Friday, July 01, 2016

8 Things I Learnt from the BBFC Annual Report for 2015

You know the BBFC. The British Board of Film Classification. I never talk about them. Honest guvnor.

Every year they release an Annual Report in which they talk generally about how they’re doing, before discussing a few contentious decisions in each age category. I love poring over these reports with a magnifying glass and thank the BBFC for the transparency they offer in their rating decisions. You can read the 2015 report, released today, here.

Below are eight things that stood out for me from 2015’s Annual Report.

1. Spectre was the most complained about film of 2015

I’d called this one a while back. As a hardened (then) 25-year-old who has watched far too many films for my own good, the torture scene with the miniature drill, as well as the eye-gouging, didn’t register as particularly unsettling in the grand scheme of violence in movies. However, for a 12A, those two scenes were pretty dicey. Whilst they didn’t quite reach the ceiling-of-a-12A-rated-film that Heath Ledger impaling someone with a pencil did in The Dark Knight, I figured there would be some pretty disgruntled parents who’d have something to say about the presence of those two scenes in a 12A rated film, indeed, they amounted to 40 complaints.

2. The ‘strong sex’ in 45 Years might have been a bit of an oversell

In their report, the BBFC remark on the ‘gentle tone’ of 45 Years, which tells the story of a woman (terrifically played by Queen Charlotte Rampling, who earnt a coveted spot in my Top Performance of 2015 list) who, on the week leading up to her 45th wedding anniversary, learns about the depths of her husband’s feelings for his previous flame, who has been found dead. Indeed, the majority of the film barring the swearing and the sex scene could have been placed at PG. 

The film is classified a 15 for 8 uses of the f-word and one marital sex scene. The former is pretty open-and-shut; you can just about get away with 6 uses of the f-word in a 12A film, and that’s only if you’re Richard Curtis (About Time is a 12A for 6 f-words, whereas Brazilian movie The Second Mother featured identically the same number of f-bombs and is a 15. #consistency). 

But the sex scene left me underwhelmed in terms of its legitimacy as a 'strong sex scene' in a 15 rated film. Not, I hasten to add, because the extent of my voyeurism is so depraved that I wanted to watch 2 geriatrics romping vigorously. But the BBFC promised me ‘strong sex’ in their rating justification and the scene itself, where the husband gets excited and then loses his erection (all under sheets), was anything but strong. The BBFC just about acknowledge this fact, conceding that the scene was ‘honest and comic’, and the dialogue, featuring discussion of changing positions and the loss of wood contributed to the 15, rather than any excessive visual detail.

3. The difference between a 12A-rated love scene and a 15-rated love scene? Carol.

This isn’t so much a new lesson learnt as a reinforcement of what I already knew. The sensuous sex scene in Carol, which is far and away my favourite love scene in 2015 and quite probably my second in a film, ever (first would have to be James McAvoy and Keira Knightley’s steamy library shag in Atonement), features sight of Rooney Mara’s boobs (I’ve seen them before in Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and Side Effects, but, always thing a beauty) and Cate Blanchett’s head between her legs, two elements of visual detail that tipped the exquisitely tasteful scene into 15. (FYI: oral sex can be hinted at in a 12A rated film (see To the Wonder), but it has to be off-screen or implied rather than overtly shown.

Whilst I love both Carol and Blue is the Warmest Colour, I much preferred the sex scene in the former to the frantic scenes of copulating in the latter, which had pervy male gaze painted all over them. The scene in Carol was so romantic and tender; I loved the way Carol and Therese held and kissed each other, and when Cate Blanchett undid Rooney’s pyjama top to reveal her breasts, before she breathed, ‘I’ve never looked as good as you’ was unbelievably erotic. Sometimes, less is more.

4. The BBFC can be draconian A F when they want to be

On the whole, the BBFC get complaints because people think that the rating they awarded wasn’t high enough. In Spectre’s case, people felt the 12A should have been a 15. However, the BBFC can sometimes rate a film higher than it probably should be. In 2014, I contested the 15 rating for 2 Days, 1 Night, which was given due to a scene of failed Xanax overdose. I didn’t find that scene too traumatic at all, and the context and way it was handled made it quite clear that this wasn’t an action that the directors were prescribing for members of the audience.

