Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The VRA debacle - a brief chronology

UK joins the EEC.

An EEC directive is passed saying that national "standards" laws also have to be passed before it. Basically, other member countries need to know what your standards laws are to facilitate free trade, that they can or cannot sell these goods in your country. Meanwhile, in the UK, there is the beginnings of a moral panic over the so-called "video nasties".

The British government duly passes the VRA, placing constraints the upon video industry. It fails to formally notify the EEC. Thus, German, French, Italian and other EEC/EC nationals would unknowingly commit a crime by trying to distribute their videos in the UK. Ignorance of the law is, after all, no defence.

1985 - July 2008
Thousands of pre-cert titles disappear from video shelves because it is not economical to have them mandatorily certificated. Many small distributors fold, much to the benefit of the major studios, who had been caught on the hop by the rise of home video. These same companies are also placed in advantageous position with regard to the BBFC as a whole, because they can keep resubmitting a film for classification and paying the requisite fee until they get the certificate they want. Smaller companies are not in a position to do. Prosecutions of individuals continue, as does the impounding and destruction of imported material.

Society becomes no safer - indeed, the shocking murder of Jamie Bulger by two boys takes place in the context of "video nasties" being illegal. Nonetheless, the gutter press quickly stirs up a new moral panic, blaming one of the BBFC-certificated Child's Play series for inspiring the crime; that neither of the killers ever saw the film is besides the point.

Subsequently the BBFC begins to relax its policies, with a number of previously banned films being re-released uncut. Meanwhile, the development of the internet and the replacement of video by DVD means that consumers are increasingly importing what they want to view from abroad anyway. The resulting influx of previously banned material does not cause the collapse of society, as the moral minority had claimed it would.

August 2009
Someone notices that the VRA was never properly ratified. The British government's response is to say that the legislation will be hastily re-enacted and the EC properly informed this time. This does not offer anything to the 1700 or so people successfully prosecuted under a quarter century of the VRA and thereby given fines, sentences or criminal records; those priced out of the market by the apparent requirement to have a BBFC certificate, or indeed all those who ever shelled out money to that organisation for something they did not necessarily want. They'll be lucky to get an apology, never mind any form of compensation or redress.

Was the Video Packaging Act of 1985 properly ratified? Are are any other laws that might turn out not to have been properly ratified which people are suffering under? How come none of the lawyers in Parliament or who took on VRA-related cases as either prosecution or defence never even noticed?

And, more worryingly for trash cinema fans, who is to say any new legislation won't contain new clauses to tighten things up?

So, if you want your copy of Grotesque, as banned last week by the BBFC, you'd better get it now - although having just watched it a couple of nights ago I can't say it was particularly engaging, but it's also no worse than other Japanese ero-guro stuff I've seen as far as sadism, torture and mutilation go...

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