If you’re eighteen, you can watch Shopping and Reservoir Dogs in the cinema, but not on video. Who decides what we are allowed to see in our own homes, asks Eddie Gibb.

fumbling boy—girl relationship that remains unconsummated. both on and off screen; a glimpse of the bloodied victims of a fatal car-crash. and a liberal. but fairly typical. helping of (expletives deleted) that’s about as strong as it gets in Shopping. a film whose cinema release was delayed for two months by the British Board of Film Classification and may never be given a video certificate at all.

It‘s 40 years since the board banned The Wild One. stating: ‘The behaviour of Brando and the two gangs to authority and adults generally is of the kind that provides a dangerous example to those wretched young people who take every opportunity to throw their weight about.’ Change the name of the lead actor and switch the action from motorcycles to high-powered saloon cars and the statement could refer to Shopping, which has the same basic anti- establishment/thrill-of—speed themes.

Shopping crashed straight into the post- Bulger hysteria about the corruption of minors by ‘video nasties”which had reached its peak. Liverpool MP David Alton tabled an amendment to the Video Recordings Act which. if passed, could have threatened the video release of every film without a PG certificate. Producer Jeremy Bolt is convinced that a film about joy-riding never stood a chance. ‘My understanding is that they thought kids who see the film will steal a car and drive it into Woolies,’ he says.

BBFC director James Ferman confirms that the board was particularly worried because the film was set in Britain. ‘Films that involve a fairly frank depictment of criminal behaviour are looked at closely,’ he says. ‘This was more of a concern because it was so close to home.’

The film was eventually given an 18 certificate and no cuts were demanded surely an indication that it was the overall message and not the content of particular scenes the board had a problem with. However, its future on video remains uncertain. with Shoppingjoining a growing list of predominantly youth- orientated, cult films. including Reservoir Dogs, True Romance and Beyond Bedlam, that have not been given certificates. Quentin Tarantino’s Palme D’Or-winning Pulp Fiction is almost certain tojoin the list if the safety-first attitude at the BBFC continues when the film

comes up for classification later this year.

The BBFC’s position is that these films have not been banned. merely delayed until the proposed amendment has been sorted out. Until then. however. it is taking an ultra-cautious line. The Home Office says the amendment will not change the way films are classifiedjust put the existing set of guidelines on a statutory footing. The board issued a statement in May supporting this line but clearly believes the amendment could change the way it classifies films for home viewing.

The draft amendment that will be debated by Parliament is a watered down version of Alton’s. though the wording still seems to assume some causal relationship between what people watch on screen and their actions. It requires the BBFC to ‘have special regard ( among the other relevant factors) to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers or. through their behaviour, to society. by the manner in which the work deals with criminal behaviour. illegal drugs. violent behaviour or incidents. horrific behaviour or incidents. or human sexual activity’.

If any kind of link between what we see on screen and what we do is assumed. then the BBFC may have to view films in a new light. Film writer Tom Dewe Mathews, whose book Censored: The Story of Film Censorship in Britain is published in July, believes the amendment is likely to lead to tighter restrictions on video releases. ‘More films will

Shopping joins the “delayed” list

be “delayed” we‘ve already seen that,’ he says. ‘In this atmosphere, anything controversial will he sat on.’

So far, the films piling up in the BBFC’s pending tray have benefited at the box office from the extra attention. while the BBFC’s role as guardian of public morality is under unaccustomed scrutiny. But censorship works best when it’s discreet, unnoticed. Bolt and other independent filmmakers are concerned that the industry will begin to censor itself: films that risk attracting the board’s special attention will simply not be made. Shopping was financed largely on the basis of its projected video sales and to some extent the cinema release is regarded as a marketing exercise to promote the film. The possibility of not getting a video certificate unbalances the whole financial equation and makes film funders very jumpy. Already Bolt is having difficulty securing commitment for his next project. a British horror film.

‘Until the situation is resolved and there are clearer guidelines which everyone in the film industry understands. it’s going to be a problem for every film.’ says Holt. ‘It affects your strategy, it affects how much money you put into the theatrical release and it makes the video distributors nervous. These things are bad for the British film business at a time when we’re being very successful intemationally.’

in the meantime, Shopping’s video release has run into a brick wall. so to speak.

Reservoir Dogs; the mix of blood, guns and humour ls thought too much tor suburban sensibilities

The List l7—3O June I994 11