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Bill Hastings, “Baise-Moi” and more Sick Films

Bill Hastings, “Baise-Moi” and more Sick Films.

Chief Censor Bill Hastings has been responsible for approving for public screening and home video use, more degrading and sick films, DVDs and videos featuring sexual violence combined with explicit sex and graphic violence, than any other NZ Chief Censor. (His 3-year contract runs out on 30 September 2002 and he wants to be reappointed for another 3 years to continue his ‘good’ work). From October 1993 to October 1999, a period of six years, nine publications containing “sexual violence” were approved, while from October 1999 to October 2001, a period of only two years, 21 were approved. He has been the sole member of the executive of the Office of Film and Literature Classification since December 1998. The newly appointed Deputy Chief Censor Ms Nicola McCully (announced by the Minister on 16 September) now holds the other statutory position within the executive, one that had been left vacant for almost three years due to the inactivity and tardiness of the present Minister of Internal Affairs George Hawkins.

Since October 2001 the Classification Office has classified and approved for restricted release many more sexually violent films and videos including the films “Baise-Moi” and “Visitor Q”. Mr Hastings has stressed that these classification decisions are only made when there is “consensus” among at least four of his senior classification staff and himself. The Office’s decision dated 20 August 2001 to allow the film “Baise-Moi” to screen uncut in film festivals organised by film societies that are incorporated societies and be used as a teaching tool in film media studies courses at tertiary institutions, was supported by Ms McCully who has been a member of the Classification Office since its inception in 1993.

The Classification Office executive now consists of two persons who erroneously interpret the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993 (“the Act”) as permitting the public screening of films containing explicit and gratuitous depictions of gang rape and sexual violation complete with extended close-ups of penetration (presented in a pornographic manner directed at sexually arousing some viewers). Hastings interprets the Act as permitting the release of films, videos and DVDs depicting necrophilia, explicit sexual acts involving human excrement (“Visitor Q”), sodomy (“Baise-Moi”), ejaculation by men onto the faces of women in a manner that demeans and degrades and dehumanises women, mutilation of corpses for purposes of sexual arousal, infliction of extreme cruelty and sadistic sexual violence (sado-masochism) and the sexual torture of children.

Hastings has stated that a publication that depicts such activities must tend to promote them “as a whole” – within the context of the whole film’s message - before it can be banned or cut. However, the Act states no such thing. Section 3(2) lists “objectionable” activities, that, if promoted in any way, mean that the publication as a whole is deemed “objectionable” – so it must be banned as a whole or the offending section cut to remove the offence. The issue of considering the publication as a whole only applies in cases where the “deeming provisions” under s. 3(2) do not apply and instead the “extent and degree” of injury to the “public good” is caused by the depiction of other “objectionable” activities listed under s 3 (3) of the Act. Here consideration must be given to artistic merit and other counterbalancing factors as required under s. 3 (4) of the Act. If the “objectionable” content is pervasive and high in extent and degree, such that the publication as a whole poses a serious injury to the “public good”, it can be classified “objectionable” and banned or cuts made to it before it is released.

If “Baise-Moi” were not banned by the 9-member Film and Literature Board of Review who are currently reviewing its classification, what would this decision mean for censorship in NZ? Can we expect this new benchmark in sadistic sexual violence to open the floodgates for more such material to ‘brighten’ the screens of our cinemas? The simple answer is yes.

There are plenty more films worse than “Baise-Moi” that Mr Hastings and Ms McCully would probably allow to screen in NZ theatres if they applied the law in the erroneous manner they have been doing for so long. One such film is “Irreversible”.

The BBC News (see Ref. 1) reported that “one of the last films to be screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival proved so shocking that 250 people walked out, some needing medical attention.” The film was “Irreversible” directed by Franco-Argentinian director Gaspar Noe, and describes a women’s rape and her boyfriend’s bloody quest for revenge.

“Fire wardens had to administer oxygen to 20 people who fainted during the film – which includes a 10-minute depiction of sodomy and also contains graphic scenes of rape and murder.

“Those remaining in the audience at the end of the early Saturday morning screening [at Cannes] gave it a five-minute ovation.

