The Classification Review Board yesterday passed a version of Tom Six's Human Centipede II shaved of 30 seconds with an R18+ rating and accompanying consumer advice that reads 'High impact themes, violence and sexual violence'.
Board members declined to comment when approached by SBS Film, though the organisation did issue a media statement in which Board director Donald McDonald merely restates, “This film contains content that is high in impact and the consumer advice may assist consumers in deciding if they wish to see this film.” The brief release points out that 'Consumer advice for a film is not always easily accessible at the box office either at the cinema or online' and that 'Not all film advertising in place in newspapers contains consumer advice information' – statements which indicate procedural problems with directly communicating Australia's censorship guidelines and not with this or any particular film.
The film had been passed intact with a 'hard R' rating but upon receiving complaint submissions from Christian conservative groups Collective Shout and Family Voice Australia, the New South Wales Attorney-General's office enacted its powers to have the film withdrawn and resubmitted for classification. Arguments were presented on the film's behalf by Neil Foley, representing local distributor Monster Pictures, Revelation Film Festival founder Jack Sargeant and journalist Laura Crawford; the review panel comprised of two lawyers, Victoria Rubensohn AM and Melissa De Zwart, and a Tasmanian family therapist and mother of two, Ann Stark. (The choice of the three panel members was resoundingly opposed by Monster Pictures, who “reject the notion that three middle-class women 'broadly represent the Australian community' or have the ability or credentials to read or understand such a film.”)
Though confident that the film's integrity remains intact despite the excised 30 seconds (predominantly, penile mutilation and frames of the infamous rape scene), Foley says the experience has served to highlight profound flaws in the censorship/classification process. “The system is open to be exploited by fringe groups if they can get a sympathetic ear by the Attorney-General,” he tells SBS. “People with very marginal views can, unfortunately, impose those views on things like the classification of a film. The Classification Board is very well-versed in making these decisions, they have been doing it a long time, and they pass it in the first place. But then it gets put through to a review board...”
It's in his assessment of this Classification Review panel that Foley is most scathing. “This board has an agenda in mind and they are a banning board; films are getting censored. If you can get a film sent to these people, they will ban it for you, despite the evidence.” As Foley tells it, pleading that The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) was initially passed by our own Classification Board uncut held no sway with the panel; in fact, that information was not permissible as part of their submission. However, paramount to the complainant's case was the film's turbulent history with the UK censorship body, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). A notoriously conservative group adhering to entirely different censorship principles than their Australian counterparts, the BBFC initially banned the film outright (placing it alongside such esteemed yet notorious works as Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris, Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo or The 120 Days of Sodom, Roger Corman's The Trip, Dusan Makavejev's Sweet Movie, Sergio Corbucci's Django and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, among many others).
Foley can claim a small victory, given that 30 seconds is by far the least amount of footage removed from the film upon its release in English speaking territories (the US cut 90 seconds; the UK, a whopping 2½ minutes). “We are pretty happy, at the end of the day. It means we can show it again now and it is still a devastating, hard-hitting film,” says Foley. Under Classification Board rules, Monster Pictures can resubmit the unedited version for further review in two years time.