Film4 FrightFest 2010 Video Nasties Panel


EVENT | VIDEO NASTIES: MORAL PANIC, CENSORSHIP AND VIDEOTAPE / PANEL DISCUSSION | VENUE | THE EMPIRE LEICESTER SQUARE, LONDON

Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape
Whooping It Up At FrightFest:
On The Need To Flog The BBFC For All Its Failures
(30 August Panel Discussion)


Trust us English to build up so much resentment over a piece of legislation that wasn’t enforceable. Jake West’s imperturbably neat Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape screened on Monday morning to an enthused FrightFest crowd, and was followed by a panel discussion featuring many of its contributors. The documentary addresses a captivating and downright ludicrous period in the history of film regulation in this country: the attempted expulsion from within its borders of every kind of video “nasty” deemed unsuitable, chiefly by moral activists and rightwing sections of the press, under the outdated Obscene Publications Act. Though the pacing is rarely quicker than that of television, West’s film is scrupulously ordered, its story very well told, and the arguments of its key collaborator Martin Barker acutely felt. It is also impossible to watch in that it has scant regard for the visual invention of its subject matter or worse still the visual appreciation of its audience. Mark Hartley’s account, for instance, of the commercial growth of Australian exploitation cinema, Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008), uses film footage and high impact motion graphics with the latter bumping, bleeding, splashing and folding into the former—the whole thing is about as cinematically subtle as the subjects it devours, but it is at least brave and bold with it, familiarising us with striking images of the era and animating the one-dimensional characters, objects and dialogue bubbles that appear in their advertising. The best Video Nasties can do, evidently lacking the budget for rotoscope artists and 3D animators, is to drape newspaper clippings in the empty portion of frame and stack together, to the dim accompaniment of The Damned no less, brief clips from the 72 films included on the D.P.P. list. It is a motley thing, redeemed by the penetrating insight of an expert who has already covered this matter elsewhere, and with better contributors.

The Video Nasties panel discussion—which involved West, Barker, producer Marc Morris, Tobe Hooper and Allan Bryce—tested, appropriately enough, the current mood at FrightFest. The decision by the B.B.F.C. to recommend 49 cuts to Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film, which it says would approximate three minutes 48 seconds of footage, has obviously angered fans here. Many in the FrightFest audience who openly derided the B.B.F.C. for its assessment of the film opposed the passing of the Video Recordings Act originally in 1984, thus, they know something of the potential idiocy of mostly conservative politicians (including the newest clones of Graham Bright) and talking heads—a key note to which the Video Nasties film turns ultimately. This sentiment carried through into the panel discussion, where the B.B.F.C. was roundly stomped. The solidarity this inspired in the auditorium, particularly among the most vocal fans who knew that much admired filmmakers like Neil Marshall and commentator Kim Newman were in their vicinity, all felt a bit sorry, the cheering and applause an expression of allegiance without real foundation. The session might just as well have ended on director Jake West’s note that the prime purpose of these FrightFest audiences is to back the principle, supported by the casualties of the Video Recordings Act, that adults have the fundamental right to pick and choose their entertainment. Again, this drew applause from the crowd, and while the sincerity of their reaction cannot be doubted, I question the herd mentality that strings them along.

It was fashionable over the course of FrightFest to condemn the B.B.F.C. on the specific issue of A Serbian Film, which cannot play in Westminster City Council unless cuts are made, but not, however, its report for the I Spit on Your Grave remake, which required 17 cuts, all of which were duly made by Anchor Bay Entertainment. To which the response must be, why this distinction? According to its August 26 report, the B.B.F.C.’s proposal for compulsory edits to A Serbian Film were necessarily intrusive, and as such the 49 proposals clashed with a number of formal strategies (interrupted time schemes, the unreliable protagonist) that deliberately complicate the narrative; the cuts applied to specific images in I Spit on Your Grave, by contrast, resulted in less narrative or thematic disruption due to its more forgiving structure and the higher level of narrative redundancy. This fired the perception that the B.B.F.C. were responsible, however indirectly, for withholding from the public again a film of quality, a film equally if not more interested in the politics of ideology and narrative complexity than with generic provocation. FrightFest, therefore, pulled Spasojevic’s film to honour the festival’s “global integrity” and the “director’s [original] intention,” while I Spit on Your Grave, a far bigger picture with an established pedigree (in the form of a classic predecessor), played to a substantial audience on Saturday night—to which I’m inclined to argue that few here I’m sure would protest on the key matter of principle if A Serbian Film had been eligible to play in its B.B.F.C.-certified format. It would still have drawn enthused festivalgoers, just without quite so much rowdy bullshit.

It would be wise, therefore, to have a sense of the thing that one is rallying for before decrying this a return to the dipshit madnesses of the eighties. Today, the B.B.F.C. provides, as wittertainment fans know all too well, what it terms “extended classification information” for every film it examines. The E.C.I. text for I Spit on Your Grave is available freely online, together with the press release qualifying its proposals for A Serbian Film. It is, therefore, fairly transparent about its findings ... and yet it relies on public consultation largely to refine its guidelines and as a film and videogames regulator it operates from the starting position that the representations of a film or videogame have direct, predictable effects on us as consumers. I’m reminded again of West’s concluding note about the principle that as adult consumers we should be free to choose our own entertainment. The final word of the session went to Martin Barker who impressed upon his audience the value of producing intelligent film criticism for the internet, his point that our responses, if serious and evaluative about film, should serve to counter the earliest stages of reactionary public opinion in the event of a future video nasties scare. This makes far more sense to me, for being more constructive and persuasive than venting resentment in an enclosed, comfortable environment.
2 September, 2010

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