Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Language. Sex. Violence. Other?

I don’t think I need to tell you about my weird little obsessive compulsive obsession with film ratings and what film gets classified what. For example, I found it dead interesting that Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood originally got a 12A in the UK, then the distributors themselves actually asked for the rating of the film to be lifted to a 15 (for that scene where Daniel Day-Lewis attacks Paul Dano). I really loved that they did this; I watched the film when it was a 15, and although I doubt many under-12s would fancy watching a film like that with their parents, the memory of watching films like King Kong and The Dark Knight with a bunch of boisterous chavs in the audience, almost ruining said films for me, is almost too much. So I respect that the distributors of There Will Be Blood went against the grain in appealing film ratings (usually, as in the case of films like Chicago and The Da Vinci Code, the distributors ask for the film to be down-rated (usually from an 15 to a 12), to broaden the audience and hence revenue.) It’s very refreshing to see in one case, that the distributors cared more about getting the right people to watch their film, not caring a jot about how much/little their film made.


I’m writing this entry mainly about two 2010 films, both produced by the Weinstein Corporation, both tipped for Oscar nominations. The first, The King’s Speech, is one of the front-runners. Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, it tells the story of King George VI of the House of Windsor and how, through the guidance of his maverick speech therapist, he manages to overcome his stammer. I’m yet to see the film, but I just know I’ll adore it; I welled up at the trailers alone and it just seems to be the kind of inspirational, funny British movie that sits very well with the House of Bung. This film drew particular attention for its MPAA and BBFC ratings, both of which were appealed by the Weinsteins; in the former case they were unsuccessful and the film stayed an R, in the latter they succeeded and the film went down from a 15 to a 12. This film was a curious case, because the reason it originally got the 15-rating was due to, ironically enough, 15 uses of the f-word. Now, BBFC are usually quite rigid in their treatment of the f-word; say it once or twice in a film that’s already in 12A territory, fine (for example, The Tourist, The Social Network), say it thrice or more when the film is already cutting the fine line between a 12A and a 15, and it could well be the f-bomb that broke the camel’s back (many feel that Slumdog Millionaire, though vaguely disturbing at points, was chiefly rated a 15 due to the four or five uses of the f-word, in Hindi and in English.) Thus, by just looking at statistics, by all intents and purposes, The King’s Speech ought to be rated 15, fair and square. However, the case for appeal in this situation is that all 15 uses of the f-word came in one word, and, as indicated by the film warning that the BBFC have on the film poster, the word is not used aggressively (Made in Dagenham, which probably contains around 15 uses of the f-word, merits its 15 because many of those usages were angrily said), not directed sexually, but rather, in the context of speech therapy. It’s certainly a bit different. By keeping it a 15, they would have deprived quite a substantial audience from watching the film, and, unlike There Will Be Blood, The King’s Speech strikes me as the sort of film that a wide range of ages would want to watch. Bearing in the mind that the rest of the film is apparently harmless, I think the BBFC got this one right. A 12A seems its correct rating, and the MPAA should follow suit and down-rate it to a PG-13.

The other film is as contentious over the rating, but this time it is not about a few curse words. Blue Valentine, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, charts the dysfunctional and ultimately shattering relationship between their characters Dean and Cindy. It's all very "love will tear us apart, again", and the film intercuts the decline of their marriage with earlier scenes of bliss together, and, unsurprisingly, sex is an integral part of the film. It is sex that is the cause for contention here; the film originally got an NC-17, which baffled director Derek Cianfrance, Ryan Gosling and the Weinsteins themselves. Apparently it is one emotionally charged oral sex scene (man-on-woman) that got the NC-17 rating, and Ryan Gosling was quoted to have questioned the decision, comparing Blue Valentine’s NC-17 to Black Swan’s R-rating, when both films had licky-licky. This situation of a film getting bumped up from an R to an NC-17 due to a scene of male-on-female head has happened before, in 2003, with The Cooler. It interests me greatly that in both these films, they both got a 15 rating, not even the highest rating in the UK, no questions asked, though comments were made in the BBFC profile of Blue Valentine that the sex scenes pushed the upper boundaries of a 15. Blue Valentine was finally given the R-rating that distributors wanted, and rightly so, I say; a little oral sex never hurt anyone.

