Sunday, July 23, 2017

10 things I learnt from the 2016 BBFC Annual Report

So, after waiting, and waiting, and waiting, the BBFC Annual Report for 2016 dropped! Here it is, and having pored over it, here are my major takeaways from reading it!

I’m glad my many hours of wasting time watching films purely for BBFC research purposes (such as Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry), poring over BBFC minutes and lurking who complains to their Twitter account has paid off, because my prognostications for the films that would cause them the most complaints were even better than my Oscar predictions (and the Oscar goes to…. La La Land! No, Moonlight! #stillgloating).

As predicted, Deadpool generated a substantial number of complaints; it actually had the highest volume of e-mails, with 51. This is 11 more than their most complained about movie of 2015, Spectre. As I outlined in my piece, I agree with the 15 certificate for Deadpool, and feel that the dissent from British cinemagoers may have been partially due to the ‘Black Swan’ effect; of a confounding of what the public thought they were going to see.

Perhaps the people who griped about Deadpool were used to their comic book adaptations a tad more jovial and easygoing, like the relatively mild 12A-rated Ant-Man, as opposed to the edgier, tongue-in-cheek violence and crude sex jokes-laden Deadpool.

This was what the BBFC cited as causing several of the complaints about Black Swan in 2011; people thought they were going to see a ‘nice film about the ballet’, rather than a dark and disturbing examination of a ballerina’s mental breakdown. I suspect the same thing happened with Deadpool, and thus, its 51 complaints, which, in my opinion, is a tad excessive.

02.  … Minus Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children getting the third highest amount of complaints
I didn’t call this one. Even though I had my Odeon Limitless card so could have watched this title ‘for free’, it didn’t really appeal to me at the time. I now kind of wish I had, because it was the third most complained about title in 2016, and I wonder what the fuss was about.

I’m very surprised that this title generated the third highest volume of complaints in terms of films. However, I guessed right that the trailer would also pull in some disgruntled punters, with the U-rated trailer alone generating 14 complaints (disparate from complaints about the film being a 12A). 

I saw the trailer for Miss Peregrine… pre-Finding Dory, and am in concordance with the complaints - it was not appropriate for U. The part where a spider crawled out of a girl’s head was far too strong for a U.

03.  When they make a contentious call, the BBFC make like Alden Ehrenreich in Hail, Caesar! and ‘Would that it twere’ that shit up
There wasn’t a Dark Knight or Casino Royale in terms volume of complaints this year, which the BBFC will find encouraging. Aside from Deadpool’s 51 complaints and Suicide Squad getting 30, the complaints in 2016 were fairly well-diluted. Four films received 18-20 complaints: Miss Peregrine…, Jason Bourne, Sausage Party and 10 Cloverfield Lane.

I haven’t seen the former two, but can definitely see why the latter two yielded 19 and 18 complaints, respectively. I’ve noticed that the BBFC are in the business of re-writing film history if they think it’ll get them out of trouble, so in response to the complaints about Sausage Party’s three c-words, they wrote an untruth in the Annual Report, that none of them were ‘aggressive’. Just because a character mutters it under his breath doesn’t make the c-word ‘not aggressive’. 

With regards to the orgy scene in Sausage Party, every time it’s mentioned in the Report, they’ve put ‘orgy’ in speech-marks, as if there wasn't really an orgy scene in the film. You can add all the speech-marks you want, BBFC, doesn’t make the scene any less sustained, nasty and crude.

Similarly, their mealy-mouthed explanation of 10 Cloverfield Lane’s 12A, was that it wasn’t sufficiently dark, and the line between fantasy (the alleged alien attack) and reality was blurred. I understand the alien attack not being too threatening and sort of an abstract threat, but the protagonist was still being held captive by a man, a man that the film was strongly implying, may or may not be a child-killing paedo. The BBFC deftly underplayed this issue, writing ‘uncertainty concerning the man’s intentions towards her’. Understatement of the year.gif

Oh, and finally, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice got 10 complaints. I’m guessing 5 were for the bath-tub scene and five were for Jesse Eisenberg’s annoying performance.

04.  Lack of consistency with regards to guidelines for Suicide Squad
Naturally, given Suicide Squad has a huge appeal to 12-14 year olds, and with its brother DC release, Batman v Superman, getting a 12A, 30 complaints for Suicide Squad, the majority about it being rated too high and thus they couldn’t see it, was to be expected. The BBFC trying to worm their way out of this questionable rating was a bit muddled. They cited the ‘moderate violence’ as being ‘too strong’ for a 12A. Excuse me, but how can ‘moderate violence’ be ‘too strong’? Isn’t it by nature, moderate?

Furthermore, several 12As do contain strong violence: The Kite Runner, The Dark Knight and Casino Royale. Given the latter two kept the BBFC up all night with vociferous Daily Mail-led campaigns against the decisions, I can understand their trepidation about having strong violence in a 12A. But the violence in Suicide Squad wasn’t strong! When characters got smashed against the wall, none of them so much as bled!

I think the BBFC ought to call a spade a spade and come clean about why they really rated Suicide Squad a 15. It was for strong horror.

The horror (the horror) of watching a privileged upstart cokehead who’s father bought her the role, trying to act, and fail terribly. (Not naming any names). 

The horror, the horror.

05.  The Angry Birds Movie pushed their flocking luck and the BBFC weren’t having any of it

I’ve given the BBFC a bit of guff, so I’ll applaud them for a call I greatly approve of. The distributors of The Angry Movie wanted a U certificate, and the BBFC were happy to accommodate… provided they removed two plays on the f-word. The two lines that had to be elided in order for the film to ascertain its U certificate were ‘pluck my life’ and ‘I need some angry flocking birds’.

