Saturday, 26 March 2011

BBFC History: How has it changed?

  • In the past, the BBFC was the '...Board of Censorship' and, like it's name, was a much stricter governing force on what was not allowed to be shown in films. The 43 grounds for deletion sum this up.
  • Over time, the BBFC had different leaders and directors, and each one tried to make the process less strict to allow films to be expressive forms of artwork.
  • The categories for classification have changed and continue to change as the 'A' and 'X' were replaced with '15', '18', '12', 'PG', 'R18', 'U', Uc', and most recently '12A'.
  • Changing public views which resulted in ammendments to laws have also greatly affected how the current BBFC is shaped, and on what it's classification process is based.
  • The introduction of the home-cinema system, and multi-platform media, has given the BBFC a bigger job as a result of so many titles coming out not just in cinemas, but on DVD and Blu-Ray, Video Games, and Trailers.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

History of the BBFC: 2000

New Guidelines:

In 1999, the Board embarked on an extensive consultation process to gauge public opinion before the compilation of new Classification Guidelines. The major outcomes were:
  • that the depiction of drugs and drugs use was the cause of greatest concern to parents
  • the issue of violence in the lower classification categories was similarly concerning
  • use of bad language on screen provoked a range of responses, reflecting varying tolerances in the general public.
  • Portrayal of sexual activity, however caused less concern than previously.

The DCMS and Ofcom:

In June 2001, governmental responsibility for film and video classification moved from the Home Office to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Ofcom is the new regulator for television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services. The regulation of films, videos and DVDs does not fall under Ofcom's remit and remains the responsibility of the BBFC. The BBFC is still the only regulator which regulates material before it is seen by the public.

The '12A' rating

In 2002, the new '12A' category replaced the '12' category for film only, and allows children under 12 to see a '12A' film, provided that they are accompanied throughout by an adult. The decision to introduce this new category was taken after a pilot scheme and research had been conducted to assess public reaction. The new category was also conditional on the provision and publication of Consumer Advice for '12A' films.  The Board considers '12A' films to be suitable for audiences OVER the age of 12, but acknowledges that parents know best whether their children younger than 12 can cope with a particular film.  The first '12A' film was The Bourne Identity.

Consumer Advice:

The BBFC lauched website pages such as:
  • Parent BBFC
  • Children's BBFC
  • Consumer Advice
This made the whole system a lot more transparent to the public, helpful for the parents, and educational for children and teenagers.

History of the BBFC: 1990

Despite the statutory regulation of video since 1984, public concern about the influence of videos has continued and there have been periodic calls for stricter standards, most notably following the Jamie Bulger case. The trial judge linked this murder of a two year-old by two ten year-old boys to the viewing of violent videos, with the media singling out the horror video Child's Play 3 (1991). Though subsequent enquiries refuted this connection, public opinion rallied behind calls for stricter regulation. Parliament supported an amendment to the Video Recordings Act, contained in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which requires the Board to consider specific issues, and the potential for harm, when making video classification decisions.

The Board has always been stricter on video than on film. This is partly because younger people are more likely to gain access to videos with restrictive categories than such films at the cinema (where admissions can be screened).  But it is also because, on video, scenes can be taken out of context, and particular moments can be replayed.

In 1997 the BBFC's President, Lord Harewood, stepped down after 12 years in the job.  His replacement, Andreas Whittam Smith, announced his intention to steer the BBFC towards a greater 'openness and accountability'.  This included the publication of the BBFC's first set of classification guidelines in 1998, following a series of public 'roadshows' in which public views were canvassed and the launching of a BBFC website. 

Digital Media

The 1990s also saw rapid developments in the world of computer games, which seemed to become more realistic and sophisticated with each passing year.  Although the majority of video games were automatically exempt from classification, those that featured realistic violence against humans or animals, or human sexual activity, did come under the scope of the Video Recordings Act.  From 1994 the BBFC started to receive some of the stronger video games for formal classification, which necessitated a different way of examining (because it was impossible to see everything that might happen in a game). 

History of the BBFC: 1980

Review of the category system:
In 1982 'A' was changed to 'PG', 'AA' was changed to '15' and 'X' became '18'. A new category 'R18' was introduced which permitted more explicit sex films to be shown in members-only  clubs.  Previously, such clubs had shown material unclassified by the BBFC, but a change in the law closed this loophole.  Since the mid 1980s most 'R18' material is released on video, only available from a limited number of sex shops which must be specially licensed by local authorities.
In 1985, at the request of the industry, the 'Uc' was introduced for video only, to identify works specifically suitable for very young children to watch alone.

In 1989 the BBFC introduced the '12' certificate on film, to bridge the huge gap between 'PG' and '15'. This was extended to video in 1994. The first film to be given a '12' rating was Batman.

The first of the Rambo series, First Blood, was passed '15' uncut in 1982, and the second, George Pan Cosmatos' Rambo - First Blood Part II was passed '15' uncut in 1985.  However, Rambo III was cut in 1988 to obtain an '18' certificate.  In addition to a horse-fall removed under the terms of the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937, the violence was reduced by the excision of spatter shots, and cuts were made to counteract the glamorisation of weapons which constituted a significant classification issue. 

