Love of violence worries censor

BRITAIN'S FORMER chief film censor warned yesterday that the thirst for violence among young audiences may herald a new era of brutality.

In his final report for the British Board of Film Classification, James Ferman warned that future censors may no longer be able to "hold the line" when so many young film lovers are taking the view that "violence is cool". Writing in the board's annual report, Mr Ferman said: "Too often in my view [violence] functions like a drug, like the pounding beat of rock music which keeps the serotonin levels up. I worry that violence has so little meaning, that younger cinema-goers take the view that `violence is cool', a view which seems to me to be simply an excuse for not empathising with the victims."

After 24 years as board director, Mr Ferman said he would not be sorry to say goodbye "to the callousness of contemporary films and videos" or to porn, which he said he had seen "more than enough of". But his years were a period when film censorship became increasingly less heavy-handed. He was often the subject of attacks by right-wing commentators, who blamed him for what they saw as a growing tide of sex and violence on film.

His final year, 1998, saw the percentage of films subjected to cuts fall to the lowest level on record at just 3.6 per cent. In 1974, censors ordered cuts to 40 per cent of all films. Mr Ferman, who retired in January, claimed in his report: "Having suffered my own share of heavy-handed censorship as a TV director, I am proud to have transformed the BBFC from a board of censors to a board of classification."

The 14 films that were subjected to cuts last year included Lethal Weapon 4, from which scenes including blood-letting, neck breaks, head butts, garottings, eye-gougings and the noisy breaking of bones were censored from five of the seven reels. The latest in the 3 Ninjas series of children's films was also subjected to heavy cuts because of what the board described as "risks of copycat violence" in martial arts sequences. The board said it was "surprised" to have to demand a cut to the Walt Disney cartoon Mulan after the inclusion of a "vicious head-butt" scene.

The board said that it had been a year of "surprisingly little controversy". Concerns raised over films with taboo themes had faded away as the content became apparent - for example paedophilia in Lolita was handled with "discretion".

The board president, Andreas Whittam Smith, and the new director, Robin Duval, both paid tribute to Mr Ferman as the "doyen of regulators".

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