Monday 11 August 2014

Video Nasties - The Definitive Guide Part 2 - Draconian Days

Rule Draconia?

Video Nasties - The Definitive Guide Part 2: Draconian Days
2014 UK
Directed by Jake West
Nucleus DVD Region 0

Okay people. Time for me to get very angry again.

Video Nasties - The Definitive Guide Part 2: Draconian Days is Jake West’s follow up to his own Video Nasties - The Definitive Guide: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape, which was an incredibly limited, numbered edition from a few years ago in the UK... and which has just had a second limited edition run repressed for the American market. You can read my review of that first one here.

Like the first three disc edition, this second three disc edition also runs for over thirteen hours, due to the inclusion of over two discs of extras featuring the trailers to another government list which was discovered while the director was making the first documentary. This “Section 3” category list comprises films which were liable to forfeiture, seizure and destruction but without the added malarkey, as far as I can tell, of having the owner being prosecuted for being in possession of these titles (although I’m sure that if you owned any of these ones, at the time, then you were more likely to be also be in possession of other titles in one of the more dangerous lists anyway). Of course, it goes without saying that the majority of these have been certified in uncut form nowadays... which says a lot about the single-minded tunnel vision of the people involved at the time than about the historical perspective, I suspect.

Like the first documentary, this film is a series of intercut interviews with various experts and key players in the dramatic events, including a quite brave lady censor who has obviously agreed to be filmed especially for this documentary, it seems to me. There’s also historical footage from TV news reports and such like of some of the powerful people who were causing all these witch-hunts in the dark days of the 1980s, including former chief censor James Ferman, who created a lot of the problems for both people and the art of the films in question.    

I have to say that the inclusion of the former female censor, along with all the usual suspects (such as Kim Newman, Alan Jones and director Christopher Smith), makes for a much fairer and generally unbiased viewing of the subject matter and its consequences. There are some things that the censors did, for example, which actually show them in a good light in terms of certain aspects of their personalities... even Ferman. However, the documentary... whether it has an agenda or not... can’t help but paint the censors and the Video Recordings Act in a horrendously bad light because... well, what these people were doing was a real problem and an affront to pretty much anyone’s individual freedom. And it was all done from the perspective of personal taste... which is a huge problem in my book.

Films were being seized from both shops and private dealers. Fines and, yes, imprisonment was the order of the day for anyone caught with a lot of these although, as I mentioned earlier, the actual specific films dealt with on the extras in this particular volume are ones which were just seized... technically nobody was prosecuted over these. The other films though, which were dealt with very thoroughly in the last volume, wrecked lives or, at the very least, had a very negative emotional impact on the people... actually, let’s call them victims of a less than benign government shall we? ... on the victims who were involved with these seizures and prosecutions... criminalised due to what boils down to a question of either personal taste or the quest to seek distribution of profitable merchandise in an economically challenging climate.

One of the guys on here tells about the heady days and camaraderie of going to the old film fairs and picking up stuff you just couldn’t get elsewhere (nothing’s changed there then) and about the police raids you would sometimes see happening at these events. I have been present as a customer at Film Fairs, too, when they’ve been raided by the police more recently... who still seem to be unsure what exactly it is they’re looking for, from what I can understand. In fact, one of the dealers I see trading at the Film Fairs was name checked in this documentary because he’s a friend of the guy being interviewed. The same guy also tells of a raid on his house which affected him when he was young and of how the police didn’t really know what they were looking for. They took some really, stupid to mistake for anything else, commercially released, non-nasty material but left other stuff behind... in one case the second volume of an offending article which was sitting on a shelf next to the first volume which was seized. If you want to read a really excellent first hand account of what one of those “home invasions” actually felt like, then a Twitter pal of mine, @grindhousedave, has a really great account of his personal experience in this area on his blog here.

Once again, in this film, we are left with a well researched document which treats all the facts fairly but which still shows what idiots the authorities were in this 1980s British witch hunt. Let’s remember that the research carried out by the government was, and usually is, either flawed or, memorably, thrown out because it found the “wrong answer” and replaced with “opinion masquerading in research clothing”... which was one of the most angering things that came to light in the previous volume. Similarly, we have here a censor who revealed that when Ferman’s censorship became more gung ho, he often vetoed what his staff concluded and did his own thing. In fact, it is revealed in this one that, when the censors under his command all disagreed vehemently with Ferman’s overtly censorius stance on some issues, the entire staff were promptly fired. Then, it seems, when it came to light, he denied it on TV saying it was a restructure and the staff were nearing the end of their contracts anyway. This is not the way things should be, people.