Damn right, I say. Whilst the f-word hasn’t actually been said in those lines, they’ve been heavily implied, and, even if it went over the head of a five year old, I can imagine those two lines would have caused their parents considerable perturbation, not least because tonally, it’s just feels so out of place for a U-rated film.

Children’s films with a bizarre penchant for shoe-horning in the f-word is by no means a new phenomenon, by the way. In 2016, a kid’s film called A Warrior’s Tail had to remove the word ‘motherf_cker’ in order to procure its desired PG rating. Who on earth thought that would was appropriate for a kid’s film?! (Mind you, Joe Pesci is in it, so…)

06.  The short insight at U for ‘very mild’ issues is dependent on the projected audience
The BBFC noted that Love and Friendship, which was rated a U due to ‘no material likely to offend or harm’, did actually contain some very mild sex references. However, the reason this wasn’t flagged in the short insight is that the period drama, adapted from a Jane Austen novella, was most likely only going to be viewed by adults, and to bring up such a trifling issue in a U-rated film, seemed unnecessary.

On the other hand, they remarked that the TV show Fuller House, whilst also a U and containing sex references pretty much on a par with Love and Friendship, had a family audience, and in this case, the very mild sex references (and very mild language) were flagged in the short insight.

07.  In 2016, Alicia Vikander’s boobs were allowed at 12A
So, in each category section, the BBFC describes movies which illustrate their guidelines with regards to violence, language and sex. For their example of sex allowable at 12A, they cited The Light Between Oceans, my second least favourite film of 2016.

The reason The Light Between Oceans was notable at 12A is because Alicia Vikander gets her boobs out in a marital sex scene, with her on-screen husband PR boyfriend Michael Fassbender. She’s displayed her pert tits before, in Ex Machina and The Danish Girl, but they were both 15s. Judging from that upcoming movie she's in with Mr. Charisma Dane DeYawn, Tulip Fever's trailer, she'll be getting them out again, and that, too, looks like it's heading towards 15-territory.

Generally, for the BBFC (and especially the MPAA) to allow breast nudity in a 12A-rated sex scene is very unusual. The reason Derek Cianfrance got away with it was because it was tastefully shot, and (I believe), whilst you see the outline of Alicia's boobs, her actual nipples are covered by her long hair in said scene. And the sight of her boobs were very fleeting – so much so that even the MPAA, notoriously more strict on sex than the BBFC, allowed the film to be passed at PG-13.

You may have noticed I discussed Patricia ‘only Rooney with talent’ Mara’s breasts last year in the 2015 Annual Report debrief, and now I’ve talked at length about her Oscar-stealing counterpart, Alicia Vikander’s. What can I say, I’m straight (or I purport to be), but a total boob girl. #ehehe

08. The way something is handled can contribute to its rating
I greatly assented with the BBFC for their U-rating of the sweet When Marnie Was There, but I did recognise it was a borderline case, as the scene where the protagonist is alone in an abandoned lighthouse and the stormy weather adds to her sense of dread was intense.

Usually, if the BBFC are going to allow sequences of threat like that in a U, it will be in a jokey, fantastical setting, such as The Secret Life of Pets, or Toy Story 3. This was in a real-life setting, and thus, there was a legitimate argument to be made for the PG certificate (which is what the Americans and the Irish went with).

However, the BBFC saw the bigger picture. Whilst the film is unsettling in parts, and deeply sad in others, they noted 'the positive messages that arise from the more emotionally challenging moments help to create an overall sensitive tone that is suitable for younger viewers'. Much like 2015's Inside Out, I think When Marnie Was There deserves as universal an audience as possible due to the loveliness of its over-arching, compassionate message.

09.  The BBFC have a way of phrasing things, that makes deadly-serious things sound amusing
OK, I'm going to post a screenshot from the PDF. It's no laughing matter (it's from the 18 section), but the BBFC sometimes phrase things in such a stark, matter-of-fact way, that they make issues which should not be funny seem... giggle-inducing?

10.  The blurred lines between sex and sexual activity
Eagle-eyed BBFC nerds noticed that when the BBFC tweeted their short insight for the 15-rated Toni Erdmann, one day, the short insight featured 'strong sex'. The next day, they changed it to 'scene of sexual activity'.

The scene in question, which by the BBFC's own admission, pushes the 15's guidelines as to what is permitted in sex at a 15, is when a bloke wanks and nuts over some hors d'oeuvres, and a woman, having watched him do so, eats one of the pastries. Just in case the film wasn't testing its 15 rating enough, there's also sight of his semi-flaccid penis after.

I can see the utility of having 'scene of sexual activity' as disparate from 'sex' in short insights, because some things are sexualised without actually being sex scenes per se (such as in Childhood of a Leader when a husband runs his hand up his wife's thigh to indicate he's aroused), but let's be frank: masturbation IS sex. To quote Woody Allen in Annie Hall, 'it's sex with someone I love'.

So I'm not sure why the BBFC needed to go to the faff of revising their initial short insight, when 'strong sex' sums up that scene quite succinctly.

Maybe that's just me, though? I may be biased because I am what Dalí would describe as el gran masturbador (I’m quite well acquainted with the blade of my right hand, shall we say). Do you consider the scene I’ve just described a scene of sexual activity?  Or a sex scene? Sexual activity? Sex? Let's call the whole thing off!

How about you, BBFC nerds? What were your main takeaways from the Annual Report this year, or was it all stuff you already knew, and thought it felt like a compendium of extended informations?


If all this didn't bore you, there's plenty more film classification nerdiness where that came from!


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