There’s a kick-starter project that’s gaining some attention at the moment that plans to make a 14 hour long film of paint drying.
Its purpose is to submit the film to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), pay their fee and make them watch all 14 hours of it. Naturally it’s a protest against state censorship.
The problem is that the BBFC itself is a protest against state censorship.
When cinemas appeared as a form of entertainment they came into a legal vacuum. Local authorities had no control over them and no legislation existed to govern them. The law that prevented them from showing graphic sex and violence was, and remains, the Obscene Publications Act (OPA); cases around which tend to be long, expensive, and necessarily subjective.
Faced with the possibility of the UK government becoming directly involved in film censorship the industry itself created the BBFC, agreed to fund it through fees for having their films classified and charged it with ensuring that films shown in Britain remained on the right side of the OPA.
The BBFC has diligently maintained this duty for 103 years. Local authorities were given the power to licence cinemas and it is they, not the government, who insist that a condition of that licence is that films shown are BBFC certified. In practice the BBFC have done so well that local authorities rarely feel the need to do more than trust their judgement. It’s a big step forward from the early days of cinema, when police used fire safety laws to close them down by setting fire to their celluloid to see if was flammable. Until the Video Recordings Act of 1984, which stated that all video cassettes supplied in the UK must carry a BBFC rating, the BBFC had no legal authority at all. They still have no power to ban or censor films shown in private, members-only, cinemas.
Throughout its history the BBFC has sought to reflect public opinion and to change with the times. It has always followed the majority, progressive views of the population and not caved in to puritanical minority voices, no matter how loudly they’ve shouted.
If you want to pay them to watch a 14-hour long film of paint then that’s fine, but don’t think you’re making a point about the tyranny of a politician wielding scissors in the cutting room; they’ve been protecting us from that for more than a century.