How Extreme Is "Too Extreme"?

So, welcome back!

This is only my second piece of blog work, and I know I’ve been extremely neglectful, but as I’m currently uregently looking for full-time work preferably involving cinema, film or DVD in some way, I’m afraid my attention has been diverted to surfing the Internet, for jobs, filing job applications, (which always seem to go unanswered or ignored), and actively trying to find someone, somewhere who will employ me for a reasonable wage (and I’m not asking much, here, folks) for a reasonable week’s work.

Well, today, I thought I would springboard from my first review, way back in January, and posit the question just how extreme is too extreme?

This has arisen, as I’ve just discovered that the film THE RULES OF ATTRACTION (2002, Roger Avery) has been slipped-out onto UK Blu-Ray, but in a new and unclassified uncensored version. (See here!) For those who are unaware, this controversial, black-comedy/drama was originally released uncensored here in UK cinemas, but all previous home-viewing versions have been cut or had alterations made to a scene in which a young woman commits suicide, whilst Harry Nilsson’s “Without You” plays out on the soundtrack.

The offending sequence, shows the woman drawing a razor-blade vertically up the inside of her left arm, as she lies in a bath, and we see blood flow from the wound. It’s not a lengthy scene, and nor is it overtly graphic, but the BBFC had a problem with the sequence and the soundtrack itself. As the blade slices into the woman’s flesh, the lyrics “I can’t live if living is without you / I can’t live, I can’t give any more / Can’t live if living is without you / I can’t give, I can’t give any more” can be heard. The stark juxtaposition of the offending sequence, the clearly-displayed technique, (which at the time, wasn’t really that well-known in the UK), and the music’s haunting lyrics proved uncomfortable and unpalatable to the BBFC. Worse-still, as the technique was instructive, it was felt that the scene could be potentially harmful to UK audiences. Hence, the alteration/editing of the scene.

Now, the Blu-Ray has been released, and UK fans can get to see the original, uncut and uncensored sequence, in all its beauty – and the scene is ethereal in its beauty – despite no resubmission details to the BBFC appearing on their website! Could this be a simple oversight? Has the film been reclassified as acceptable to al over-18’s in the UK, or is this a case of a film being released, under-the-counter?

The age of the film has diminished the “shock” factor of the scene, sufficiently to a 2011 audience, but there have been a lot of recent films that have been released that have really pushed the boundaries of extreme cinema. At the end of last year, we had SRPSKI FILM / A SERBIAN FILM (2010, Srdjan Spasojevich), hotly followed by another Serbian shocker ZIVOT I SMRT PORNO BANDE / LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG (2009, Mladen Djordjevic), which is a supposedly black comedy similar in lines to its predecessor, despite being made a year before. (Both films have been brough to UK audiences, at almost the same time.) Again, the content and themes of the film, are highly-likely to cause disconsent within the BBFC’s hallowed walls, as it deals with a young film-maker aiming to shoot his first-ever feature film, who becomes an unwitting friend/accomplice to a pornographic movie director, and they join together to film… Well, to film the unfilmmable, and take their work on tour around the country!

A socio-political movie, this sounds like the film that A SERBIAN FILM desperately wanted to be. I’ve not seen ZIVOT I SMRT PORNO BANDE myself, as no English-subtitled version is yet legally available, but I am eager to compare and contrast it with its cinematic brother.

But I digress… A SERBIAN FILM pushed boudaries beyond any that any cinemagoer could imagine. Scenes involving the anal rape of a minor; the rape of a newborn baby, fresh from its mother’s womb; eyeball socket penetrated by penis; necrophilic sex followed by decapitation – the list of offending moments are a catalogue of obscenities, strong enough to warrant disgusted faces of even some of the hardest of extreme-cinema fans! Banned around the world, the planned US DVD release from Invisible Pictures for February 2011, looks to have been a case of PR hokum, as we head nearer and nearer to the end of the month, with no other news released. In fact, the only official release, is the heavily cut UK one! Every other nation appears to have said “no” to a cinema release, in any form whatsoever.

Then, we’ve had the censored version of the remake of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (2010, Steven R. Monroe), which had about 43 seconds of seditious sexual violence and torture removed, to make it acceptable to UK audiences.

At what point do we draw the line? Should we draw a line at all? Is there anything that is, quite literally, unacceptable?

