Film, being a very powerful medium, often raises strong issues about the possible effects movies may have on an audience.
What the BBFC and the public worry most about in a film is the content of bad language, sex and most important in Britain, screen violence. It is the latter which often causes the most uproar in Britain, as media inspired moral panics often cause film directors to be made the scapegoats for society's violence. However, many of the films slated by film critics for being to violent have now become some of Britain's biggest cult classics, such as 'Pulp Fiction' and 'A Clockwork Orange'.Released in '72, 'A Clockwork Orange' caused lots of controversy among the general public.
It was feared and reported that the film could have, and had caused a number of copycat crimes. However, the BBFC released the film uncut, despite a number of issues being raised about the content of the violence and the way in which it was portrayed. What shocked some critics, was the trivialisation of the violence in the film. Many people deemed the comical sequences in the film, such as the killing of the cat lady with the huge plaster phallus, as making the violence trivial and at the same time funny.It was also this comedy that sparked huge criticism about Tarantino's 1996 film 'Pulp Fiction'.
Throughout the film the audience is provoked by the director to laugh at situations, which in real life would have no amusement what so ever, for example the shooting of Marvin makes for great comedy, but if shown on the news in real life it would be considered terrible. Not only was 'Pulp Fiction' accused of trivialising violence, it was also accused of glamorising the violence, which led to Greg Philo of the GUMG conducting a study.He interviewed 12 year olds who had seen 'Pulp Fiction' and concluded that the children saw the victims as being weaklings and that they didn't feel sorry for any of them. He also found that the children saw the violent characters, such as Vince and Jules, as being cool. The reason why the audience may have perceived these characters as being 'cool' may be because they were played by such big Hollywood names, such as Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel and Uma Thurman.
We especially associate John Travolta with playing 'cool' characters because two of his most famous roles were playing popular, cool teenagers in 'Grease' and 'Saturday Night Fever'. In 'A Clockwork Orange' what people found the most disturbing about the film was not that the characters were perceived as 'cool' but the fact that the audience was encouraged to sympathise and empathise with an amoral thug. For example, throughout the narration of the film Alex greets us as his friends and his brothers, and speaks in a seductive, likeable tone, which encourages the audience to identify with him and to like him as a character.Some critics felt that this was wrong to encourage people to feel this way. Were 'Pulp Fiction' was accused of glamorising violence, 'A Clockwork Orange' was accused of making violence appear aesthetic. The scene in which Alex cuts Dim's hand illustrates this.
Kubrick uses slow motion and classical music to construct the scene. It could be said that the scene shows some resemblance to a ballet. Kubrick also sets the rape scene to Alex singing 'singing in the rain'- 'a song celebrating the optimism and bliss of life'.This scene is by far the hardest hitting in the film, however this scene raised another strong issue- why are we not invited to identify with the victims in this scene, only to identify with the perpetrators? Although there is one point of view shot in that sequence were the audience is made to feel in the victim's place and that is the point of view of Mr. Alexander. The final sequence in the film is of Alex raping a woman in the snow, whilst Victorian onlookers applaud and at the end Alex declares himself cured.
The ending does appear to have made evil triumphant. The idea that Alex has become some sort of celebrity and hero because of the treatment he had shows some success for Alex. Also the minister bribing him with a good status and job gives the impression that Alex is being rewarded. All these issues were raised as negative criticisms, but the film does seem to have a hidden argument.
This being that if we live in a democracy who has the right to strip someone of there free will. This is exactly what is done in the film when Alex is conditioned.Is it people's right to take away someone's choice to do things and if it isn't does that mean it's our right to dictate to people and to control them to our satisfaction? The film forces the 'audience to make an uncomfortable moral choice between the virtue of free will with all its perversions and the appeal of social control with its tendency toward totalitarianism'. An issue which is not raised in 'A Clockwork Orange' but is raised in 'Pulp Fiction' is the way in which drug use it portrayed. One of the scenes that caused problems with the BBFC was the one of Vincent injecting himself with heroin.The BBFC and critics accused the scene of being too much like a T.
V. advert, promoting heroin. The camera shows close ups of the heroin being weighed and bagged, then lingers on a close up of the case with Vincent's needle in. The camera lingers on the entire close ups and everything is done in a slow, relaxed movement. The music in the background adds style to the shots even more, as the music does throughout the film, and also adds more relaxation to the sequence. The procedure shown could be seen as ritualistic.
