Saturday, 11 September 2010

Censorship in Saturn-Pluto Times

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.

The above quote, attributed to 17th Century Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire, reminds us that freedom of speech and the attempt to suppress it – censorship - is an issue that spans back centuries, probably ever since humans first felt the urge to share their opinions and push the boundaries of their creative expression.

I was reminded that censorship is well and truly still with us when I attended FrightFest, a festival showcasing new fantasy and horror films, which takes place every August at the Empire Leicester Square in central London.

FrightFest is in its 11th year and the 2010 edition was the first time that official bodies have ever queried any of the titles in the festival’s line up. Two films were affected, the remade I Spit On Your Grave and the controversial A Serbian Film. Both were due to be shown as unedited, unrated versions, the norm for this type of film festival. However, Westminster Council, under whose jurisdiction the Empire Leicester Square falls, queried the content of both movies and stipulated that they be rated and passed by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) before they would allow them to be shown.

Echoing this censorship theme was the airing at FrightFest of new documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape, which looks at the UK government and media reaction to the widespread, unregulated distribution of so-called ‘video nasty’ movies in the early 1980’s.

The censorship debate at this year’s festival seems very fitting, astrologically speaking, when you consider that the final exact alignment of the current Saturn-Pluto squares that begun in late 2009, occurred just four days before the start of the event.

Saturn and Pluto are two of the most heavy-hitting of the planets in astrology and when they line up in an angular relationship (such as a conjunction, square or opposition), it is reflected in the collective as restriction, control, oppression, conservative reaction and censorship. Restraints tend to be placed on collective freedoms by authority figures, their rationale often being that they are doing it ‘for our own good’. Collectively, we are made very aware of moral boundaries and taboos, but we are also asked to find the moral courage to face our darkest fears. This is because during Saturn-Pluto times, metaphorically speaking, we are visited by the devil, come to take us to hell and back, stealing our innocence along the way.

Following screenings at other major film festivals around the world,  A Serbian Film, was due to get its first public UK screening at FrightFest. Undoubtedly, the movie deals with ‘taboo’ subjects, containing graphic depictions of pedophilia, rape, necrophilia and incest.

When Westminster Council, which in this context can be seen as a Saturnian authority figure, queried this movie, FrightFest’s organisers duly submitted the film to the BBFC, who asked for 49 cuts, amounting to 3 minutes and 49 seconds of content. This occurred just a couple of days before the festival was due to start and festival organiser Alan Jones made the decision not to show the movie, telling the FrightFest audience, “I am not going to stand here and tell you that you are going to watch a heavily censored version of a film.” He added that the film had already been shown at many other film festivals around the world without a problem, although he acknowledged that the film was challenging and would be disturbing to some. In a media release Jones explained “Film4 FrightFest has decided not to show A Serbian Film in a heavily cut version because, as a festival with a global integrity, we think a film of this nature should be shown in its entirety as per the director’s intention," [1]

According to director Srđan Spasojević, the movie “is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government... It's about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotize you to do things you don’t want to do.” [2] I cannot comment on the movie, as I did not view it, but you can read a plot synopsis on Wikipedia [2], but be warned, it makes for disturbing reading.

The reviews offer a flavour of how the film has been received and undeniably describe a Plutonic experience, with one review by Tim Anderson of Bloody Disgusting likening watching the film to having one’s “soul raped”. He goes on to say, "if what I have written here is enough to turn your feelings of wonder into a burning desire to watch this monstrosity, then perhaps I haven't been clear enough. You don't want to see Serbian Film. You just think you do." [3]

Another reviewer, Scott Weinburg says, “[the] film seems aggressively intent on delivering some moments that, indeed, you will never forget, even if you want to…I believe it's one of the most legitimately fascinating films I've ever seen. I admire and detest it at the same time. And I will never watch it again. Ever." [4]

Furthermore, user reviews on at imdb.com say that this movie is extreme, disturbing and hellish, exploring dark themes of evil, power and control. Most agree that watching this film is an experience you will never forget and urge prospective viewers to approach it with extreme caution. Reading these reviews makes it sound like watching the movie is akin to experiencing a condensed Saturn-Pluto transit, to the power of 1,000! [5]

Interestingly, the film chosen to replace A Serbian Film was Buried [6], a tense, claustrophobic piece, limited to just one point of view throughout, that of a man buried under the ground, confined in a wooden box. It seemed there was no escaping those Saturn-Pluto themes!

Echoing the censorship debate over A Serbian Film, the festival had already lined up a premiere of a documentary about historical censorship, Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape, [7] [8] which looks in-depth at the “Video Nasty” phenomenon of the early 80’s, a time when video was relatively new and totally unregulated. This left the field wide open for small film makers and distributors to find a brand new market for their movies. Not surprisingly, many of these films were low budget, violent horror movies designed to shock and so the “Video Nasty” was born. The public outcry in the UK was fuelled by pro-censorship lobbyists and widespread media campaigns, which feared that these films would deprave and corrupt the minds and morals of children and young adults. This eventually led to the government pushing through the Video Recordings Act 1984 which imposed a stricter code of censorship on videos than was required for cinema release. The Act also birthed the BBFC.