Cinema history has featured many taboo-busting films: SALO OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM, CALIGULA, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, MURDER SET PIECES, GROTESQUE, STRAW DOGS, CANNIBAL FEROX, ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS, and hundreds more. Each one, has usually been released uncut in the UK eventually, but if not, certainly in another English-speaking territory. Almost all of the most controversial titles, have generally dealt with violence, sexual violence or explicit scenes of gore. On occasion, the three offending items have been combined, which has caused the censors’ problems. In the USA, explicit sexual material is likely to be the problem. In the UK, it is going to be explicit violence or sexualised violence. For Australians, it’s going to be excessively bloody violence that provokes the Office of Film and Literature Classification (or OFLC), into censoring or banning your work.

A SERBIAN FILM breached all of these, though, with combinations of violence, sexualised violence, and explicit sex, that went beyond anything anyone ever imagined or considered possible.

Ultimately, there is no line that can be drawn. I have been personally involved in disputes on a few IMDB threads, regarding the content of A SERBIAN FILM, and these have been about the perception of the material. A few people have claimed this film isn’t that bad, or that the content is off-screen or only fleeting, because your imagination fills in the worst, and thus that is what you see! Yet, having watched this film three times now, I stand by my original thoughts and fears: there are times when a film can go too far, even if we know that no one is actually being harmed on-screen. I love my hardcore violence, but I still have limits of tolerance and acceptability; of what I would be comfortable viewing. I’m not sure I could stomach seeing an adult, brutalise a child, (or the child’s corpse), to a point where the corpse becomes a bloody mush, as similar to IRREVERSIBLE (2002, Gaspar Noe)! I’m not sure if I could tolerate, without watching through my hands, a scene involving the decimation of someone’s eye, with a scalpel! I struggle to tolerate Lucio Fulci’s “knife-up-her-joytrail” moment, in his THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982), because the thought of that actually happening to a woman in real-life is too repugnant for me to consider any man actively wanting to undertake this! I’m sure someone would, or could do it, but it breaches my own, individual threshold of taste and decency. As bizarre as that may indeed sound. 


I also hate pornography! It does nothing for me!

I don’t enjoy seeing male and female genitalia, at the moment of excitement, spurting forth bodily fluids over one another. Nor do I get any satisfaction from watching adults perform  numerous sexual proclivities, via every available orifice, and then some. I find it dull, unrelenting, and bland more than anything else. I enjoy erotica, where it’s more tease than tussle, and I have my own sexual preferences and acts, that I do enjoy, but they are very tame in comparison to most porn tapes. (It’s the kind of Playboy-style material.) I’m not even that big a fan of much of the adult content in “lad’s mags” like “Zoo”, and their ilk. The idea I should enjoy seeing a woman’s most intimate parts splayed out, like a gynaecological examination, for me to be aroused by, just makes my blood run cold. I certainly have no problem with secondary sexual objects, or genitalia, and seeing them under the right circumstances, or involving someone I loved and cared for, would be very different to the notion of the objectified woman shown in these kinds of publications.

Maybe I’m just a hypocrite?! How can I “enjoy” seeing men and women violate and be violated by one another in films, but not in pornography? It’s really down to the fact that pornography involves real men and real women, actually performing these acts! Actual orifices are penetrated by actual human organs and, in some cases, by non-human organs! At least in movies, nobody actually has this performed on them, as it’s all undertaken through fakery, tricks, illusion. An actor or actress never actively had to insert an object into them, that could cause real harm. It’s carefully and professionally simulated. In the porn industry, that most certainly is not the case! Try reading some of the descriptions of the DVD’s available abroad, from pornographer giants like Max Hardcore, (who is currently serving a four-year prison sentence over the content of some of his works), without feeling sick! In fact, I would urge my fans to read this article by journalist Susannah Breslin, for a shocking but superb account of Mr Hardcore’s antics)!

But in this age of computer technology, where any and every kind of perverse, violent or sexualised act can be found via the unrestrained remit of the Internet within seconds, it’s interesting to me, how many of us still get a kick out of illusion, via the cinema! There’s something special about 24 frames-per-second of tomfoolery skipping past my retinas, that excites my brain, and stimulates my soul, no matter how explicit or unrestrained it may appear to be!

Thus, maybe the line we have to draw is not an actual line at all. Or at least not one to do with specific acts, words or images. A check list that says A, B and C is allowed, but D, E and F are not. Maybe, the line is to do with simulation.

Yet celluloid simulation becomes ever more realistic, as time passes, and what is simulation, can be very, very convincing to the untrained eye. If a film like A SERBIAN FILM can cause moral outrage across the world, and that is 100% simulated, then maybe it’s more to do with our own perception of what is real or cinematically-real that is the root cause? If it appears to be too realistic, we ban or censor it. But how real is too real?!

Another question for another day.

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How Extreme Is "Too Extreme"?

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