Pressure Groups And The Media

Although government and local authorities are most responsible for the regulation of movies, moral protest groups can exert enormous pressure on a film that they have deemed to be against their beliefs. National and local elected officials, television broadcasters, and cinema chains have been targeted by organized campaigners who write letters of complaint or form demonstrations outside specific venues. The many pressure groups who have targeted films have included the religious organization the Festival of Light, which in the United Kingdom argued that The Devils (1971) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) were blasphemous; and family protection groups such as mediawatch-uk (formerly the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, founded in 1965, and led by Mary Whitehouse), which has campaigned against violent films such as Baise-moi (2000). In the United States, the gay rights group Queer Nation (formed in 1990) attacked Basic Instinct (1992) as homophobic; feminist groups such as Women Against Violence Against Women assailed Dressed to Kill (1980) as misogynistic; and ethnic protest groups have variously picketed against the racial representations of Native Americans in A Man Called Horse (1970), Italian Americans in The Godfather (1972), Puerto Ricans in Fort Apache the Bronx (1981), Cuban Americans in Scarface (1983), and Asian Americans in The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), Black Rain (1989), and Rising Sun (1993). The popular press can be the most effective tool in generating a moral campaign against a marked film. Thus pressure groups have taken out full-page newspaper ads condemning a production. For instance, the Catholic League advertised in the New York Times against Disney and Miramax for distributing Priest (1994), a film it considered blasphemous for its depiction of sexual acts among members of the clergy.

In the United Kingdom the British press was central to debates surrounding the cinema release of Crash (1996), which The Standard and its reviewer, Alexander Walker, pronounced as depraved. In the 1980s and 1990s, the main target in the United Kingdom was film on video, reflecting the concern that the age of the viewer within the home cannot be controlled (nor the power of the viewer to replay or pause an image). Originally, certification did not apply to video in the United Kingdom, with no age-related limitations. In the initial boom of the video age, from 1979 to 1982, many controversial films slipped out on release with sensational covers exploiting content in order to attract consumers among a mass of video shop choices. It was the covers for videos such as Lager SSadis Kastrat Kommandantur (SS Experiment Camp, 1976) and Cannibal Holocaust (1980) that drew attention to these films. This developed into a moral panic orchestrated by the press and newspapers such as the Daily Mail, with its ''Ban the Sadist Videos'' campaign; in response, the Director of Public Prosecutions drew up a list of sixty actionable titles, of which thirty-two were to become banned films, including the notorious titles—so-called ''video nasties''—I Spit on

Peter Watkins's The War Game (1965) was banned by a nervous BBC because of its believable depiction of a nuclear attack on Great Britain. everett collection. reproduced by permission.

Your Grave (also known as Day of the Woman, 1978), The Driller Killer (1979), and The Evil Dead (1981).

In 1982 a series of prosecutions took place against five films that had been charged under the Obscene Publications Act, with police seizing all tape copies. With the press fueling the moral panic by publishing stories of supposed criminal and delinquent behavior directly linked to the content of ''video nasties,'' a new government bill was introduced, the Video Recordings Act (VRA) of 1984, which implemented video classification under the control of the BBFC. The number of examiners at the BBFC rapidly increased from four to fifty to address the quantity of videos that needed classifying. In 1994 the Criminal Justice Act extended the terms of the VRA, with an emphasis on the effect horrific videos may have on children. The act had been influenced by a section of British politicians, supported by the group Movement for Christian Democracy, that viewed the death of a two-year-old child, James Bulger, at the hands of two ten-year-old children, as the result of expo sure to video violence. The film at the center of this panic, Child's Play 3 (1991), became the scapegoat in a media witchhunt that lead to The Sun newspaper famously carrying a full front-page image of charred tape copies of the movie within the headline ''For the sake of ALL our kids.. .BURN YOUR VIDEO NASTY.''


Central to decisions on the regulation and censorship of film are questions of audience suitability and maturity. Domestic reception of film has raised concerns over unregulated consumption, with video and television versions of films receiving greater censorship. But in one famous case, a film that had been made specifically for British television, Peter Watkins's The War Game (1965), was banned from being shown on the BBC following government intervention. Made to mark the twentieth anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, this drama-documentary depicting the horrors of a nuclear attack on Britain was withdrawn, as the government said it contained "inaccuracies." The struggle to have this important political film seen by the public began with a limited theatrical release at London's National Film Theatre in 1966. With an "X" certificate and cinema chains refusing to exhibit the film, its national release was mainly through church and community halls, where it was booked as an educational screening by groups opposed to nuclear weapons such as CND and the Quakers. Despite The War Game's winning of an Academy Award® for Best Documentary in 1967, the BBC refused to lift its ban on the film until 1985.

Historically, the BBFC had refused to classify political films, waiting until 1954 to grant an "X" certificate to Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 film, Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin). It had banned the film in 1926 famously declaring that cinema ''is no place for politics.'' The recently introduced "X" certificate was designed to allow many of the foreign films of directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, and Michelangelo Antonioni to be passed uncut. The censor was now prepared to view this new world cinema as art cinema, to take into account the film's artistic intentions and the maturity of its probable audience. The view of the BBFC was that a foreign film shown only in art cinemas and by a smaller audience was ''less likely to produce criticism.'' Such a view allowed Vittorio De Sica's La Ciociara (Two Women, 1960), with its depiction of a double rape, to be passed uncut, though when the film went on general release and was shown to a wider audience, the scene was removed.

As an extreme example of controlled distribution, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971)—a film that had been banned in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Nova Scotia, among other places—had been passed uncut by the BBFC but was unavailable for screening or broadcast in the United Kingdom for more than twenty-five years, after Kubrick requested that Warner Bros. withdraw all prints from circulation. British newspapers had begun reporting cases of copycat acts of violence, in which juveniles were apparently inspired by the content of the film; it was rumoured that Kubrick began receiving death threats, and in 1973 the film was withdrawn. Its removal was heavily enforced by lawyers, which resulted in the successful prosecution of the Scala, a cinema that dared to present a screening in 1992, and an injunction (later lifted) on British television's Channel 4 to prevent it from showing twelve extracts from the film in 1993. The film was released again in the United Kingdom only following Kubrick's death in 1999.

The cult that grew around A Clockwork Orange made the poster for the film an iconic image. Other posters and advertising material for films have been denied exposure, and though replacement images are found, the cultural impact of the movie is adjusted. In the United Kingdom, one of the most powerful poster-regulating authorities is London Transport, which owns the advertising sites on the underground and key billboards on its aboveground properties. In 1959 it banned a poster for a double bill of The Alligator People and Return of the Fly, for fear that it would frighten children who would be in central London in large numbers for Christmas shopping; in 1989 it removed part of a poster for Peter Jackson's film Bad Taste, which featured an alien with its middle finger raised, that was deemed offensive; and in 1994 it filled in a gap in the split skirt of Demi Moore displayed in the advertising for Disclosure, which it considered erotically charged.

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