Development of Home Cinema:

The development of the video recorder created new anxieties about the home viewing of feature films. Legally, there was no requirement that videos should be classified, which meant that films that had not been approved by the BBFC or which were suitable for adults only, were falling into the hands of children.

In particular the tabloid press led a campaign against so called 'video nasties'. This term was not always clearly defined, but there were 70 titles that had either been prosecuted by the DPP under the Obscene Publications Act, or were awaiting prosecution. Some of these were horror films that had never been submitted to the BBFC. Others had been cut for their cinema release, and the video versions sometimes included restored cuts.

The outcome of this concern was new legislation, introduced as a private member’s Bill by Conservative MP, Graham Bright. The Video Recordings Act 1984, makes it an offence for a video work to be supplied if it has not been classified, or to supply a classified work to a person under the age specified in the certificate.

The Board was designated as the authority with responsibility for classification in 1985, with a consequent increase in staff to deal with a massively increased workload consisting of a backlog of titles already on the market and all new titles.

History of the BBFC: 1970

  • The introduction of the 'AA' was finally approved by local authorities and the industry in 1970.
  • Raising of the minimum age for 'X' certificate films from 16 to 18. 
  • The old 'A' (advisory) category was split to create a new advisory 'A' which permitted the admission of children of five years or over whether accompanied or not, but which warned parents that a film in this category would contain some material that parents might prefer their children under fourteen not to see, and a new 'AA' certificate which allowed the admission of those over 14, but not under 14, whether accompanied or not.
The idea was that this would protect adolescents from material of a specifically adult nature and would permit more adult films to be passed uncut for an older, more mature audience.  It recognised the earlier maturity of many teenagers by giving them access to certain films at the age of 14, without being accompanied by an adult. 

It also indicated to parents the difference between films wholly suitable for children of all ages, which would continue to be classified 'U', and those which might contain some material which some parents might prefer their children not to see.

New System in the US:

A new ratings system in the United States included an uncensored 'X' category, left to the sole control of the criminal law. John Trevelyan, the Secretary at the time, was concerned by this: “We are afraid that this will have the effect of giving certain film-makers the opportunity of going much further than they have done in scenes of sex and sexual perversion, since with the protection of an 'X' category, they can shed personal responsibility”.

The seventies did indeed see the release of a number of provocative films, in particular those that linked sex and violence, for example Straw Dogs (1971), and A Clockwork Orange (1971), both of which contained controversial rape scenes.

History of the BBFC: 1960

Challenges to the Obscene Publications Act (1959), suggested a strong shift in public opinion. John Trevelyan, as Secretary to the Board, responded to the new spirit of liberalism by stating:

"The British Board of Film Censors cannot assume responsibility for the guardianship of public morality. It cannot refuse for exhibition to adults films that show behaviour that contravenes the accepted moral code, and it does not demand that ‘the wicked’ should also be punished. It cannot legitimately refuse to pass films which criticise ‘the Establishment’ and films which express minority opinions".

However, the decade began with a challenge in the form of Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, which had been seen by the Board at the script stage and provoked a remark from Trevelyan about its 'morbid concentration on fear'. Various cuts had been suggested at script stage, and the film was passed 'X' in 1960 with cuts. Critics greeted the film with a torrent of abuse and it failed to please the public, damaging Powell's reputation. The video remained an '18' work until 2007 when it was reclassified and passed '15'.
As public tolerance increased in the sweeping social change of the sixties, films became more explicit, but in practice the Board still requested cuts, usually to verbal and visual 'indecency'.

One of the most commercially successful series of films of the decade began in 1962 with Terence Young's Dr No, the first of the long running James Bond movies. Passed 'A' with cuts, this set a pattern for what followed, with From Russia With Love passed 'A' with cuts to sexual innuendo in 1963, Goldfinger passed 'A' in 1964 with cuts to nudity and violence, and Thunderball passed 'A' in 1965 with a cut to a sexy massage scene.

History of the BBFC: 1950

One development was the emergence of 'youth' as a group with a defined identity and as a target for consumer goods, as young people with disposable income became an attractive proposition for those selling records, clothes and all the trappings of the teenager.

Controversial subjects on film were accommodated in the UK under the new 'X' category, introduced in 1951and incorporating the former advisory 'H' category given to horror films.

The new 'X' category excluded children under 16. 

Films like Rock Around The Clock(1956) drew teenage audiences. Cut for U, this film caused rioting in cinemas and fuelled increasing concern about teenage criminality, although there was in fact no evidence of a teenage crime wave as suggested by the popular Press.

Nicholas Ray's 1955 Rebel Without A Cause ran into trouble because of its depiction of what the Board considered to be anti-social behaviour and teen violence, but substantial cuts were agreed for the film's release at 'X'.  

The year 1956 also saw the resignation of Arthur Watkins, who was replaced for the next two years as Secretary by John Nichols. In 1958 John Trevelyan became Board Secretary.
At the end of the decade came Beat Girl, a sort of UK equivalent of Rebel Without A Cause, starring Adam Faith. The Board was not impressed with the script for this film about a teenage girl who seeks to rebel against her father by hanging around with a bad crowd in Soho and considers becoming a stripper. The script was judged to be 'the product of squalid and illiterate minds' and several amendments were made before it was cut for 'X'. It is now classified '12' on video, having lost its appeal to shock.