raucous and overbearing shuddering climaxes).
The Society president, Mr Mike Petrus, says: “It’s important that film-goers and journalists read about the content of this film before they start attacking the Society’s efforts to have the classification reviewed. A censorship “watchdog” organisation such as the Society that chooses to stand by and allow this decision to go unchallenged, is worthless. Furthermore, any such organisation that does not challenge the competency of the Chief Censor over this decision deserves to be called to account by its members. The Society does call into question his competency given that he has allowed this degrading and offensive film into a film festival open to any member of the public 18 years or over, when its content matter so clearly contravenes s. 3(2) and 3(3) of the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993 [“the Act”]”.
On 28 June 2004 the Society applied under s.47 of the Act to the Secretary of Internal Affairs seeking leave to apply to the Film and Literature Board of Review for a review of the classification of the film “Twentynine Palms”. He granted leave on 2 July 2004. On 5 July 2004 the Society made its application to the Board for a review, paid the required application fee and on the same day made an application under s. 49 of the Act to the president of the Board for an Interim Restriction Order to be issued against the film. The president set a deadline of 4.p.m. Wednesday 14 July 2004 for all parties to make submissions to her on this application. Her decision has not yet been released.
WRITTEN REASONS FOR DECISION SECTION 12
TITLE OF PUBLICATION: Twentynine Palms
OFLC REF: 400537
Type of Publication: Video Recording
Title of Publication: Twentynine Palms
Other known title: Not stated.
OFLC Publication Reference No: 400537
Decision: Objectionable except if the availability of the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 18 years.
Display Conditions: Nil.
Descriptive Note: Contains violence, sexual violence, and sex scenes.
The video recording Twentynine Palms is classified as objectionable except if the availability of the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 18 years. This classification is based on the manner in which matters of sex, horror, crime, cruelty and violence are presented. The publication contains a feature directed by the French director Bruno Dumont who is known for his experimental films. It contains a feature which has been described as hyper-real existential horror. David, an American photographer is scouting for locations in the California desert with his Russian/French girlfriend Katia. The story moves slowly with the couple arguing and reconciling by engaging in sexual activity. For most of the two hour long film there are only hints of menace. There is something predatory about David’s conduct during one sex scene between the couple, a couple of hooligans drive by the couple and tell them to leave town and when Katia storms out of the motel one night a car drives back and forth with its occupant(s) taking an interest in what is going on. Suddenly one day when the couple are out in the desert a truck comes up from behind and rams them. Three males get out and while one strips Katia and forces her to watch, the others beat David viciously with a baseball bat. Once he is barely conscious one of them anally rapes him.
Afterwards Katia rescues him and they return to their motel. David disappears into the bathroom emerging naked and with his head roughly shaven. He proceeds to stab Katia to death in a violent frenzy. In a surreal closing scene a police chief has discovered David’s body beside his four-wheel drive in the desert. He is losing patience with his subordinate, whom he is talking to on his cell phone, as he tries to galvanise him into action to set up roadblocks on either side of the crime scene.
In terms of s3(1) of the FVPC Act, the publication deals with matters of sex, horror, crime, cruelty and violence. The threat of violence lurks under the surface and appears to be out of anyone’s control. The police chief’s exasperation, when his staff do not want to lose control of what is happening in the streets of the town and therefore do not want to attend the murder scene, is palpable.
Prior to the rape (which will be further dealt with under s3(3)(a)(i), s3(3)(a)(ii), s3(3)(a)(iii) and s3(3)(a)(v) below) there are six sex scenes between David and Katia. These include genital nudity. During one scene he tells her to put his penis inside her. Although the sexual activity itself is not explicitly depicted there are mid shots of David’s flaccid genitals and Katia’s public hair. In one of the sex scenes when she is naked and astride David, parts of his testicles are visible. The sexual activity implied is fellatio and vaginal intercourse. The sex scenes are notable for the intensity of David’s orgasms which are marked by loud protracted uncontrollable groans. There is something slightly creepy about the way he comes up behind Katia in the swimming pool in one scene and in another scene in the pool he pushes Katia’s head under water upsetting her. Katia often expresses her love for David but he never reciprocates. At one stage she accuses him of having no heart.
Nothing in this publication falls under s3(2) of the Films, Videos, and Publications Act 1993 (the FVPC Act). The publication does contain material that must be considered under s3(3)(a)(i), s3(3)(a)(ii), s3(3)(a)(v), s3(3)(a)(iii) and s3(3)(a)(v) of the FVPC Act. It deals with matters of violence and the infliction of serious physical harm, which are of a high degree and vary in manner from moderately restrained to graphic. It also deals with a high degree of violence and coercion in association with sexual conduct and depicts the rapist achieving an organism from the emotional and physical cruelty he is inflicting. As part of this both the victim and his girlfriend are degraded and dehumanised.
Although the violent incidents in this publication are limited in extent and vary in the manner in which they depict violence, there are two acts which are considerable in degree. Apart from a reference to the fact that the corpse, “looks as if it has been through a mincer” viewers know nothing about what has happened. Part of the horror of the publication is that a man can come existentially to nothing in a short space of time and yet the police chief appears totally preoccupied with damage control and trying to prevent sightseers from “rubbernecking” at the body rather than figuring out what has befallen the victim.
While David’s fatal stabbing of Katia is clearly deranged, the manner of depiction is restrained. He is shown naked and astride her. Then while he stabs her thirteen times in a frenzy, only his face and the descending knife are shown. Later her body is shown in a wide shot with a large dark stain on her chest. This restraint in showing the actual wounding does little to detract from the power and impact of this scene. Its unexpected and inexplicable nature, and that fact that viewers do not see the victim once the attack is under way, only serve to make it all the more horrific. Viewers are left feeling at the mercy of David’s rage just as his victim is.
By contrast the brutal attack and rape are graphic in their presentation. Viewers see David being struck on the head with a baseball bat. Then they see that Katia has been stripped naked and is restrained on the ground, held by her hair and forced to watch. The camera emphasizes her naked vulnerability as she ends up screaming hysterically for the attack and rape to stop. By the time the rapist has put David into a kneeling position and begins violently anally raping him, viewers can see that his face has been deliberately pushed into the mud. One eye is staring and he is barely conscious. The attack is particularly chilling for its focus upon the arousal and grimacing climax of the rapist who appears to be driving considerable sexual pleasure from the fact that his victim is bloody, bowed and emotionally humiliated. The publication does not shrink from showing how horrific the act of rape is.
The dominant effect left by this story is of a man suffering a humiliating rape which appears to cause him not only to murder the woman who loves him, but also to take his own life. There is a sense that monumental violence can appear out of nowhere and also generate huge violence from within an individual as a result.
Taken collectively, the manner in which matters of sex, horror, crime, cruelty and violence are presented, and at times inter-related, requires maturity of judgement to interpret. The brutally violent elements in the publication make it unsuitable for younger viewers who could well find various parts to be nightmare-inducing. Some of the sexual content would be equally disturbing and inexplicable to those who have not reached sexual maturity. Therefore the availability of the publication is considered to be likely to be injurious to the public good unless it is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 18 years.