Stuff like this always brings to mind, for me, the ridiculous comic book scare in America in the 1950s, spearheaded by the equally “agenda-blind” Fredric Wertham and his unbelievably assumptive and “research defying” volume Seduction Of the Innocent. People like this base everything on their own personal taste (and then rope in people who share their sentiments) and this is a very bad thing for people to alllow to happen. Often they will invoke the power of, in this case, film, to incite violent or socially unacceptable behaviour but then, you have to remember, that one of the most famous serial killers in American history took the character of The Emperor in Return Of The Jedi as his inspiration for some of his hideous crimes... so where does one draw the line when it becomes clear from incidents like this that anything in art can be a catalyst for what is already inside a person.

So there seems to be two basic knee jerk reactions for censoring any material... and I should probably point out at this point that I’m a strong believer in censoring material for your (own) children and in practicing self censorship for yourself.

One reason seems to be... “Ugh. This stuff is really horrible and distasteful.” Well, actually, what offends one person may not offend another and, in these kinds of cases, the counter measure being taken in response to this is, in fact, the most offensive thing about what is happening. As Christopher Smith, the director of such horror films as Triangle (reviewed here), says in this documentary... "Art can't be controlled by the taste buds of the lunatics." And I will go on to add to that the sentiment that, if it does, then art in all its different manifestations has “lost”... and is in the hands of idiots.

The second reason, the influence of the power of a medium, seems at first something worthy of consideration but, when you dig down deeply, you find it is also nonsense. As David Cronenberg, a director who has had to face a lot of censorship issues in the pursuit of his art, is quoted as saying in this film... “Censors tend to do what only psychotics do: confuse reality with illusion.” Of course, this kind of begs the next logical step to jump up and down proclaiming that all censors are psychos... but I wouldn’t like to be accused of making the same nonsensical leaps of logic that the censors themselves do.

This three disc set, like the first volume, is an absolute “must watch” for people who are interested in the history of the home video format... something which most film lovers would be interested in, I would think, given that the home video versions are the way in which the films will be remembered by future generations. The inclusion of two volumes of trailers and intros to those trailers make for an essential purchase, in my book. The underlying fact though, and one which films like this continually bring to light, is that this kind of censorship and these basic invasions of personal privacy have not stopped in any way. There are loads of very problematic laws and bills being passed and restrictions on our freedoms are constantly being put in place while our basic expectations of “free living” are being eroded, often without most of us being aware that these things have happened and usually because those in power clearly have something to gain from it.

If you want to keep abreast of these kinds of issues daily then I once again point you in the general direction of the Melon Farmers website here, where these and many other kinds of “hidden” daily news issues are being brought to light. And if you have a love for the kinds of movies being dealt with in this documentary and want a reminder of a grim past with a very real warning for the current state of affairs (let alone the terrible prospect for artistic freedom in the future) then I would get yourself a copy of this one while you still can. Again, it’s a hand numbered print run on the covers so they’ll probably sell out fairly quickly.


  1. Good review but you may want to adjust part of it . During all the video nasties stupidity nobody was ever prosecuted for possession . Even today , some content that might be classed as obscene is still not illegal to possess . All prosecutions and legal action were connected to SUPPLY. People could have the films in their own collections but any hint of supply whether it be selling or just trading was what the authorities were looking for.

  2. Hi there.

    I thought I'd seen on one of these two docs that some people had been... they were certainly fined. Also, I guess to be distributing it then they would also have to be in possession of it. But certainly, you raise an interesting point and I am glad to have you bring it to my attention. Tempted to go back and change "being prosecuted" to "being under threat of prosecution" but, frankly, I do want to stand by my mistakes and don't want to rewrite something after the fact. Much rather people like yourself take me to task for it in the comments section here and then everyone can see I've made a mistake and I'm not trying to back out of what I wrote... right or wrong.

    Certainly I was under the impression that the threat was always there so... maybe it's still a relevant sentence.

    Thank you so much for reading and for taking the time to comment. So few people take the time to do that these days.

    All the best to you and please come back and read some of my other stuff if you ever get a spare minute. Much appreciated.