Scare Tactics

Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist appears to be stoking one hell (sorry) of a row. It was the subject of controversy at it’s Cannes screening, and now has a reputation to defend as a hardcore slice of nastiness.

If Von Trier was hoping for the sort of press that helped Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible to acclaim, he’ll be disappointed. The critical response to his psychological horror about the descent into madness of a couple following the death of their child has been at best muted, at worst out and out hostile.

Masochistic readers of the Daily Mail film column were treated to a frankly surreal tirade from Christoper Hart in which he reviewed the film without actually having seen it. Fair point, I suppose. I don’t read the Daily Mail, but that doesn’t stop me from ripping the piss out of it. 

A common reaction to Antichrist, and one which I’m seeing used more often from critics that clearly have no better commentary, is to call this kind of horror “boring”. Not the words that look good on a poster.

However, now self appointed media watchdog Mediawatch and Tory backbencher Julian Brazier have waded in, calling for the abolition of the BBFC. Their argument:

“Films of this sort, with such extreme content, should not be classified for public exhibition anywhere. The BBFC should have declined classification and rejected this film.”

“When people are being entertained by mutilation, that is beyond the pale.”

Better yet, Mr. Brazier has said:

“From the accounts I have heard of Antichrist, this does seem to be one more example of how the BBFC has given up on trying to regulate material which the majority of the public feel is offensive.”

Pretty typical cant from a loudmouth who hasn’t seen the piece in question, but fancies a few column inches.

But actually, as the clever chaps at MediaWatchWatch point out, advice rather than regulation is a good thing. The BBFC have been guilty of some downright bizarre spates of nannying over the years (take the debacle over cuts to The Sasha Baron-Cohen homomentary Brüno which has led to two different versions of the film being available at the cinema) but in general they seem to be showing a bit more restraint than one would fear. An advisory role would seem to make sense for a body that is, after all, the British Board of Film Classification, not censorship.

The reaction to all this that most closely mirrors my own comes, appropriately enough, from a fellow film-maker. Michael Booth of Pleased Sheep Film heaps approbation on both Brazier and John Beyer of Mediawatch, calling, in a priceless display of righteous fury, for the abolition of Mediawatch. I recommend the whole post on his forum, but couldn’t resist this quote:

I propose we ban Mediawatch and censor their ridiculous outbursts as one day someone may read one of their quotes and is patronized to the point of a machete/gun spree killing. Trust me on this, as there’s just as much foundation to this as any of Mediawatch’s petitions, protests or claims. Lives could possibly be lost or corrupted by Mediawatch’s very existence. When I read the quotes by John Beyer, I myself a mild mannered person punched a cushion in anger. I hate to think what would have happened if another person had been in the room – or I was a more violent man. It could quite easily have been someone’s smiling face, a child or a pensioner. It could have been catastrophic.

I also propose we seek out and remove politicians that try to exploit the subject of fictionalized violence instead of tackling the real crime that happens on our streets. And in some cases using fiction as a scapegoat for real crime. And all to win many misguided votes to keep them in a very large wage courtesy of you and I the taxpayer – who will have our right to decide for ourselves removed.

I’m siding with him. I, like Mike, believe that if you are expected to act like an adult then you should also be expected to be treated like an adult. Adult films are exactly that, made for an audience that should be able to make up their own minds about what is distasteful.

Let’s not forget too that Mediawatch are vocal but pretty much powerless. They have as much chance of getting Antichrist taken off the screens as I do. By their own logic, if they can’t fulfill their duty, then they should be dissolved. Michael’s right to be angry, but I don’t think he has anything to worry about.

It’s interesting to note the intersection between this film and bête noire of this site, section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. Let’s remind ourselves of what constitutes an offence under this law, shall we?

(7) An image falls within this subsection if it portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, any of the following—

(a) an act which threatens a person’s life,

(b) an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals,

(c) an act which involves sexual interference with a human corpse, or

(d) a person performing an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive).

I hope I’m not spoiling your enjoyment of the film, or indeed your dinner, if I mention that Antichrist is chockful of subsection (b). Which would make the film illegal, were it not for it’s 18 certificate, quite literally a get out of jail free card. Proof, once again after the dropping of a test case attempting to apply the Obscene Publications Act to writing hosted purely on the internet, that legislation attempting to foist value judgements onto a legal framework seems to be unworkable.

Let’s not get too complacent, though. This little storm in a teacup took place in the week when the first trial attempting to convict under the Act is taking place in Belfast. Publicity there is pretty much absent.

Which, I guess this is really all about. Reports of the furore Antichrist created at Cannes have been somewhat exaggerated, as Michael pointed out. Four people walked out of the screening. Four. That’s hardly a damning indictment. Combined with the poor reviews, the noise is all starting to feel like a tactic to gather some heat under a director whose reputation has been tepid for a while.

It also shows is how in this country our relationship to censorship and freedom of speech could not be more conflicted if they dressed up in armour and whacked each other around the helms with axes. The only winner in this battle would appear to be Lars Von Trier.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

2 thoughts on “Scare Tactics”

  1. Thanks for the name check Rob 🙂

    Though I think you are underestimating the likes of John Beyer and Mediawatch, not quite the full shilling though they are. To be perfectly honest, compared to Mary Whitehouse, John Beyer was benign. It only takes another MW to take over his role and we’d have another ridiculous witchhunt on our hands. That and of course some tragic event for the politicians to swarm around like flies. The fundamentalists and the politicians do seem to feed of each other to get their way.

    The Mist is the perfect example of how a section of society are easily led under certain circumstances and religion, and Mary Whitehouse demonstrated this years before Stephen King did.

  2. Fair point, Michael, and I’m certainly not considering a complacent attitute towards this bunch of prigs.

    But let’s bear in mind that Mary Whitehouse was as much a figure of fun as she was a campaigner, and to be honest she had as much real influence as John Beyer and his ilk have now. And the “Ban This Sick Filth” brigade have been around for a while with no real effect. Let’s face it, if they had any real power, Antichrist would not have been given any kind of release.

    Loved the reference to “The Mist”, but it’s a bit disingenuous. Religious fundamentalists in this country simply don’t have the kind of lobbying power that they do in the States. For which we should all be very grateful, I reckon…

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