Thursday, July 19, 2018

10 Lessons Learned from the 2017 BBFC Annual Report

I’ve waited long and hard, but Christmas for Emma has arrived! The BBFC Annual Report for 2017 dropped today, and here are the ten main takeaways I got from consuming it!

01. Emma knows her BBFC
Just as I’d predicted in my anticipation blog, the film which got the most complaints to the BBFC last year was Logan

It got twenty complaints, which, for the most griped about film, is not that high at all (2016’s most complained about film was Deadpool with 51 complaints, 2015’s was Spectre with 40). In fact, you’d have to go back to 2014, with Mr. Turner, which got 19 complaints, to be undercut as the ‘most complained about film with fewest complaints’.

This marks a shift in the paradigm in the British public’s cinemagoing habits, which is mirrored in the volume and breakdown of complaints. In 2016, there were 371 complaints covering 118 films. In 2017, there were 262 covering 136 films.

This shows that the letters and e-mails the BBFC are getting are now over a more widely-dispersed ranged of films, including movies getting as few as one or two e-mails (for example, I’m willing to bet I was probably the only one e-mailing them about Battle of the Sexes). In 2016, it was certain films that attracted chunks of attention, whereas in 2017, single films piqued people’s inquisitive film rating minds more.

To explain this phenomenon, I can offer only one explanation: in the past, The Daily Mail used to lead campaigns against certain films. This really came to a fore with The Dark Knight in 2008, which got the BBFC 364 e-mails (over 100 more than they got in total last year). However, in recent years, I think people have gotten more adept at thinking for themselves, rather than letting newspapers sway their thinking, so now, if they take the time to e-mail the BBFC it will be over a matter that crossed their mind, independent of newspapers with agendas.

That’s just my take on it. I’m not a psychologist so I could be talking out of my arse, but as my prediction blog attests to, I do know a thing or two about British film classification, so there may be a grain of truth to my theory!

As for whether Logan merited being the most complained about film, I’d say yeah. The BBFC explained away the 15 rating, despite the film having many brutal combat scenes, some involving children, by saying the fight scenes were ‘rapidly edited’. True as that may be, that doesn’t negate the considerable impact of seeing children getting beaten up and slashed.

But, like I said, I didn’t care enough to e-mail the BBFC about it, so the scant 20 complaints for the title is about right.

02. The rest of the 222 complaints were very spread out
Other films which the BBFC made a note of highlighting in their ‘Feedback from the Public’ section were, as I’d predicted, Kingsman 2 – The Golden Circle, Alien – Covenant, Whitewash in the Shell, and It

Titles that got substantial complaints that I hadn’t forecasted were Hindi-language film Padmaavat, Atomic Blonde, and Kong – Skull Island (none of which I've seen). But the number of gripes each individual title commanded was very modest, ranging from Padmaavat, with 10, and It, with 5.

For comparison, in 2016, the last film the BBFC flagged in the Letters from the Public section was Batman vs Superman – Dawn of Justice, with 10 complaints. That was the seventh most talked about film in 2016, and it got the same volume of e-mails as Padmaavat, the second most in 2017.

All of this corroborates my point about how now, a broader range of films will get fewer numbers of complaints, because cinema-goers are developing their own personalised tastes, and less susceptible to being swayed by the press.

Regarding Kingsman 2, I’d guessed that the complaints for that film would gravitate around the scene where Cara Delevingne’s sister gets fingered. The BBFC even knew that this was a contentious issue, as they delicately tiptoed around the topic when discussing the film:

03. My two favourite films of 2016 got a shout-out. Woohoo!
So, even though this was the Annual Report for 2017 (any film released in the UK between 1st January 2017 to 31st December 2017), because we get the ‘prestige pictures’ (read: Oscar bait) later than America, quite a lot of the films discussed in the report are actually 2016 releases going by American dates (which I do, in order to calibrate my ‘Best of Year’ lists with the American bloggers I idolise).

As such, Moonlight and The Handmaiden, my top two films of 2016 (read my reviews on why I adore them so here) were discussed, in the sections on 15 and 18-rated films, respectively.

In the 15 section, the BBFC discuss a range of films that are rated 15, using facets of films to illustrate where their guidelines are at for that age rating. So, for example, they use God’s Own Country and Big Little Lies as examples of the furtherest they’ll go in terms of depictions of sex at 15.

Moonlight, interestingly, was highlighted for its depiction of drug use. I say interestingly, because it’s rated 15 for strong language, sex, sex references and drug misuse, with the drugs flagged last. And I’d always thought (but not had it confirmed) that when a BBFC examiner writes the short insight for the film, they subconsciously flag the issues in the order of strength in that movie.

It’s a mark of how moving Moonlight was, that just reading the BBFC describe Paula, how she takes crack, and the long-term impact that has on her shy son, Chiron, brought me to tears.

