Letter: Video censorship lacks sensitivity

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The Independent Online
Sir: Alan Parker's 1978 film Midnight Express satisfies David Alton MP's criteria for films unsuitable for viewing by children.

Mr Alton demands that 'no film containing degrading or gratuitously violent scenes liable to cause psychological damage to a child' may be viewed where children have access. Midnight Express contains scenes of violence, sadism, masturbation and torture. Degradation is the fact of this story. Nor should such films 'present a child with an inappropriate role model'.

The story's main character, Billy Hayes, is imprisoned in Turkey for drug smuggling, a crime of which he is certainly guilty. He bites off the tongue of an informer. One of the three friends he makes in jail is prone to irrational, violent outbursts. The others are a junkie and a homosexual. Except for the trial judge, all Turks are portrayed as corrupt, and the chief warder as a sadist who forces his own sons to watch as he beats imprisoned teenagers. There is not an appropriate role model in sight.

Mr Alton's blanket approach seems singularly appropriate from this example. But, as in all good stories, there is a twist. Oliver Stone's script has Billy Hayes speak these lines at his appeal: 'What is a crime? What is a punishment? It seems to vary from time to time, place to place. What's legal today is suddenly illegal tomorrow because some society says it's so. And what's illegal yesterday is suddenly legal because everybody's doing it and you can't put everybody in jail.'

Degradation is the fact of Midnight Express, but it is not the soul. The soul is the fight against tyranny in all its forms. Should it pass into law, Mr Alton's amendment would not only degrade us and our society, but hide from the vast majority of adults too young to have seen the original film one of cinema's most profound messages.

Yours,

PAUL CHAPMAN

London, WC1

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