Uncut: A Season of Films at the BFI


It’s a curious facet of the human psychological condition that we actively seek to do what we’re told explicitly not to. As either a child or adult we’re all familiar with exchanges such as this:

“DO NOT touch that!”

“But why not, Mum?”

“Because I said so!”

“But it’s just a dead bird…”

“Yes, but it’s covered in excrement, broken glass, venomous spiders and diseases!”

Tempting, wasn’t it. Frustrating that you couldn’t. And now, as an intelligent, free-thinking adult, you can experience exactly what the British Board of Film Classification has told you not to touch. The BBFC is 100 years old this year and the British Film Institute is scrutinizing the scrutinizers.

You’ve witnessed enough bland, anodyne cinema in your life and now you hanker after something else. You want to be challenged, you want to be shocked and you want to be titillated in weird, new ways. And why wouldn’t you? Quite frankly you’d like to push some boundaries and have some fun. You want to pick up that dead bird…

The BFI has heard your cries and programmed a season of films just for you. And to top it off they are hosting a debate on the role of the BBFC as Britain’s chief censors and arbiters of what is permissible. All of the films have been banned or partially censored within the last century and all of them are, for whatever reason, viewable now with most of those offending elements reinstated. Times have moved on and while you can argue that the acceptance of sex, violence and unusualness on show here demonstrates a slide into moral vacuity, you could equally contest that it shows that we are all more accepting of challenging material. Yes, there is plenty which is, quite rightly, taboo but there are also some things that should not have been banned at all and, in the cold light of day, pose no threat to modern society.

Here’s a brief teaser into some of the delights on offer:

Crash (1996, dir. David Cronenberg)

Famously banned by Westminster council on the grounds that the film was “bordering on obscenity”, “liable to lead to copycat action” and guilty of depicting women in a “sexually humiliating way”, Crash now looks remarkably restrained and quite un-erotic today. It remains an excellent study of sexual fetish and a mind unable to find the satisfaction it craves despite pushing itself further towards destruction. It features strong performances and just the right level of icily detached direction.


The Evil Dead (1982, dir. Sam Raimi)

The vertiginous, funny, roller-coaster-speed spills and thrills of Raimi’s horror classic were only relatively recently available uncut in the UK. Originally The Evil Dead received an ‘X’ certificate with numerous excisions. Once again, on a recent viewing of this seminal work, it is easy to see why it might have offended but most of the gore and horror is undercut by a keen and vicious streak of black humour.


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, dir. Steven Spielberg)

The “not as awesome of powerful as Raiders, but still watchable” action/adventure prequel suffered at the scissor-like hands of editors when the BBFC requested the removal of a scene in order to secure a more universal PG rating. It was the removal of a man’s heart through his rib-cage by the particularly strong hand of the film’s villain which proved problematic. Recent releases have seen the scene restored.


This is England (2006, dir. Shane Meadows)

On release, This is England earned itself an 18 certificate from the BBFC for racist language and violence. Director Meadows insisted that 15 would have been a fairer limit for it, allowing it to be seen by a secondary school audience who would have empathised with the issues presented. This Is England also serves as a valuable history lesson, as well as cautionary tale. To think that the film condones racism in any way would be missing the point by a considerable margin. Yes, the naturalistic performances and stark beauty of the film intensify the emotions and impact but I can only think that a 15 year old would have benefitted from seeing the effects of racism on “real” people and communities.


Maîtresse (1975, dir. Barbet Schroeder)

Receiving a ban on initial release in the UK for it’s graphic scenes of bondage and sado-masochism, Maîtresse still has the power to induce winces when the pain-giving starts. The love story between Gerard Depardieu’s thief and the dominatrix (Bulle Ogier), whose house he invades, is convincing and complex. It looks great too, and the fetish fashions on display give it a curiously modern feel too.

So, go on, prod that dead bird; pick it up, even; Mummy says it’s fine…

The BFI’s ‘Uncut’ season opens on Friday 9th November and runs until Friday 30th November. For a full list of what’s showing, visit the  websiteBFI Southbank Box Office: +44 (0)20 7928 3232. 


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