The 18-rated Handmaiden, on the other hand, puts the ‘erotic’ in ‘erotic thriller’, and in the 18 section, the BBFC unsurprisingly used it as an example of the level of sex you’re allowed in an 18-rated film. Which is quite a lot.

(Not germane to film classification, but I love that the BBFC introduced Moonlight as 'the Oscar-winning drama'. Thank God it beat that La La Land ballacks!)

04. My Life as a Courgette required an advice viewing
My Life as a Courgette, which was one of the titles I suggested might get a few complaints in my prognostication blog, was rated PG for mild sex references and references to traumatic childhood experiences. It was rated PG-13 in the USA and 12A in Ireland, which already signposts that the BBFC have taken a more lax approach to rating this film.

The film was seen by an Advisory Panel, some of whom ‘considered some of the sex references to be more appropriate at 12A than PG.’ This is a tricky one to call, because the film is about a group of young children in a care home, and their perception of what sex is is rudimentary, at best.

In the film, the kids say stuff like ‘wriggling around’ and ‘willies exploding’ when discussing sex, and there’s also a scene where a woman walks up some stairs and a group of boys look up her dress. To classify this all as mild is a bit generous – especially as the BBFC have rated Japanese animes 12 for ‘moderate innuendo’ when they’ve literally misconstrued characters’ intentions. (And Your Name a 12A because a character gropes their own boobs, which I consider tamer than what is discussed in this film).

But in the BBFC’s defence, My Life as a Courgette is a wonderful, life-affirming film about the friendships that can be forged in a care home, and offers hope and redemption for kids who have had unspeakable tragedies inflicted upon them. So I can understand why they took a more lenient approach to rating this film.

05. Even the BBFC know that Paddington 2 being rated PG was a bit harsh
The first Paddington, when it came out, was rated PG for ‘dangerous behaviour, mild threat, innuendo, infrequent mild bad language’ and The Daily Mail were not happy at all. They regarded Paddington as an institution, an institution that should be rated U no matter what, and they unleashed one of their campaigns about it, accusing the BBFC of 'having it in' for Paddington Bear (ironically, it was in the opposite direction of their Dark Knight campaign, which they felt should have been rated higher).

Given the four things I’ve listed there, one could make a case for Paddington being rated PG or U, I’m unfussed, but I don’t begrudge the BBFC for slapping a PG certificate on it. The bear hiding from a villain in the fridge is the strongest case they can make for the PG (the 'dangerous behaviour' in question), because a young child watching may be tempted to ape his behaviour, and it may not end as well for them as it did for Paddington.

The sequel, however, had no swearing, no innuendo, and no hiding in fridges.

What it did have, was Paddington being trapped in a train carriage, which then falls into the sea, and he has to be rescued from drowning, and hence the film was rated PG for ‘mild threat’.

I thought the sequel was even more harmless than its predecessor, and this aforementioned scene of threat, whilst daunting for all of three seconds, was promptly resolved, and I really do think a U rating would have been more appropriate.

The BBFC will never admit they’re wrong, but even their explanation for the PG rating, ‘These scenes of threat are a little too intense for very young children’ were full of qualifiers. ‘A LITTLE too intense’ and ‘VERY young children’.

They know it was fine for a U.

06. Some films need to make like Antoine Griezmann’s celebratory dance, and TAKE THE PG
Antoine Griezmann’s goal celebration is inspired by the game Fortnite. He makes the L sign on his forehead and jumps from side to side. It’s what you do in the game when you’ve defeated your opponent in battle.

(You can tell I miss the World Cup, can’t you?)

Anyway, some films should make like that dance, and just TAKE THE GODDAMN PG. Ferdinand, an animated children’s film, which I hear, is a lovely, sweet movie about a young bull who doesn’t want to be a bullfighter, was hacked to pieces to obtain the U rating instead of the original PG.

The BBFC paragraph on Ferdinand reads, ‘The animation contained darker moments of threat, including a scene in which a bull escapes from an abattoir, and a scene which shows a face-off in the bull ring between Ferdinand and the champion matador. The BBFC advised that these moments needed to be toned down in order to achieve the desired U classification. Scenes of dangerous behaviour involving railway tracks which could be copied were also removed to achieve the U classification’.

Considering the whole film is about Ferdinand not wanting to be violent, eliding these scenes seriously damages the narrative. This is the exact feedback I’ve heard from people who’ve seen both versions of the film, and said the UK version was far inferior.

I know studios are keen to get as low a rating as possible, to maximise their profits, but most parents will take their kids to see a film, regardless of whether it’s a U or a PG. In order to get a U in the UK, Ferdinand’s story was compromised.

And that’s never a sacrifice worth making.

07. It’s not what you said, it’s the way that you said it
The c-word, as we know, can get a film or TV show that was otherwise cruising towards a 15, the 18 rating.

One of the two reasons Gone Girl is an 18 is the exchange between Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike where he calls his wife a ‘f_cking c_nt’ and she defiantly repeats it back to him. The c-word is only used four times there.

