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CENSORSHIP, RATINGS & SEX

CONTRARY TO COMMUNITY VIEWS
With the latest RC classification for Ken Park preventing the film’s Sydney Film Festival screening, the Classification Review Board has confirmed it is not only out of touch with the community’s attitude to on-screen sex, but that it is actually contrary to it. Andrew L. Urban presents the evidence. (See below: statement by the Film Critics Circle of Australia.)


A young man raping an apple pie (American Pie, MA); campus kids masturbating a dog and filling buns with the semen before passing them around (Van Wilder, Party Liaison, M); Vi (Selma Blair) being sexually abused by Mr Scott (Robert Wisdom), (Storytelling, MA); Linda Blair’s character masturbating with a crucifix, (The Exorcist, R); Ari (Alex Dimitriades) giving oral sex to a stranger outside a night club, (Head On, R); a man masturbating an elephant and using the resultant spray as a weapon (Freddy Got Fingered, R) . . . 

None of the films with these scenes attracted public outcry and letters to the Attorney General calling for the films to be banned; the rating classification and the consumer advisory warnings served as a ‘Keep Out’ sign for those who might take serious offence and didn’t want to see Linda Blair masturbating with a crucifix, say. 

Even Baise Moi didn’t offend the community enough to justify its eventual RC (Refused Classification). In correspondence with the Attorney General’s office, I was able to ascertain that of 419 letters regarding Baise-Moi, “approximately 161 were opposed to the film and either sought a review of the Classification Board's decision, or were supportive of the Attorney-General's request for a review, or were in favour of the Review Board's RC (refused classification) decision. Twenty-seven indicated that they had seen the film and of those, three were opposed to the film.”

Just to reiterate the last point: of the 27 letter writers who’d actually seen Baise Moi, only three were “opposed” to the film - and it isn’t explained why they went to see it anyway, unless it was just to file a complaint. (More on that later.) The film was rated R with the following warnings: ‘strong sexual violence, high level violence, actual sex, adult themes’. and yet some 50,000 people had seen it in its commercial release prior to the ban being imposed. 

And that’s the whole point of a ratings (as opposed to a censorship) system, to advise audiences what they are likely to see on the screen, if there is a chance of causing serious offence. (Of course no such rating exists for plain bad, boring or stupid films…) Curiously, in February 2001, the new print of In the Realm of the Senses (1976) was released uncut for the first time. The three scenes that were cut in the film’s previous release are restored. The film is now complete, but with its R rating and ‘high level sex scenes, violence, adult themes’ warnings. 

As our Melbourne based critic Jake Wilson wrote about this fact based film: “On the one hand, this film is one long pornographic fantasy that plays out mainly in a few cloistered rooms. On the other, it's much closer to documentary than most fiction films, and its physical reality is much more complete. No parts of the body are off-limits; no acts are taboo.” 

"no community backlash"

It seemed at the time that Australia was entering a new, enlightened and tolerant, intelligent era with regard to the taboo of sex on screen. The choice was ours to make to see it or avoid it. It ran for six weeks at Sydney’s Chauvel where some 3,000 people bought tickets to see it. There was no community backlash.

In the case of Ken Parks, when the Sydney Film Festival appealed against the Refused Classification decision to the Classification Review Board, the result was 2-1 against changing the refusal. That’s a margin of one vote; one person on whose decision the ban on showing the film stays. The ban was upheld because the film “depicted scenes of sex and violence in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults.” According to one person. 

Our Brisbane based critic and qualified lawyer David Edwards points out that “the board never really hears from the ‘community’; they only hear from those directly interested in the issue, usually film distributors and special interest groups. Film distributors by their nature are not part of the ‘community’ (as they have a business interest in particular classification outcomes), so it is left to those interest groups, many of whom have an entirely different agenda: to drive the ‘community expectation’ aspect of the process.” (See point about Baise Moi, above.)

The current rating system also suffers from terminal absurdity, adds David, with its conflicting rules around Australia, exemplified by the fact that the OFLC can classify material as X and it will be legal in some formats in some jurisdictions within Australia, but illegal in other formats and in other jurisdictions.

With no evidence to suggest that in matters of on-screen sex Australian adults need the protection of the 6-person Classification Review Board (appointed through the Attorney General’s portfolio and currently comprising five women and one man), it seems that as with Base-Moi, minority interests are calling the RC shots. 

Are we to be protected from our own choices by the Classification Review Board – against our will? Is this the sort of cultural landscape in which you want to live? 

Your opinions – whatever they are – are welcome. Write to me about CENSORSHIP

STATEMENT from the FCCA:
The Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA) condemns the decision of the OFLC and the Board of Review to refuse classification for the film KEN PARK.

Some FCCA members have seen this film in overseas festivals and believe it to be a serious film about a serious issue - child abuse and emotional neglect - which adults should have the right to see and judge for themselves.

Not since 1969 has a work been banned at a major film festival in Australia. The latest ban has set back the cause of liberalisation of censorship by more than 30 years.

We note with concern the Review Board's finding that the film included "scenes of child sexual abuse, actual sex by people depicted as minors, and sexualised violence"

Child abuse is a serious issue which is and should be explored in cinema, and we are advised that this film does not condone it, but seeks to alert people to its consequences.

The actors in this film are over the age of 18, we note that the age of consent is sixteen, and believe it to be a very bad principle to proscribe the representation of acts which are not in themselves illegal.

We support the Sydney Film Festival in its fight to have adults see this film and judge for themselves. The FCCA calls on both the State and Federal Attorneys General to intervene and overturn the ban, and State and Federal arts ministries to condemn it as a breach of free artistic expression.

On Behalf of the FCCA: 
Julie Rigg (President) Evan Williams, Ian Taylor (Vice Presidents) Russell Edwards, 
Annette Willis, Sandra Hall – Executive, Adrienne Mc Kibbins (Administrator)

Published June 18, 2003

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Ken Parks


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