Next month sees the HORROR CHANNEL screening its Season of the Banned line up beginning with Jake West's brilliant documentary, VIDEO NASTIES: MORAL PANIC, CENSORSHIP & VIDEOTAPE (review here). What with the issue of banning becoming so prevalent once again, we took the opportunity to catch up with Jake West to talk all things censorship...
Hi there Jake, thanks for taking the time out to talk to us,
You're welcome, good to talk to you.
Your recent documentary, VIDEO NASTIES: MORAL PANIC, CENSORSHIP & VIDEOTAPE is making its television premiere and headlining a season of 'video nasties' on the Horror Channel next month. Perhaps we could begin by asking why you chose to make a serious documentary. Did it have anything to do with a feeling that we are slipping back into more censorious times?
Well, it was was one of those things that wasn't really planned to be honest. We set up Nucleus Films to release cult films and we'd started doing a collection of Grindhouse trailers - the Grindhouse Trailer Classics discs -we've just got the third one of that coming out. We were coming up with different ideas for releases and Marc Morris (who I run Nucleus Films with) had written two books on video nasties and we thought it would be interesting to do something similar to the Grindhouse Trailer classics but on video nasties where you would get to see the trailers. We then began thinking about how there was much more to the story of the video nasties than just the trailers, why were they banned in the first place? We knew the broad strokes of the history but when we started researching it we found that there was a lot more to the story than we'd expected so it kind of ballooned into this much bigger project and by the time it came out because of films like THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 and SERBIAN FILM and now THE BUNNY GAME it seemed to coincide with a sort of resurgence of censorship. That was something that just seemed to happen without us planning it but we did seem to maybe tap into a zeitgeist on it. So, it was definitely a departure for me but it was quite an enjoyable ride and very educational in understanding something that you've lived through in a different context.
There was an interesting point raised by Alex Chandon (director of INBRED) of all people at a recent Q and A with yourself and Marc Morris where he was stating that censorship needs to exist in some form in order to protect the safety of innocent people. Do you agree with this and if so, where do you think the line is of what is acceptable?
Well, I'm not quite sure what he meant by that to be honest and you'd have to take it up with him! I'm not really a fan of censorship but I am talking about censorship of fictional works, I'm not talking about a question of banning anything real, like a real murder on camera or something but that wouldn't be released as fiction so there's a clear distinction. To me, censorship of fictional content should be more classification. It should be about whether you are old enough to see it or not, it shouldn't be about whether you are allowed to see it as an adult. That's my bugbear with censorship basically, it's telling people that one set of adults can watch something and then they decide that other people can't watch it. It's one thing to say 'you can't watch this if you're under a certain age' but it's a different thing entirely to say that you can't watch it at all as an adult. I think you should be given that choice.
Also, it seems to be that historically, things get censored at a time in history when I guess they're ahead of the curve or ahead of what people are comfortable with. I think that's the thing with art though - isn't art designed to push boundaries? It's always there to attack the boundaries and in a sense I think this is where people in authority have problems with horror because obviously horror deals with the darkness of human psyches. It deals with the unpleasantness of the imagination and you're not supposed to be comfortable with that to start off with. So, I can understand people have moral objections to the material but I don't think banning it is the way forward. It often seems that something is banned and then some time later un-banned and it seems that society needs to catch up with what's going on. With the internet making this material so readily available anyway, it kind of makes a mockery of the whole system anyway.
The BBFC recently reinstated THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 although with 2 minutes of cuts. Is this an acceptable compromise do you think? Or do you think that a film should be shown in its original state, as the director intended or not at all?
Obviously any director would want their film to be seen in the state that they originally intended but if a country does have censorship (and we are in a country which does) I think a film maker would rather the film could actually get released so that people could still see it than for it not to be seen at all. It's never gonna be ideal but it can come down to simply where you are geographically located I guess. The internet however allows you to order the un-cut versions from somewhere else anyway so often people won't bother with the cut version. The interesting thing is that when a film is cut, it can make it feel very different and sometimes make it seem worse in a horrific way rather than better. It can also make people want see a film more simply because the BBFC have banned it or cut it. I find the whole cutting issue as rather counter-productive and maybe they are playing into the hands of the marketing people. It all just becomes a bit of a weird compromise and something of a mess. Like I say, I don't agree with the censorship or cutting of fiction in any way.
Would you say that the cutting of films leads to an increase in piracy?
Well, the piracy issue is incredibly frustrating as a film maker. It's very easy for people to pirate films in a different way to how it was done in the eighties. That was all on videotape and when videotape is copied the quality of the copy goes down and down until it gets to a point where it is unwatchable. We used to watch films and want to get a better copy of it but with the internet people can rip a copy of the blu-ray and it's perfect quality. Obviously piracy is a problem, especially with independent film makers because your revenue stream has been cut down so massively and I really don't know what the solution is.
What with this documentary and the series of grindhouse trailers you release through Nucleus Films, you clearly have a deep affection for the grimier side of horror filmmaking and the late '70's and eighties stuff especially. What is it about this era that you personally find so entertaining?
Yeah, I love horror but I love films across the board. I like some pretty bizarre stuff which some people I'm sure would think is rubbish as well. Certainly, with the grindhouse stuff the joy of it is the over-enthusiastic sell. The trailers are so much better than the films. Those exploitation movies were made for drive-ins and late night films and double-bills and you used to get these crazy movies made but often they were very low budget and weren't particularly good. If you watch the whole film, often they are quite unwatchable and boring but when you see the trailers and the sort of snake-oil sales pitch saying that it's the most extreme thing you're ever going to see it completely oversells and even misrepresents a lot of the films. I just think that those trailers are really inventive and funny and just enjoyable. They kind of make you fall in love with that stuff. Of course within those films there are those examples which actually are good but it's only a small percentage of them but there is a fun of exploring it I think. That's what Quentin Tarantino does, he distills the elements that people like and reinterprets them into something bigger and more accessible.
If you absolutely had to remake any one film (excluding your own) which would it be?
I really don't know because as a film maker it's just not something I want do so it's a really tough question. If you were to remake something though, I think it'd have to be something that wasn't great first time around but that had a good idea in it. If you look at something like THE SLAYER, it had a lot of ideas which cropped up in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and dealt with dreams and a dream demon. SLAYER isn't a particularly great film whereas NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is but did Wes Craven see that or was he influenced by it? Who knows? If I was going to remake something I would be looking for the seeds of something great in a film rather than remake something that people love because I hate soulless remakes. My favourite of the video nasties (which should never have been a video nasty anyway) is THE EVIL DEAD and they've been talking about doing a remake of that for years but I don't really want to see that because I love the original.
So, I guess that would be my position on it - sorry I can't answer that better for you!
Thank you very much for talking to us Jake West.