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The R-rating of Passion
For background information, there's a review of Passion
OFLC response to complaint
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.
4 August 1999
cc Andrew Garden
CLASSIFICATION REVIEW BOARD
19 FEBRUARY 1999
(CONTINUED BY TELECONFERENCE ON 25 FEBRUARY 1999)
255 ELIZABETH STREET
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
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.
3.1 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
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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