Micheal Winterbottom, Pistolwhipping and the BBFC: Sex and Violence in Movies
On a very brief side note, this is a moderatley wordy and fact-heavy bitchfest from a dedicated horror film fan, so back off now if you were only ever here for the puns about boobs.
When we started out trying to entertain ourselves with plays and what have you, sex was pretty much off the table. Well, you know, we could deal with hearing about it and could just about stomach a few raunchy puns (take the grand dame of all innuendos from the dour classic Hamlet, “Did you think I meant count-ry matters?”) , but generally violence was a lot more accepted than sex was. Take Titus Andronicus, one of Shakespeare’s most wildly excessive plays, which features on-stage cannibalism, triple murder, and various other acts of mutilation and violence. It decided that the rape scene would have to happen off-stage. Similarly, right back from the plays of the fifteenth and sixteenth century, exceptionally violent dramas were astoundingly popular, essentially creating the outline for rape-and-revenge movies in decades to come (if I can’t manufacture a link between Titus Andronicus and I Spit on Your Grave, I don’t know what to believe). But what I’m trying to stress here is that the violence was not only accepted, but actively sought out; sex was still kept to the odd nod-and-a-wink for decades to come.
This remained the case for many, many years- if you look at a list of movies banned worldwide in the first half of the twentieth century, a big chunk of them were disallowed due to sexual content- from the now-classic Brief Encounter to The Big Sleep– a trend which completely turned around post-1970 or so. Most films being banned were done so because of violent content-Cannibal Holocaust was banned pretty much everywhere, while other films like The Evil Dead, Resevoir Dogs and The Human Centipede faced sporadic bans acorss various nations due to “extreme violence”. Now, I’m not here to dictate what violence is and isn’t acceptable in whatever movie, but it seems, from this data alone, that violence has replaced sex in entertainment as the social nightmare of choice.
This could be put down to a whole heap of things. For example, the rise in internet pornography means that some 70% of men and 31% of women watch regular, unsimulated sex on the internet or wherever else you might get it (but then, where else would you get it?). Logically, this means that at least that number of people will be walking into a movie theatre with a pretty solid idea of what goes on behind the cheesecloth, not even touching upon those lucky few (excuse the pun) who actually do it themselves. There is also some argument that sex is more natural; that sex has a place in most people’s day-to-day lives whereas a pistol-whipping does not. Surely, then, that’s an argument for not having sex in movies- unless something particularly hilarious and plot-worthy happens during the actual rumpy-pumpy, we don’t need to see anything more than an implication. I, personally, have no idea what it looks like when someone gets shot in the back of the head, so logically that should be visually explained to me. Sex, though? I get the gist. Violence in movies, however, has constantly come under fire with a huge number of horrors films and various violent movies being linked with real-life crimes and murders. Enjoying violent movies is somewhat maligned in polite company, as it’s seen as the domain of psychos with stuffed bird collections and a suspicious number of hand-held wood carving instruments.
But why? Sex in movies hasn’t become less excessive-quite the contrary. Take the Michael Winterbottom sneering snoozefest 9 Songs as an example; showcased at Cannes, it features full-on unsimulated vaginal, oral and manual sex (y’know, screwing, blowjobs and handjobs), and received an 18 certificate, uncut, from the BBFC in 2004. And it’s a fucking terrible movie; there is something incredibly banal about sex presented, not for titillation, but simply as two marginally attractive people going at it for a few minutes onscreen. The story was completely uncompelling, and the modern-love-story angle virtually suicidal. Now, The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence )is an equally terrible film, using explicit, horrible violence in a banal and tacked-on plot. If I had to find some logical match for explicitness of sex and explicitness of violence 9 Songs and The Human Centipede 2 would probably be it. But Human Centipede was, as I’m sure you all know, banned in Britain before being released under an 18 certificate, after over 30 cuts were made to the original footage. It’s interesting to note the big furore in Britain over the “video nasties” trend of the 1970s and 80s, leading to the introduction of the Video Recordings Act 1984, which allowed the Government to actively outlaw certain blacklisted extreme slasher films (these included Mario Bava classic Twitch of the Death Nerve). The only other type of entertainment specifically banned from distribution in the UK? Hardcore pornography.
Well, with my rant over, I’m going off to watch some Saw movies then, obivously, kill everyone I know in increasingly ingenious and outlandish fashions. You can stick your 9 Songs and your Human Centipede; if a film is a good film, then it doesn’t matter how violent or awful it may seem. It’s still going to be a worthwhile bit of entertainment.