Every episode of GLOW season 1 was a 15, except the pilot, where the c-word was exchanged three times. The same is true of White Gold, where episode 4 is the only 18-rated episode of the show, due to six usages of the c-word in a 28 minute episode.

So the c-word is a bit of a bugbear for the BBFC, in a way that it isn’t so much of an issue in Ireland (where Gone Girl is a 15 on DVD). This we already knew.

Occasionally, though, a film will be passed 15, even if it has substantial usage of ‘c_nt’. Trespass against Us, with eight usages of the c-word yet still just a 15, is one such example. In justifying the 15 decision, the BBFC described the usages of the curse as ‘largely comic or even used affectionately in colloquial dialogue’.

So there you go. Make your c-words more jovial in delivery, and you’ll be more likely to get your 15!

08. mother!’s write-up in the BBFC Annual Report is more detailed than the actual BBFC extended information

I absolutely loathed Darren Aronofsky’s mother!. That man just oozes pretention (I also hated Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan), but when you couple his portentousness with Jennifer Lawrence’s terrible acting AND 18-rated imagery including baby cannibalism, then what you have is the recipe for the worst film of all-time.

Given how polarising and aversive the film was, the BBFC’s extended insight for mother!, rated 18 for 'strong violence' is unsatisfactorily brief: ‘Strong violence includes shootings and stabbings that result in bloody detail. A character is set upon by a crowd and beaten.’

Thanks for that, BBFC. Really tells me a lot.

The BBFC used mother! as an example of the level of violence that was permissible at 18 in their annual report, writing 'Strong violence includes shootings and stabbings that result in bloody detail, and a woman is set upon by a crowd and beaten in a scene which also includes very strong language. There is also a scene in which a baby is killed and eaten. These scenes required the adult classification.’

See how that’s much more complete? It mentions the disturbing baby scene (agggghh!), and also comments on the conflation of JLaw’s character getting beaten up, whilst being called a ‘c_nt’, which compounds to the visceral impact of the violence.

This is so much more informative than what’s given in the insight for the actual film! What gives, BBFC?

mother! was also mentioned in the report in the ‘Consultative Council’ section, meaning it wasn’t regarded as an open-and-shut 18, and some discourse was had over its potential suitability at 15. The argument that could be made for that, is that the violence in the film is infrequent, and kind of all happens in one go.

However, the Council shrewdly erred on the side of caution and branded it an 18, giving as reasons the tone and impact (a baby does get eaten, after all) of the violence surpassing what is permissible at 15.

There was some accidental, but delicious shade, in the Consultative Council bit: ‘violence was difficult to contextualise within the narrative and that the film had no obvious appeal or merit for younger teenagers’.

‘No appeal or merit for younger teenagers’. Take that, Darren Aronofsky! (How did this hack get Rachel Weisz, seriously…)

09. The BBFC deliberated long and hard about The Mummy’s 15 certificate

From mother! to a mummy! The Mummy was also deliberated upon by the Consultative Council. It had been rated PG-13 in the States, as most Tom Cruise money-making blockbusters are, and, it’s kind of an unwritten rule that Tom Cruise movies will get a 12A here (see: Mission Impossible, and Jack Reacher, even if a few snips had to be made to get the violence in line with 12A guidelines).

However, in the end, both the BBFC and Ireland gave The Mummy a 15, largely for a sequence where the Egyptian Princess eats her victims in a graveyard.

The IFCO's insight for The Mummy

This decision wasn’t unanimous, though, as some members of the council thought ‘the tone to be suitably light-hearted overall to make the film suitable at 12A.’

I can only assume by ‘light-hearted’ they are thinking of Russell Crowe’s accent in the film.

10. Plays on the f-word at U will get a short shrift from the BBFC
I rag on the BBFC a lot for being inconsistent, so it’s good to see they’ve toed the line with regards to plays on the f-word at U. By which I mean, it’s not allowed at all.

Last year, they told The Angry Birds’ Movie’s distributors that if they wanted the U-rating, they had to get rid of the lines ‘angry flocking birds’ and ‘pluck my life’, because the f-word, whilst unsaid, was clearly being hinted at in those films.

Even if young children didn’t get it, their parents certainly would, and it wouldn’t sit right with them at U.

Similarly, in last year’s terrible James Corden vehicle The Emoji Movie, there was an appearance of the ‘WTF’ emoji. The F stands for the f-word, and thus, the BBFC insisted that if that film wanted a U-rating, they had to remove the scene altogether.

See? They can be consistent!


Given I bashed this blog out in a matter of hours of the BBFC report being released, I think it's fair to say I'm quite nerdy when it comes to film ratings. Read more of my nerding out here!


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Louis said...

That Angry Birds one I disagree with, though. They're clearly trying to come up with alternative ways to use the F-word. But, I do understand it could seen as bad taste/off-coloured to some parents (the kind of humour you'd expect in a Jimmy Carr stand up, but way less decorous). I wonder what more off-coloured jokes has appeared in kids films. Any suggestions?

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