Totally explicit

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Uncensored films are on the agenda when students visit the British Board of Film Classification, reports Jerome Monahan

British Board of Film Classification, 3 Soho Square, London W1D 3HS Tel: 020 7440 1570 Email:

A visit to the British Board of Film Classification in London's Soho Square gives sixth-formers two hours of violence, bad language and extreme reality. Then, to round it off, the session ends with a dose of the Teletubbies. It's not surprising that students come out seeing the necessity of censorship. The BBFC's monthly seminar sessions are available to groups of up to 20 and are ideally suited to sixth-formers, though content can be adapted for younger pupils.

Last month, a group of Btec media students from North Tyneside were treated by BBFC examiner Paul Navarro to a two-hour exploration of the history of UK film regulation and a survey of the kinds of censorship decisions he and his colleagues are called upon to make.

Today, the BBFC applies its powers to require cuts mainly to the new domestic technologies that have emerged in the past 30 years such as video and DVD. The quick history of the BBFC's origins (the C in BBFC originally stood for Censorship) and development gave an insight into how what is considered shocking has changed.

It began with the banning of Eisenstein's 1925 masterpiece Battleship Potemkin on political grounds then considered arguments about video nasties of the 1980s and went on to questions of whether depicted violence can be related to real crimes such as the killing of Jamie Bulger.

It was in this section that the students were invited to consider the wording of the BBFC's regulations. There was discussion of when a drug reference might be deemed "innocuous" and so preserve a film's PG status.

Also highlighted was exploitation by filmmakers of the "one fuck" rule whereby the insertion of a single use of this expletive will earn a movie the more adult rating ensuring it remains cool with teenage audiences.

A glance at the regulations regarding R18 films raised questions about some of the terminology involved - urolagnia (a fetish for urine; those who like to wee in public, watch people doing it or be weed on) in particular - proved beyond the ken of many there. It was possibly the first example of the BBFC's regulations themselves corrupting the innocent.

The second phase of the session involved altogether sterner stuff. The clips selected were shown uncensored in every instance and the audience asked to adjudicate as to whether or not cuts were required. Paul Navarro then explained the actual decisions taken.

Some sequences made particularly grim viewing. A highly stylised torture scene from the film Ichi the Killer elicited laughter from some.

Alternatively, all were united in condemnation of the new generation of extreme reality content videos. These included Steve-O performing hideously dangerous stunts with fireworks or the bum fight genre in which real homeless people are shown being set upon and then discussed in a horrible pastiche of crocodile-hunter Steve Irwin's exploits.

Kim Gallagher (aged 18) was not alone in feeling the session had made the case for censorship and proved that the decisions made were far from arbitrary. Meanwhile, Mark Lewins (17) was convinced he would like to be an examiner, until he realised how much time Paul Navarro is called upon to devote to evaluating Tellytubbies videos and the like - "I'm not sure I could cope with that for long," he said.

Sessions run from 11am-1pm. For seminar dates see the BBFC's education pages on their website Sessions are free but bookings are secured only on receipt of a holding cheque of pound;10 per person, or pound;50 per group booking for 10 or more places

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