It was in this sequence that Ferman asked for the re-frame.Originally it showed the needle piercing the skin, but in the re-framed version you can only see the needle and not the tip entering the skin. Critics can argue that the sequence glamorises drug use, but Vincent isn't most peoples stereotypical heroin addict. When people think heroin addict, they're more likely to associate their images with the characters in a film such as 'Trainspotting', for example Renton-a dirty, scruffy looking drug user. Unlike 'A Clockwork Orange', 'Pulp Fiction' has no hidden political or even social message and is a film made purely for entertainment.
So the question is, if we have such a problem with screen violence, why do filmmakers keep giving them us to watch? And the answer is simple-it's what the audience wants. What some people fail to understand is that screen violence is exciting and it's fun. The majority of people know that real life violence is not glamorous and exciting and to stop people from seeing something they enjoy just because a minority can't distinguish between real life and Hollywood isn't giving the audience freedom of choice.The 1994 Amendment to the Criminal Justice Act, implied that we, the audience, are docile and passive and are unable to see the difference between film and real life.
The Act instructed the BBFC that they should consider a film or videos likelihood to 'cause harm' to the audience. The Act was a response to the Bulger killing of the previous year, which was reportedly linked to the film 'Child's Play 3'. However, there was no strong evidence to suggest that this was true and was just another moral panic inspired by the media.However, American Psychologist Huesmann believes screen violence is a significant contributory factor to violence in society. He also argues that constant exposure to screen violence in childhood can build up a belief that this is a mean world and an appropriate way to behave is through violence. This influence of screen violence, he argues, in later life can be shown in low level violent behaviour, such as reckless driving.
Although Huesmann concentrates on the negative effects the media can have on people, he also says that the media can have pro-social effects.His beliefs are linked to a theory known as the Effects Tradition. This theory suggests that audiences are passive and films act like a hypodermic effect. Contradicting this effect is the Uses and Gratifications theory, which argues that audiences are active and they seek out media which is useful to them and gratifies their needs and desires.
The Psychologist Buckingham believes in this theory. He suggests that the negative effects of film and TV on children are exaggerated and that children as young as five develop a sense of modality and can distinguish between fictional violence and real violence.However, after conducting a study, Bushman concluded that people with pre-existing aggressive tendencies could be harmed by fictional screen violence. He also believes that the effects of screen violence on violent behaviour are as strong as alcohol.
However, these conclusions were brought about by a lab experiment, which has its weaknesses, as this type of experiments lack ecological validity. Psychologists, Browne and Pennell, conducted a comparative study, whereby they looked criminal offenders and non-offenders reactions to violent movies.They argued from this that people with a pre-disposition to violence are at risk, and estimated that 3 and 10% would fall into this category. Although offenders were found not to watch more violent films then non-offenders, they did remember violent scenes for longer and also identified with violent heroes very strongly. The pair also found that offenders had low levels of empathy for the victims and people from a violent background would transpose their own experiences into the world of film. If we are such passive recipients as the effects theory makes us out to be then surely censorship will still be going strong in years to come.
However, if we live in a democracy surely it should be our choice to decide what films we see. Is blaming society's violence on film now just the easy route to take or are we really that vulnerable when watching films? Can film really be the reason why people kill? Jack the Ripper wasn't subjected to 'Natural Born Killers' or 'Reservoir Dogs', so maybe it should be took into consideration that people who are going to kill are going to do it and to blame it on a film is just an easy way of dealing with it.It seems that the majority of society's violence is attempted to be linked with a film. 'Phone Booth', starring Kiefer Sutherland, 'is the latest victim of an increasing nervousness in Hollywood about films that reflect real events too closely', writes Duncan Campbell of the Guardian. The film about a mad sniper has had its release delayed because of the recent sniper killings in Washington and is just one of the many scapegoat films used for crimes.
So the important question is what is the future of censorship?Ex chief film censor, Andreas Whittam Smith, says the main function of the board now is providing consumer advice so audiences can make informal choices on what they watch. However, he does believe that within the next ten years the board will not exist, as the censor has always had difficulty keeping up with technology and the pace of development is so fast it can't be regulated effectively. It could be the case that the future of censorship relies in self-censorship.