“Italian actress Monica Bellucci, whose character is raped and beaten in the film, said it was good to let people feel a range of emotions.” She said: “This is a film that people love or they hate, but it’s good to have these kind of extremes.”

Critics had walked out of Thursday’s screening of Irreversible describing it as “ugly” “sick” and “gratuitous”.

“Fire brigade spokesperson Lieutenant Gerard Coutel said: ‘In 25 years in my job I’ve never seen this at the Cannes festival. The scenes in this film are unbearable for us professionals.’

“Ever Monica Bellucci admits she cannot watch some of the scenes without looking away.

“The film has also gained praise from critics impressed with its artistry, clever camera work and unrelenting examination of the pure anger that drives revenge.” Our censors will no doubt be smitten by these ‘positive’ and ‘redeeming’ aspects when they view it soon.

Irreversible was among the last 22 films to be shown in this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It examines a man’s loss of control through drugs and how he reacts to news of his girlfriend’s rape and disfiguring assault. The script consists almost entirely of expletives and the scene in which Bellucci is raped lasts nearly 10 minutes – two and a half times the length of the rape scene in “Baise-Moi” approved by our censors for public screenings.

“Irreversible” delivers a repulsive opening punch set in “Rectum,” a sado-masochist gay club.

Our censors have cleared many films featuring sado-masochism and sexual violence. “Irreversible” would be quite acceptable to our censors who regularly classify adult movies for R18 general release featuring the sodomising of men and women as “entertainment” to assist with sexual arousal.

Concerning “Irreversible” Patrick McGavin, a film critic for the Chicago Tribute stated: “I think people felt violated” watching it. “It’s ugly and there is a lot in it that is gratuitous. It’s profoundly unsettling. It goes too far.”

This is the same view taken by the Australian Classification Review Board in its unanimous decision dated 10 May 2002 to ban “Baise-Moi” due to its “gratuitous” depiction of sexual violence and graphic violence.

In its classification decision Mr Hasting’s Office stated:

“The overwhelming effect [of “Baise-Moi”], however, remains the shocking and unrelenting presentation of violence, much of which has been sexualised due to the association of these images with those of explicit sex. Many of the sexual images are presented using the constructs commonly seen in explicit material intended for adult sexual arousal [i.e. hard-core pornography]… After consideration and consultation, it is felt that excising this film is IMPRACTICABLE due to the frequency with which violence and sex is intercut throughout the publication, the subtleties in how this is presented, and the fact that the publication would be considerably altered in context were this done…. Removal of certain scenes including the explicit penetration shot during the rape scene, would distort the message that the film carries, as well as removing” (emphasis added).

Mr Mark Spratt the film distributor for Potential Films, which secured the release of “Baise-Moi” in Australia (now banned), has recently shown an interest securing the rights for the film “Irreversible”.

The directors of some film festivals in New Zealand which major on sick and degrading films and constantly seek cheap publicity for their cause, will no doubt seek to screen “Irreversible”. If its good enough for the NZ Film Festival to screen “The Piano Teacher” (featuring sado-masochism), which won awards at the Cannes festival, surely it’s OK for “Irreversible” to be seen by our “mature” and “open-minded” film-goers.

The desensitisation programme that our Classification Office under the leadership of Mr Hastings has now carried out for four years has helped create a film-‘culture’ in New Zealand where a 10 minute rape scene, acts of sodomy and pervasive graphic violence are considered nothing unusual. In fact they are welcome ‘tonic’ for many to be enjoyed as they provide instant gratification of the senses. The numbing effect of such extreme material on the senses of our censors has undermined any sense of moral perspective and sound values judgement they may have had. In fact Mr Hastings takes the view that moral considerations can play no part in the task of classifying films (Ref. 3). Really? Then what is the “public good” he claims to seek to protect against injury by his classification decisions?


Ref. 1 “Cannes film sickens audiences” Sunday 26 May 2002 BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/film/2008796.stm

Ref. 2 “Cannes VIPs Walk Out of ‘Irreversible’ Violence” Friday May 24 http://movies.yahoo.com/news/va/20020524/102229780700.html

Ref. 3 “Law Morality and the chief censor” Faith in Focus. Vol. 26 No 4, May 2000, pp. 3-6.

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