Censorship and Classification, Pulp Fiction vs. the BBFC

A few weeks ago I spent a surreal evening at the BBFC watching Pulp Fiction on Blu-ray. This was exciting for a multitude of reasons, not least because this means that Pulp Fiction is out on Blu-Ray soon, but because I got to sit in a BBFC screening room, complete with desks for film rating, and to hobnob with someone who was part of the decision to ban The Human Centipede 2 (back when it was banned).

One of the more interesting parts of the evening was when we were told about Pulp Fiction‘s journey through the BBFC and the detailed consideration a film goes through when an age certificate is decided on. I’m going to try to retell this as best as my memory can manage, bearing in mind I was drinking wine on an empty stomach.

Way back in 1994 Pulp Fiction was passed for cinema release uncut, it had a bit more trouble when it came to getting a home video release. There were major concerns amongst the public over the media’s portrayal of violence and whether this was inspiring real life incidences. The murder of Jamie Bulger was a major factor in this.

The matter was debated in parliament and it was even mooted that only films rated U should be allowed to have a home video release to keep people “safe”. Ultimately the government passed the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994, legislation giving the BBFC clarified guidelines for classification.

While parliament debated the BBFC held off on rating Pulp Fiction, but with legislation passed they gave it an 18 certificate with a 3 second shot re-framed. So as not to glamorise drug taking the shot in question was re-framed to not show a needle actually penetrate an arm, you can see a comparison by clicking here.

With a little bit of speculation it seems that it was one man, the former director of the BBFC, James Ferman, who was causing all the fuss about the drug taking in Pulp Fiction. Something this interview with the BBC in 1998 supports, as Ferman calls the film “socially irresponsible”.

Now with the Blu-ray release the film has been rated once more and after extensive research, and the departure of James Ferman, it was decided that Pulp Fiction glamorised drug taking no more than it glamorised violence or dodgy dancing. In fact their research showed that footage of a spoon being heated is just as much of a trigger for an addict that a needle plunging into an arm.

As such Pulp Fiction is going to be available on Blu-ray from 17th October completely uncut, and with hours of extra features.

What I learnt most from the evening is that the BBFC are quite friendly human beings working within strict regulations who take their jobs seriously. Most surprising was the revelation that it could take just one man with a chip on his shoulder to force a film to have cuts made to it. These days the BBFC are much more transparent, but being human they can’t always get it right.