Danny Yee >> Internet Censorship in Australia >> the OFLC

The R-rating of Passion
OFLC response to complaint

For background information, there's a review of Passion at Variety.

Here's the response I got from the OFLC:

Mr Danny Yee Dear Mr Yee I refer to your e-mail dated 10 July 1999 addressed to Community Liaison Officer Ms Melissa Heggie in which you query the R18+ classification assigned to the film Passion. Passion was classified R18+ by the Classification Board with the consumer advice ``Adult Themes'' in January 1999. The film's distributors applied for review of that decision to the Classification Review Board, which in February 1999 confirmed the decision of the Classification Board. A copy of the text of the Review Board's decision, supplied by its Secretary, is enclosed. I hope this information will assist you. Yours sincerely Kathryn Paterson DIRECTOR 4 August 1999 cc Andrew Garden Melissa Heggie CLASSIFICATION REVIEW BOARD 20th MEETING 19 FEBRUARY 1999 (CONTINUED BY TELECONFERENCE ON 25 FEBRUARY 1999) 255 ELIZABETH STREET SYDNEY APPLICANT : REP Film Distributors BUSINESS: To review the decision of the Classification Board to assign the classification "R" under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 to the film Passion, with the consumer advice "Adult themes". DECISION AND REASONS FOR DECISION 1. Decision The Classification Review Board decided to confirm the decision of the Classification Board to classify the film Passion "R 18+", with the consumer advice "Adult themes". 2. Legislative provisions The Classification (Publications, Film and Computer Games) Act 1995 (the Act) governs the classification of films and the review of classification decisions. The Act provides that films be classified in accordance with the National Classification Code and the classification guidelines. Relevantly, the National Classification Code (the Code) in paragraph 3 of the Table under the heading "films" provides that films (except RC films and X films) that are unsuitable for a minor to see should be classified R. 3. Procedure 3.1 Five members of the Review Board viewed the film Passion at its meeting on 19 February 1999, which was adjourned until 25 February 1999 when the sixth member viewed the film. Subsequently on that day all members met by teleconference. 4. In reaching its decision the Review Board had regard to the following: (a) the applicant's Application for Review (b) the film Passion (c) the relevant provisions in the Act (d) the relevant provisions in the National Classification Code as amended in accordance with Section 6 of the Act. (e) the current Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Videotapes determined under Section 12 of the Act. 5. Findings on material questions of fact The plot 5.1 The early years of Australian musician Percy Grainger's professional life as a performer and composer in London are dramatised. His complex relationships with his mother, and with other women, are explored. The themes and depictions of fetishistic behaviour 5.2 The Review Board considered the themes and scenes cited by the Classification Board as warranting an R classification. These included at 33 mins, Grainger pushing a needle and thread through his nipple; at 61 mins, Grainger and Karen are shown with hands tied together and alternately whipped by each other as a prelude to intercourse, and showing welts on skin; at 76 mins, Karen and Grainger are again shown alternately whipping each other, and photographs taken; at 82 mins Grainger's mother finds these photographs. 5.3 The Review Board found that the film had a pervasive theme of sado-masochistic behaviour, which was initially conveyed by the sound of Grainger whipping himself and overheard by his mother (8 mins), by the threading of the needle through his nipple (33 mins), by a scene of Grainger whipping himself (57mins); and later by dialogue at 74 mins "fierce cruel beatings ...excited me terribly ... made me shiver .. savage beating which draws blood heightens our senses and reminds us what we are .." This behaviour encompasses the young woman, Karen, who is enlisted by Grainger's mother with the plea that "passion can destroy genius if not contained ...Percy has passions that cause his mother great distress...help me restrain him .."(57 mins) The fetishistic behaviour is then strongly depicted in the two scenes at 61 mins and 76 mins. The scenes convey a consenting but relished and genuine infliction of pain. The injuries (whip welts) sustained in these encounters are seen, and are shown again later (eg 64 mins, Karen looks at herself in the mirror; at 80 mins, Karen has ongoing scars on her back; at 81mins, Grainger \develops the photos; at 83 mins, in several shots, Grainger's horrified mother \looks at the photos. The Review Board found that the treatment of the theme of adult fetishistic (sadomasochistic) behaviour was of high intensity and further was not discreet. The film therefore did not meet the criteria for MA 15+. . 6. Reasons for the Decision 6.1 The Review Board based its decision to confirm the Classification Board's decision to classify the film Passion "R", with the consumer advice "Adult themes" on the content and impact of the film as set out in 5.2 and 5.3 above. 6.2 The Review Board considered that the treatment and depictions of the sadomasochistic fetish were such as required an adult perspective. The theme of sadomasochism was portrayed in the context of a relationship between consenting adults. However, Karen's emotional confusion regarding what was required of her to ``save Grainger's musical genius,'' when linked to the way in which her relationship with Grainger was established, her perceived need to participate in sadomasochistic acts to preserve this relationship, and the subsequent failure of this relationship despite her sexual compliance, contributed (in the Review Board's opinion) to the high intensity of the theme. The Review Board took the view that involvement in sadomasochistic behaviour, between consenting adults, is an evolved form of sexual behaviour, which rarely emerges before participants are in their twenties and have found a consenting partner. It is not ordinarily in the province of, nor understood by, most teenagers. Further, such behaviour often involves very light contact, in contrast to the film's depiction of the infliction of genuine pain. The Review Board found that these themes and depictions may distress or disturb some persons under the age of 18 who do not yet have an adult perspective. Further, the Review Board was concerned that the film's theme and depictions could be harmful to a minority of males under the age of 18 years, in that it could encourage predation and imitation by those who fail to understand and to recognise the consenting nature of the behaviour. This finding combined with the finding that the treatment of the theme, which had a high degree of intensity, was not discreet, caused the Review Board to unanimously decide that the film was appropriately classified R 18+. 6.3 The applicant argued, in part, that a) the film was a major Australian feature in the public interest, b) the film has scientific and educational value, c) it is impossible to record any aspects of Grainger's life without referring to his flagellation or complex relationships, and that visitors to the Grainger museum can freely see related items d) to give the film an R classification would do harm to the stature of Grainger ``as one of Australia's most important composers.'' 6.4 In relation to these arguments, the Review Board found a) and b) that the film was an important one, in that it was the only Australian feature on an important Australian composer, whose work and influences were worthy of serious study. c) that a film on Grainger's life would be deficient without reference to his complex relationships and fetishistic behaviour. However, one purpose of the classification system is to signal problematic content, and the Review Board believes that the appropriate signal in the case of this film's depiction of fetishistic sado-masochistic behaviour is R18+. d) that an R classification is a signal of content which requires an adult perspective and which is potentially harmful to those under the age of 18 years. As the preamble to the R classification criteria in the Guidelines for the classification of films and videos states "The classification is not intended as a comment on the quality of the material". (p12) 6.5 The Review Board concluded that the film is not suitable for those under the age of 18 years, within the meaning of Paragraph 3 of the Table under the heading "Films" in the Code. 6.6 The Review Board's decision to assign the consumer advice line of "Adult Themes'' is made having regard to its findings in 5.2, 5.3 and 6.2 above. 7. Summary The Review Board's decision is to confirm the decision of the Classification Board to classify the film Passion "R 18+", with the consumer advice "Adult Themes". This decision is taken after full consideration of the applicant's submission, and after assessing the film as a whole against the relevant legislative criteria, including those contained in the Code, and in the current Classification Guidelines for Films and Videotapes determined under Section 12 of the Act. Barbara Biggins Convenor

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