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Monday, 5 March 2012

If I Ran the BBFC....

So it turns out the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) do, contrary to my understanding, take themes and tone into account when passing movies at a particular audience age certificate.  Please feel free to take a peek for yourself, should you feel so inclined, at  The point being that to pass a film at a certain age category, the film must actually adhere to guidelines with regard to that particular certificate in as far as its theme and tone, as well as its visual content.  So as you will see, clearly abusive, course language used regularly in a film involving race relations, which depicts lessons learned and takes a clear stance against racist abuse, such as This Is England, may be passed as a 15; this is as long as any other content does not restrict the film to a higher rating.  If a film with the same content and abusive courseness is depicted without such a stance against it, it is more likely to be restricted to the 18 certificate.  These more specific guides are in place for many topics, such as sexual content, drugs and violence, but also the tone as well.  In other words, if a work's overall tone is considered to be out of line with a particular certificate, it may be restricted higher, despite the fact that no actual content of the film is out of line with the guidelines.  Make sense?  If not, an example might be a children's horror; the film contains little strong language, no drugs or tough violence, and in this respect may seem suitable for a young audience, but the film's tendency to linger too much on the more frightening elements may still cause the BBFC to request cuts to ensure the less restrictive certificate be passed.

Why do I bring this up?  Well when I look back at the films I have seen over recent years, as much as I appreciate what the BBFC do, and fully support all efforts to ensure the correct audience are allowed to see certain work, two things concern me.  The first of these is the British certificates themselves.  I think we have it all wrong.  Let me break it down and explain my qualms:

U - Okay, I think we're looking good on this one, right?  It makes sense and is pretty unarguable.  If there is no content that would upset anyone in any way, it's a U.

My solution: Keep this.

PG - What does it mean?  Yeh I know 'Parental Guidance', but look at the guideline to it.  Effectively it is saying everyone can see the film, but your child might be upset by some things if they are "sensitive".  Sensitive to what?  Basically if it's a PG, you should (not must, just should) accompany your child or check the film first, but many parents won't bother with this nowadays; it leaves a nice crack for many kids to get to see something they should possibly not, because cinema staff can't really enforce anything.

My solution: Introduce the PG-13.  In other words, if you appear to be younger than thirteen you MUST be accompanied by an adult, or you do not get a ticket.  And when the film comes out to buy?  Same thing applies, ID for those who may not yet be a teenager.

12A - This applies only to cinema releases, and is just saying that if your child is under 12, you take responsibility as the accompanying adult for their exposure to the movie.  Essentially, we're not going to tell you why exactly, but your child might not be ready for this; take them at your own risk??  Stupid.  Nobody reads that notice about it being the adults' responsibility, and then we get people complaining when they think their child will have nightmares, or has seen content they did not expect to be in a 12A.  It's an ambiguous certificate that simply allows a lot of films to be used as a babysitting service.  It is also the certificate where I think errors can be most easily made, and this is where the aforementioned tone and themes issue comes into play.  Too often the studio will push for it, and it seems the BBFC buckle, awarding it because there really isn't any real reason not to.  Except I think there is a reason not to.  Too common were the stories of the upset parent because they weren't expecting The Dark Knight to be quite so intense, Indiana Jones with its supposed glorification of knives, and many others.  Have you seen The Woman In Black?  What parent would take their child to see that film?  There surely comes a point where, as is stated on the BBFC site, tone and theme come into play?  More and more film certifications, to my way of thinking, seem to be betraying that.

12 - If you're under twelve, you can't see the film.  This makes a whole lot more sense; it is nice and clear, alhough 12 itself is, I feel, an odd age to set it at.  Thing is, it only applies to video releases; in other words after it leaves the cinema, where too many people under twelve got to see it with their lazy parents when it was a 12A!  For fuck's sake.

My solution:  Scrap all this 12 nonsense, it's a weird age to have it set at; they're not even a teenager yet, and it will cut down on the babysitting stuff.  The PG-13 deals nicely with those films that straddle the awkward line between "suitable for all" and "just a little too grown up for a young child", and for the next step up, we have the 13.  It's fairly simple, if you are under 13, you can't see it because of the darker, sexier or violent ideas it contains that we know your parents don't want you to be exposed to just yet.  What about the 11 and 12 year olds who aren't satisfied with having to see some films with their parents and want something a bit more grown up?  Wait a year!  Many of us had to, and it didn't do us any harm.  When it is released to buy, keep the certificate it had at the cinema; the rule doesn't change, you still have to be 13 or older to buy it!

15 - What's with this magical age of 15 in this country?  It's such an odd choice to make this point in the young person's development the one where they are suddenly okay to see significantly more scary, violent, drug-oreintated and sexual material.  The last point in particular confuses me; in this country you have to be 16 to be sexually active legally anyway.

My solution: Scrap 15, make it 16 with the same strict rules.

18 - Makes total sense.

Finally, re-introduce the X idea, strictly adults only.  We should still be able to go to the cinema and see strictly adult content, when something is simply too extreme, even for the 18.  With the X, you must be 21 to view or purhcase the movie. 

The second thing that bugs me is the general lack of enforcement.   Too often you can see clearly underage people, without guardian (you can usually spot them because they are on their phone).  Cinema staff are the last, and often only barrier between the audience and a film featuring content and themes not intended for them.  This is a shame, because it is quite an indictment on so many irrespondible parents who simply don't bother with the upbringing of their spawn, but it makes it all the more important for staff to be vigilant.  I'm sure there are plenty trying to adhere to the law, but it frustrates me that the regulation on it is not tougher.  I am sure there are penalties for the cinema and its staff for not idenitifying younger audience members, but it is important we see it actively in place.  When I go to a store and see a child denied the purchase of a 15, only to then see his mum get it for him successfully, I have to wonder what is going on?  Putting money over responsibility and the law that protects young people is no excuse.

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