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Censorship: the lessons of Ken Park

Noel Purdon

Having been shielded during the bad old days from the filth thrust upon them by Joyce, DH Lawrence, Pasolini and Michelangelo, Australians are once again experiencing an eruption of banning from Attorneys-General across the country. The most recent is the Federal Attorney General’s refusal to allow the screening of Larry Clark’s Ken Park at the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals. In this Daryl Williams was supported by the Office of Film and Literature Classification and a board of appeal consisting of 3 people known neither for their knowledge of cinema nor their expertise in matters of censorship. It must be said in defence of the Government that Australians have a history of censoring themselves. Our sheep-pen, xenophobic conservatism makes many Third World and authoritarian countries look like Rabelais’ Abbey of Theleme.

Ken Park has already been sold to Singapore, Hong Kong and Brazil. It is a serious study of a pressing problem, beautifully performed, precisely edited and responsibly directed by Clark and Edward Lachman. The 5 Californian skateboarders whose lives it highlights at crisis point might come hurtling over the hill at Bankstown, St Kilda or Fremantle. All are over 18 and any child pornography exists only in the minds of fundamentalists. I find car advertisements more offensive and films which feature nothing but explosions and racist hatred more deserving of X, Y and Z classification.

So I’ve seen Ken Park? Yes, along with thousands of others before it passed to its next venue. No longer are we stultified by the reverence of Empire on the one hand or the insularity of the Jindyworobaks on the other. We are part of a global, sophisticated society. If the bans on Lawrence and the seizure of Michelangelo etchings now seem laughable, the last gasps of conformist bigotry, so is the ban on Ken Park already unworkable. This is due to many aspects of our changed society. The first is networking. Those who have traveled to festivals in Telluride or Toronto know how easy it is to screen a film in a barn or media centre at a day’s notice and by word of mouth. Prints can be couriered thousands of miles easily for critics’ previews.

The second change is the Internet. DVDs are available on E-bay, VHS copies from There are even sites from which you can download the entire movie, a snap if you have broadband. Since one of these involves piracy, I won’t give the URL. The present Act of Classification doesn’t work on the Net, though I wish it did, since the hate sites are as psychotic as violent video games, which are deplorable. Here we are talking about film, an art that has become the major representative form of this century. Those who love it are outraged that the classification system evolved to guide adult consumers is being misused. The excuse, as usual, is the possible psychological harm to children. Can you see an 8-year-old fronting up at the box office being admitted to an R rated film? It’s easy, however, to imagine the same kid hacking away unsupervised at some Ninja webpage from hell. That’s something to explore.

I repeat: we are concerned with film. As adults we have the right to see, hear and read what we wish. We need a drastic revision of the act, and the presence of film professionals on boards of classification. The ‘Free Cinema’ group has been set up by members associated with the initial appeal. They include television critic Margaret Pomeranz, ABC Radio National’s Julie Rigg, directors Albie Thoms and Tom Zubrycki and writer Frank Moorhouse. In Adelaide, Scott Hicks, Rolf de Heer, Craig Monahan and Adelaide 2005 International Film Festival Director Katrina Sedgwick have lent their instant support. So have the city’s top academics and critics. As the current holder of the Pascall Prize, my formal citation is “to help the greatest number of Australians experience aspects of their culture with increased knowledge and perception.” In circumstances like these it becomes not just a description but a patriotic duty and damn any government that tries to stop us taking our place in the world. The movement will grow. The film will be seen.

RealTime issue #56 Aug-Sept 2003 pg. 19

© Noel Purdon; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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