It’s harder for me to comment on My Skinny Sister, which I haven’t seen. But the justification – for eating disorder theme – seemed off to me. A film about eating disorders could prove extremely beneficial for the impressionable teenage age band to watch, particularly as the film is told from the young sister’s point of view, who sees the detrimental effect of her sister’s bulimia. A quick scan over the rating given to My Skinny Sister from other European countries, Germany: 6, Netherlands: 9, Switzerland: 6, suggests that the BBFC may have rated this one too cautiously.

5. Some people have too much time on their hands

The U-rated Minions movie also received a prominent number of complaints – 16 – mainly for a scene of ‘torture set in a dungeon’. OK…………

I’ll be the first to write lengthy blog discourses that no-one reads when I feel the BBFC have done something wrong, but even I draw a line somewhere. To write the BBFC an email or letter of complaint takes time. Admittedly, most people in this day and age type at a pretty rapid pace, but still, you’ve got to gather your thoughts, not to mention find out the email address to direct your grievances to. Some battles are worth picking, others are a mild nuisance which should be allowed (for example, I wasn’t too pleased to hear ‘crappy’ in the U-rated The Road to El Dorado, but I have 99 problems and emailing the BBFC about trifling concerns that wasn’t gonna be one).

So the fact that 16 people actually took the time to formulate their thoughts about a clearly comic scene in a film about minions which AREN’T EVEN A REAL THING, amuses me no end. It tells me that there are people out there who are even more pedantic when it comes to the BBFC than I am. And I didn’t think that was possible.

6. There weren’t a prominent number of complaints for The Revenant’s 15 certificate

When The Revenant was first screened in the States, a film critic by the name of Jeffrey Wells (no? me neither) dismissively wrote in his Twitter reaction to the film "Forget women seeing this." Charming. However, his sentiment (other than being a loathsome sexist) was echoed by other critics: The Revenant was a brutal frontier film with mounds of brutal frontier violence. Also, a grisly bear attack that had to be watched through the finger tips.

Given how full-on the violence in The Revenant was, as well as the sadomasochistic detail in which the film’s production crew went to REALLY ACCENTUATE LEO’S SUFFERING (more ranting about that thirsty movie here), I half-expected The Revenant to gather a substantial number of complaints. But it couldn’t have received more than 15, else, the BBFC would have flagged it in their most complained about section of the report. Minions gained more complaints than The Revenant.

Looking back, I think a 15 is about right (although I wouldn’t have contested an 18 either). The Revenant sits bang on the border of those two ratings. In fact, the IFCO, the Irish version of the BBFC, who have a ‘16’ rating for cinematic release and usually award 16s to hard 15s or soft 18s (example of uses of 16 in each case: Deadpool (15 over here), Gone Girl (18 over here)) enlisted the 16 for The Revenant

The BBFC cite the lack of sadistic violence in its decision to award The Revenant a 15, and I think that’s accurate: whilst the violence was frequent, choppy and painful to watch, there was never a sense that any character was really getting off on the killing. It was more a survival thing.

7. Kingsman was the second most complained about film of 2015

I’ve not seen this one so sadly can’t comment (although my brother was a fan), but I’m not surprised it gained complaints as director Matthew Vaughn also directed Kick-Ass, a film which really straddled the 15/18 line quite precariously due to its cartoonish violence.

I should probably check this film out though; Taron Egerton seems cool.

8. The BBFC awards U ratings more readily than their American counterparts

My second favourite film of 2015, Inside Out, a very witty homage to the ideas of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and a complete tear-jerker, was rated U for ‘very mild threat’. The Americans rated it PG for ‘mild thematic elements’. The BBFC touch on these in their report, referring to them as ‘sad scenes’, but conclude that the positive message of the film, showing it is OK to feel sad sometimes, makes them suitable for a U. 

I think the British are right here. The MPAA also rated Finding Dory a PG (it got a U over here), and whilst I’m yet to see it, I feel the BBFC are right to award Pixar movies, with their fantastically empathetic morals, the rating that allows them to receive as Universal an audience as possible.

By the way, such is the strength of my emotions towards this terrifically ingenious film, that I welled up just reading the BBFC description of the plot, haha.

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