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By Andrew L. Urban

In an attempt to have the film refused classification (banned), The Australian Family Association (AFA) and the Festival of Light want a review of the R 18+ classification for Mysterious Skin, and asked for the review fee to be waived; they were refused. So they have used the South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson (again) as the conduit to force a request through Federal AG Phillip Ruddock - at public expense. Without any of them having seen the film. 

Legislation requires the Federal AG to request a review of a film classification decision if any State AG so requests. This means that the AFA will have the review, but will not have to pay for it; taxpayers will. Considering that none of the parties have seen the film, it seems an abuse of process and a waste of taxpayer funds. (The OFLC classification for Mysterious Skin is R 18+ and also provides the consumer warnings: Adult themes, Strong sexual violence, Medium level sex scenes.)

The AFA and the Festival of Light were denied a request to have the review fee of $2,820 waived by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC). The AFA has tried to have the fees waived in previous similar instances, including a year ago: when the organization applied for a review of the R 18+ classification for Catherine Breillat’s latest sexually explicit film, Anatomy of Hell, without having seen the film, based on the classification report. The AFA then prompted the South Australian Attorney General to lodge an appeal – also without having viewed the film. Also at public expense. The Classification Review Board upheld the original R 18+ OFLC classification.

Mysterious Skin, adapted and directed by Gragg Araki from Scott Heim’s novel, is the story of eight year old Brian Lackey (George Webster) who wakes up in the cupboard under the stairs of his Kansas home with his nose bleeding and no idea how he got there or how long ago. A decade later Brian (Brady Corbet) still has a blank about that night and comes to believe he was abducted by aliens. Brian’s search for what happened to him leads him to Neil (Chase Ellison), his Little League friend of those days, who is now also 18, but the adult Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been living his life as a gay prostitute and has moved to New York. When Neil returns to his Kansas home town for Christmas, he is confronted by Brian, and recalls the sexually graphic events of their childhood involving their coach (Bill Sage); both young men realize how those events shaped their lives. 

"a blistering screenplay that digs into the after effects of those young sexual experience"

“Araki’s adaptation of Scott Heim’s novel is a blistering screenplay that digs into the after effects of those young sexual experiences, and how the affect on the two boys is so totally different – yet equally damaging,” says Andrew L. Urban in his review.

Australian Family Association spokesman Richard Egan was reported (SMH, July 19, 2005) as saying the film could be used by paedophiles for their own satisfaction, or to help groom children they were planning to abuse, after he read the film’s synopsis.

“The care and delicate understanding that Araki shows towards the two young male victims is unmistakable. This is a very important film on these issues, and its social value should not be discounted by anyone, particularly if this push for censorship has been informed by reading a synopsis,” comments Queer Screen executive producer Panos Couros, who screened the film this week, followed by a Q&A with Araki, at the Palace Academy Twin in Paddington, Sydney.

Urban Cinefile believes that classification review requests should not be accepted from persons or organizations who have not seen the film in question – not even Attorneys General. 

"uninformed comment"

Richard Egan made further uninformed comments on ABC radio’s PM (July 19, 2005), suggesting that Mysterious Skin was like a How To guide for paedophiles; not only is that laughably wrong, it also exposes the intellectual bankruptcy of his movement. It exposes how this particular censorship debate is not about the depiction of negative human experience but about a fear of sexuality. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be only sexually explicit films that attract the attention of the AFA. Where is their outrage at films that show drug addicts shooting up; films that show a killing by a gun/a knife/a rocket/crushing/strangulation (including the Bond films and every other action thriller on the release schedule); films that show crooks robbing banks; films that show men cheating on their women and vice versa; films that show people lying; films that show people being unkind …. 

Case Study by Andrew L. Urban: 
Baise Moi – how a minority (of three people) called the ratings shots:
Base Moi was originally classified R. On review, it was refused classification: banned. In correspondence with the Attorney General’s office (June 2003), I was able to ascertain that of 419 letters regarding Baise-Moi, “approximately 161 were opposed to the film and either sought a review of the Classification Board's decision, or were supportive of the Attorney-General's request for a review, or were in favour of the Review Board's RC (refused classification) decision. Twenty-seven indicated that they had seen the film and of those, three were opposed to the film.”

In other words, less than half the 419 letter writers were negative about the film’s classification and of the 27 letter writers who’d actually seen Baise Moi, only three were “opposed” to the film. The film was rated R with the following warnings: ‘strong sexual violence, high level violence, actual sex, adult themes’. and yet some 50,000 people had seen it in its commercial release prior to the ban being imposed. 

And that’s the whole point of a ratings (as opposed to a censorship) system, to advise audiences what they are likely to see on the screen, if there is a chance of causing serious offence.

Published July 21, 2005

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