The push for censorship of these films began in earnest in 1982, its timing bang on for the exact alignment of the early 80’s Saturn-Pluto conjunction, which marked the beginning of the current Saturn-Pluto cycle. The timing of the Video Recording Act in ’84, synchs with the end days of the influence of that same conjunction.

The timing of this new documentary represents perfect closure for that particular slice of historical censorship, coming as it does at the tail end of the last major Saturn-Pluto alignment of the current cycle.

Ironically, but not surprisingly, the Director of Public Prosecution’s list of designated ‘Video Nasties’ soon became the list of must-see movies for teenagers all over the land! One of the films on the ‘Nasties’ list was I Spit On Your Grave, a film that remains controversial to this day due to its depiction of gang rape, followed by graphic depictions of violent revenge subsequently taken by the rape victim on her attackers.

An unrated version of a remade I Spit On Your Grave, [9] its European premiere, was scheduled to be shown at this year’s FrightFest, but like A Serbian Film, Westminster Council, expressed concern over the movie’s sexually violent content and insisted that the festival organisers have the film passed by the BBFC before they would allow it to be screened. The BBFC found that a total of 17 cuts (amounting to 43 seconds), needed to be made, in order for it be classified as an 18 certificate (roughly equivalent to the US ‘R’ rating) and shown at FrightFest. [10] In this case, the festival organisers made the decision to show the cut film, stressing that the cuts made, which were all to the rape scenes in the first half of the movie and not to the gory revenge scenes that followed, did not compromise the film’s artistic integrity.

Again, it’s interesting to note that a movie that came to notoriety at the start of the current Saturn-Pluto cycle has been remade for a new generation of horror fans during the last square, the final quarter, of the same cycle.

The film was on the whole well received by festival goers. I for one thought that is was very well done and while the rape scenes were very dark and difficult to watch, I took grim pleasure in seeing the rapists get their bloody comeuppance. It will be interesting to see the reaction it gets when it goes on general release

The chart for FrightFest 2010 [11] is telling, because the Saturn-Pluto square is very prominent, with Pluto, here representing horror, on the Ascendant and Saturn, representing the boundaries set by official bodies and authority figures, in the dark house of sex and taboo, the eighth. Saturn and Pluto also connect in hard aspect to Jupiter and Uranus, symbolising the unexpected shocks and surprises at this year’s festival, events which in retrospect, may seem a little exaggerated.

Communication planet Mercury is Retrograde in Virgo and also in the 8th, another indicator that the festival’s schedule would need to be reviewed and re-jigged. Certainly, the event was dogged with a few Mercury Retrograde-esque technical issues at the start.

Meanwhile, Neptune, the planet which symbolises movies and represents illusions and fantasies, opposes the Sun, also in the 8th, reminding us that for all the fuss, these films are merely works of fiction, no matter how challenging their themes and their images might be.

Or to put it another way, “to avoid fainting, keep repeating "It's only a movie...It's only a movie..." [12]

Notes and References

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/aug/27/a-serbian-film-frightfest
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Serbian_Film
[3] http://www.bloody-disgusting.com/film/4501/review
[4] http://www.fearnet.com/news/reviews/b18477_sxsw_2010_review_serbian_film.html
[6] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1462758/
[7] Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape is released on DVD in the UK on October 11th: http://www.play.com/DVD/DVD/4-/15903775/Video-Nasties-The-Definitive-Guide/Product.html
[8] You can see a clip of the Q&A/debate that followed the screening of Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape at FrightFest, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1P2T-nuGTts  
[9] For more on I Spit on your Grave see http://www.ispitonyourgravemovie.com/  The film is due for general release this fall. At the time of writing, it is intended that the movie shown in its uncut version in the US.
[10] You can read the BBFC’s ruling on A Serbian Film and I Spit on your Grave http://www.bbfc.co.uk/press/newsreleases/bbfc-cuts-a-sernian-film-and-remake-of-i-spit-on-your-grave 
[11] Chart set for 26 August 2010, 5pm, London. The time used is the advertised start time of the first day of the festival.
[12]Tagline for banned “Video Nasty” The Last House on the Left, the first film by noted horror director Wes Craven http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_House_on_the_Left_(1972_film)
For more on the censorship issues at FrightFest see: FrightFest: return of the censor? http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/newsandviews/festivals/frightfest-2010-nasties.php
For more on the current Saturn-Pluto cycle see: http://mandilockley.blogspot.com/2009/11/saturn-pluto-part-3-politics-economics.html

http://www.mandilockley.com/

2 comments:

  1. This is fascinating and very well explicated. I must admit I'm not a fan of horror films. Maybe it's the natal Mars/Pluto opposition, but real life seems scary enough, from my perspective. That said, the genre is so dramatic and this particular festival so clearly well-timed that it is a perfect example of how these energies play out in society. Thank you for this. Really fantastic.

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  2. Thanks Asha, it's an interesting topic...particularly the issue around A Serbian Flim. I really wasn't sure whether I would watch it if they showed it, but as an adult was peeved that my choice was taken away from me. I'm currently researching some other instances of censorship for a longer article, so watch this space. Mandi

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