Saturday, August 4, 2012

Blame It On The Movie

A couple of months ago after watching a rather strange, yet superb offering from Greek cinema titled 'Dogtooth'; I decided to browse the IMDb website to see what other people thought of the film. Eventually I came across a thread on the message board which was discussing disturbing films; being a dedicated follower of controversial cinema I read on and found that a number of people had mentioned a film called Murder Set Pieces and so, after reading how 'horrific', 'sick' and 'extreme' this film was supposed to be, I added it to my 'LoveFilm' rental list!

A few days later, I was on the 'LoveFilm' website checking to see which films I was waiting for, when I noticed that amongst someone's review for Murder Set Pieces were the words 'You won't get to watch this film, as it's banned in the UK and cut by 20 minutes in the US' in big, bold lettering. Highly irritated, I decided to check whether there was any truth in this and after some research, I discovered that the film was in fact rejected by the BBFC in 2008, thus making it illegal to supply the film in the UK. Apparently, this was a film that in the BBFC's words 'may encourage a harmful association between violence and sexual gratification' something which is apparently 'reflected in research and consistent with public opinion'. And which members of the public might they be exactly?

This was not the first time that I, a grown woman, was being told what I could and couldn't watch (two summers ago I had planned to watch A Serbian Film at Frightfest, until it was pulled due to BBFC cuts). Apparently I am responsible enough to vote, have a mortgage and supervise a classroom full of children, but when it comes to planning my Sunday night in front of the TV, I am far too stupid to be left to my own devices and clearly need some assistance. Why was it that as a university educated adult, with the ability to make financial, political and religious decisions, I was having my viewing habits dictated by people who had never met me, knew nothing about me, yet chose to lump me under the term of 'the general public'? It was because my choice of films were those that fell into the category of movies which had the potential to harm- now I was always under the impression that it was humans who harmed other humans? I don't ever remember a case of a person being bludgeoned to death by an axe wielding video cassette!
Yet the concept of the media having a harmful and corrupting effect on the general public is nothing new. In the past we have seen a whole host of films, computer games and songs demonised because it was thought they had some influence on a particular crime. In the 1970s it was reported that gangs of teenagers dressed as 'Droogs', were committing acts of violence similar to those depicted in A Clockwork Orange, and many say that this, along with alleged death threats, are what led to Stanley Kubrick banning his own film.

The early 1990's saw copies of Child's Play 3 removed from the shelves, after it emerged that the stepfather of one of Jamie Bulger's killers had rented the movie; yet it was never confirmed whether either of the boys had actually watched it.

More recently the computer game Manhunt became the latest target, after it was alleged that the murderer of Stefan Pakeerah- who was stabbed to death, had mimicked behaviour from the violent computer game. And who can forget the 1984 Video Recordings Act with its notorious Video Nasties; films apparently so vile, so violent and bloody that they were considered harmful to watch, on the grounds that they could deprave and corrupt (anyone who has actually seen one, will know that the majority of them are most likely to either send you to sleep or have you wet yourself with laughter).

What is worrying is that few people seem to challenge this perception that life imitates art, (and yes I am aware that many of the texts I have referred to here can only very loosely be described as art!!). What is startling is not the fact that more and more films are crossing boundaries, dealing with taboos and pushing the limits, but that the real problems behind violent crime, anti-social behaviour, promiscuity and immorality are often ignored. When will we start to talk about bad parenting and a decline in community values? When will we acknowledge the fact that sometimes violence does not have a reason, that we can't blame the media or society and that in fact some people are just downright evil?

Did Jack the Ripper remove the intestines of Annie Chapmen because he had just watched Cannibal Holocaust? Can the murder and sexual assault of the victims of the Moors Murderers be blamed on the killers having a penchant for films such as Saw or Hostel? No, these horrific acts happened because the killers were sick, twisted and evil; period. Perhaps a film, DVD, computer game can give ideas, but the evil needs to be in the killer's mind already; a serial killer will maim and dismember regardless of whether they watch a violent film, because they are cold, calculating and often mad. We cannot censor, ban or withdraw a text simply because it might give someone 'ideas'. Where will we draw the line? Are we going to ban school children from studying Macbeth because if features violence and murder or The Colour Purple because of the rape scenes?

Any sane and remotely intelligent person knows that it is not right to copy the acts they may see in the Saw films, in the same way that a person who may enjoy watching extreme films is not necessarily a pervert. I love controversial and so-called disturbing films; I have grown up on a diet of Uwe Boll, David Cronenberg, and Larry Clark. I have sat through The Human Centipede, Irreversible, Martyrs and such like. As a child I was obsessed with horror films and throughout my teens and adulthood, I have set out to watch every film dubbed disturbing, sick, and ultra-violent. But I don't go out and commit random acts of violence, I don't get turned on by watching these films, they don't make me want to go out and rape, murder, or eat other people, why- because I am not a lunatic! Because I am intelligent enough to know right from wrong, because I am one of the many sensible people who can watch a film and know that it is just that- a film.

I overheard a comment from a fellow teacher at my school recently, apparently one of her Year 9 boys has been getting into lots of fights recently because he seems to be playing too many violent computer games; umm no, he isn't doing too well in school because his parents couldn't care less about his education and he is a little trouble maker. I'll end on this note; there is no freedom when it comes to choosing which film to watch- censors, governments and councils have all made sure of that and yet it remains that anyone can choose to become a parent... I'll let you decide how that works.

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