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Getting a Sense of the Censor…

The Irish Film Classification Officer, the ever-fantastic John Kelleher, made an appearance on The Right Hook (which is an institution on evening drives in our car) discussing IFCO’s decision to give the controversial arthouse flick Antichrist an 18’s certificate. Over the course of the interview with George Hook (who – though I love him dearly – showed himself to be more than a little out of touch, stating that swear words from Mark Wahlberg as his most extreme cinematic experience), the man who formerly held the title Irish Film Censor outlined his office’s understanding of their role in Irish life. And I whole heartedly agree.

Probably the best censorship board in the world....

Probably the best censorship board in the world....

Kelleher is a bit of a living legend. I had the pleasure of having dinner with him a few years ago in Trinity, and he showed the same even-handedness that comes across very well in his public appearances. His policy – expressed in the renaming of the organisation from The Irish Film Censor’s Office to the Irish Film Classification Office, which handily allowed them to keep the same headed letter paper – is not to cut or hack the films that come into the country, but instead to let audiences know what they’re in for. And it’s a fantastically brave movie in a country notorious for it’s harsh conservatism.

In speaking particularly about Antichrist, the new film from Lars Von Trier that has been generating shockwaves since winning a ‘non-prize’ at Cannes, he remarked that though it was tough going, his office’s function is no longer to be the moral guardian of the nation. Mature adults should be able to enjoy (if there is any enjoyment to be derived from Antichrist) what they will. The office’s function is to protect children and offer adults the information on what they can see. This is pretty much my feeling on the role of the office as well, and its reassuring to hear Kelleher outline his position and philosophy in such strong terms.

He takes great pride in that he’s only banned a single major motion picture release, and only then to test a loophole in the classification legislation. There was the slightly controversial decision to ban the video game Manhunter 2. I’m not sure how I feel on the matter – I’d feel more comfortable opposing the move if I knew that there was a proper mechanism in place to stop young kids buying the game even with a high age certificate, but everyone knows that no store clerk anywhere shows the same hesitance in selling an age-restricted game to a minor that they would in selling a similarly-rated movie.

In fairness, Kelleher has banned some hardcore pornography (four films in 2008), but this is a long stretch from the heyday of the Irish Film Censor. It might seem trite to point to the censorship of films such as Casablanca when the whole of Europe was doing the same thing (see Cinema Paradiso for a great example of the situation in Italy where the local priest indicates where to cut with use of a bell), but we did continue longer than most. Kelleher himself is fond of pointing to the Irish cut of The Graduate, where our moral guardians took it upon themselves to edit out any hint of the extra-marital affair:

The seduction scene is at the core of the film but the Irish audience, which was not allowed to see that scene, remained blissfully unaware they were having anything more than a nice cup of tea.

We’ve come a long way when it comes to the freedom of cinematic expression. Ireland doesn’t have much of a constitutional right to freedom of speech (and that’s before we get into the Blasphemous Libel thing), so it’s refreshing and reassuring to see such a progressive organisation in charge of our films, certainly compared to his draconian predecessors. I’m somewhat pleased by his concession that his office is more worried about the impact of violence on children than sexuality. I’ll admit that both cause concern to myself, but I find a ridiculous hubbub made over a little bit of nudity while nobody bats an eyelid at blowing people up or using machine guns. Mature individuals have no need from protection from either, but Western media hysteria tends to focus on one to the exclusion of the other – notice the furore over ‘nipplegate’. It’s nice to see a considered and even handed approach.

George at one point near the end of the interview had the audicity to ask when the esteemed Mr. Kelleher would be retiring. If we’re lucky, it won’t be soon.

One Response

  1. […] 9 – The Sci-Fi/Comedy Posted on August 31, 2009 by Darren Okay, I still have nothing but kind words for the Irish Film Classification Office, but I noticed their information piece on District 9 this morning and found it hilarious. Either […]

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