The BBFC rating films which were originally given the NC-17 in the US like the aforementioned Blue Valentine, The Cooler and Monster’s Ball a mere 15 raises an interesting point; we’re Brits, we’re supposed to be prudes and slap a ban on sex and sex on film. Yet it’s interesting, because quite evidently, sex scenes (provided they’re between consenting legals) are not that big a deal over here. A smattering of films crossed the line between PG-13 and R in the US due to their supposed sexual content, such as last year’s Never Let Me Go (Andrew Garfield, unf), and from earlier years, Marie Antoinette, Match Point, Three Times and 2046. Yet each and every one of these films got a mere 12A in the UK, meaning that as long as the kids were with their parents or an older brother/sister, a five-year-old could watch Scarlett Johansson do kinky stuff to Johnathan Rhys-Meyers, or watch Tony Leung embark on his voyage of sexual discovery, etc. Here is where my opinion differs with that of the BBFC; I think that each and every one of those films (bar perhaps Marie-Antoinette, which could do with being a 12A I guess), really pushed the 12A boundaries, and the BBFC would have done better to err on the side of caution and bung them a 15-rating. With the BBFC, violence and horror is generally more of an issue in films; films like The Sixth Sense and Season of the Witch got passed a 15 for their scenes of horror. Said films only got a PG-13 in the US. The bigger issue here is with violence, rather than sex.

One thing that I am in agreement with the BBFC with though, is whilst they have a fairly lenient treatment of sex, they are nonetheless not afraid to make overly-crude films a 15. From this and last year alone, Dinner for Schmucks, Date Night and Couple’s Retreat, three films evidently made for the PG-13 audience (and indeed, that is the rating they got in America), got a 15 rather than a 12A over here. Although I am yet to see the latter, I’ve seen both Steve Carrell outings, Dinner for Schmucks and Date Night, and think that a 15 is the right call. In the former, there is just far too much discussion of the clitoris and in the latter, jokes about nipple clamps and orgies are scattered about smuttily. I think parents ought to be very grateful that the BBFC has sacrificed those film’s commercial appeal in favour of avoiding a conversation with their eight year old kid that goes something like “mummy, what’s anal sex?” (James Franco and Mila Kunis’ characters have an argument about the matter in Date Night, latter wants it, the formers doesn’t. LOLZ).

All in all though, I really love reading the BBFC warnings for each individual film that is released in the UK. It interests me a lot that The Lovely Bones’ trailer had a higher rating (15) than the film itself (12A). This makes me chuckle because I would say that was indicative of the quality, too. It also interests me to know that both The Da Vinci Code and it’s pre/sequel Angels and Demons had to have certain scenes bunged out to achieve the 12A rating that it wanted. Also, reading the BBFC descriptions give me a fair warning to have my wits about with certain films, such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Furthermore, by checking out the bbfc website and reading their write-ups, it also gives me an idea of what films I never want to see, and The Serbian Film, which sounds absolutely revolting, is one that I wouldn't watch with a ten-foot-bargepole. On the whole, I do think that the BBFC does a good job, although their consistency has to be questioned now and then. Whilst I’m not particularly fussed by their decision to rate The Dark Knight a 12A (it was very dark, but it got a PG-13 and so big is the Batman franchise, that I sort of knew they would; they got massive backlash for it but I imagine that had they rated it a 15, the backlash would have been even greater due to the quantity of kids who wanted to but couldn't view the film), but their stance on the c-word confuses me somewhat. It used to be that just one or two aggressive uses of it could automatically make a film an 18 instead of a 15. Yet, Chloe Moretz, playing an 11-year-old, says it in Kick-Ass, AND there’s already a tonne of graphic violence in that film, yet it only got a 15. The BBFC definitely “Dark Knight”-ed things there; ie forewent perhaps the true deserved rating of the film in favour of pleasing the masses. But then, I’m having Double Standards now, because if the c-word were to automatically make a film an 18, then Atonement should be one, and I think that film is very definitely a 15.

So at the end of the day, whilst there is an element of science to classifying films in the UK, personal judgement comes into it too. Sitting there with a tickbox of the amount of times certain words, lewd acts occur, etc, are important, but equally important is just using your head, and thinking “would I want my kid to see this?” My little brother picks up far worse language than is displayed in The King’s Speech at a Spurs game, so I would have no qualms taking him to see that with me. Answering nosy questions about where the clitoris (as Steve Carrell does in Dinner for Schmucks) is though? Probably not. And also, it is worth bearing in mind that different things trigger “danger” for different people. One homophobic idiot sent the BBFC a letter of complaint about Mamma Mia! being rated a PG because it showed two men kissing. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is dumb.


Anonymous said...

Easy A's another 15 that was a PG-13 in the US wasn't it?

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