‘I only have questions,’ Sam Peckinpah tells Barry Norman in this seldom seen interview from December 1976.
‘As a film maker I must look at both sides of the coin, and do my best as a story-teller. I have no absolutes. I have no value judgments,’ Peckinpah goes on to say, before asking, ‘Why does violence have such a point of intoxication with people? Why do people structure their day on killing?’
This is an incredibly honest and brilliant interview with Peckinpah, who doesn’t flinch form any of Norman’s questions - discussing his ignorance, his mistakes - explaining why he was wrong in thinking it could work as catharsis in The Wild Bunch, and why he was ‘a good whore.’
I once produced a series called Banned in the U.K., which was based on the premise that we can learn more about a society through what it bans that by what it permits. This week, the issue of censorship has highlighted the difference of what is permitted when viewing extreme violence as fact and fiction.
The principal focus of The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) is the sexual arousal of the central character at both the idea and the spectacle of the total degradation, humiliation, mutilation, torture, and murder of his naked victims….
...There is little attempt to portray any of the victims in the film as anything other than objects to be brutalised, degraded and mutilated for the amusement and arousal of the central character, as well as for the pleasure of the audience.
While the BBFC has banned Brits from viewing fictional acts of extreme and sexual violence, Channel 4 television has taken the brave decision to air raw footage (filmed on a cell ‘phone) of allegedly Sri Lankan troops systematically murdering and committing acts of sexual violence against its population in a documentary called Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields.
The material has been described as “the most horrific footage [Channel 4] has ever broadcast”. An extract from the video was aired in August 2009, which showed naked, bound men being executed with a shot to the back of the head by what appears to be Sri Lankan soldiers. This material was edited as it was considered “too gruesome” to be broadcast pre-watershed. Now the footage will be transmitted at length next Tuesday at 11pm:
Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields includes full-length videos of naked and bound Tiger prisoners kneeling whilst they are shot in the back of their heads by men in army uniforms. When extracts of some of these videos were first shown on Channel 4 News the Sri Lankan government denounced them as fake - and have refused to accept they are real - despite being authenticated by UN specialists. In new footage, a Tiger prisoner is shown tied to a coconut tree. The same prisoner is captured in a series of photos - at first alive, threatened with a knife and then dead and covered with blood.
Further videos show evidence of systemic murder, abuse and sexual violence - women’s bodies stripped of their clothes being dumped into trucks by soldiers. The film includes an interview with a woman who, with a group of civilians, handed herself and daughter over to government forces. She claims they were both raped; she witnessed others being raped, she heard screaming and shots and never saw them again.
This week, Head of News and Current Affairs at Channel 4, Dorothy Byrne defended her decision to screen the film in a radio interview:
“I believe it is absolutely justified. The UN has reported that there is credible evidence that actual war crimes took place.
“This is not just a TV programme, this is evidence. If we don’t show it and the Sri Lankan government say it never happened – how are you the viewer, a member of the public, able to make up your mind, unless you see it yourself.
“We felt we had to show it as overwhelming evidence of potential war crimes which need investigating.
“I would like to be able to say we will never again show footage again like this. I hope it is the first and last time we have to do it.”
Byrne took the decision to show the film “after serious and careful consideration.”
“This dossier of visual evidence of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by forces of the government of Sri Lanka is of the greatest possible public interest. We believe that screening it is the only way to enable viewers to make their own informed judgments about what happened.”
Byrne is right to show the footage as “evidence”, in the same way the films of Auschwitz and Belsen were “evidence” of the atrocities committed. But it will lead to people asking why it is acceptable to broadcast genuine material of “gruesome” violence, and sexual assault, while it is not acceptable to screen fictional material, like the next Tom Six movie?
Shouldn’t it be more troubling to watch film of actual murder, rather than fictional?
The screening also opens “a door to which there is no way of closing” for once one news agency shows such footage, what is to stops others following suit?
There is usually a protocol to showing shootings in news footage: the camera freezes before the moment the gun is fired, then cuts to the dead body. This explains in simple terms what has happened. If this protocol is abandoned then the stakes are upped in terms of what a news channel can offer to attract viewers - and let’s be clear, viewing figures drive scheduling, which drives programs and their commissioning, and if real violence can deliver column inches and a healthy viewing figure, then who is going to say “no” to cell ‘phone footage of other atrocities?
But there is also a more troubling issue - would this material have been screened if it was British citizens that had been shot in the head? Do we treat foreign nations with dignity when it comes to reporting on their lives? Or do we use them as victims for our own infotainment?
This is a very tricky area but I think Byrne is right, for it is “evidence” that Channel 4 is presenting and there is a moral duty to screen it, which is what makes this footage exceptional, and important.
Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields is broadcast on Channel 4 on June 14 at 23.05hours, details here.
Below is the original Channel 4 News report on the Sri Lankan atrocities - please note some viewers may find this clip disturbing, as it contains footage of prisoners being killed.
War School is a simple and effective short film written and directed by Ben Newman, in which a military training camp is transposed into a British classroom. The film brings home the brutal reality that affects 300,000 children in over 30 countries worldwide.
Last year, the actor and director Peter Mullan took top honors at the San Sebastian Film Festival with his latest film Neds. Neds is short for Non Educated Delinquents, and Mullan’s film deals with the subject of “neds” and their teenage gangs in Glasgow of the 1970s. Something, as Mullan explained to Demetrios Matheou of The Observer back in 2001, he knows about from his years as:
...a member of knife-carrying Glasgow street gang the Young Car-Ds; hanging around, fighting with other gangs, chasing girls, getting drunk. Despite being a bright, bookwormy boy, he was truant from school for the entire year of his gang career. He recognises this now as a crossroads in his life, from which his fellow Car-Ds inadvertently helped him find the right path. ‘They eventually asked me to leave, for two reasons: one, they always felt I was slumming it - because I would use words like “flabbergasted”.’ He grins, remembering the embarrassment. ‘And also because I wanted to up the ante, I wanted us to do really crazy things.’ For a change, he won’t elaborate. ‘Quite rightly they said no. They saved my life, no doubt about it.’
Mullan went on to study at the University of Glasgow, where he excelled as a student until he suffered a nervous breakdown.
‘I just put a ridiculous pressure on myself,’ he recalls. ‘I was terrified of failure, and paralysed by the idea of success. It had a lot to do with class, I think, with deep-rooted class insecurity. Everyone I met at university was middle class. I thought, “Who am I to be here?”’
He eventually returned and re-sat his finals, but in-between, Mullan found a stability amongst actors and joined the student theatre. From this his career as an actor began.
For seven years after he left university Mullan combined teaching drama in the community - in borstals, prisons, community centres and, for two years, at the university itself - with performing. This was the heyday of left-wing theatre companies such as 7:84 and Wildcat. And Mullan helped set up guerrilla troupes with names like First Offence and Redheads, touring western Scotland with overtly political plays influenced by the likes of Brecht, Howard Barker and Dario Fo. Thatcherism, the miners’ strike, the National Front, were typical subjects - ‘anything that related to what I felt to be true about the working class’.
He knew he was a Marxist by the time he was 15, despite his Catholic background. ‘Truth is I don’t think God on a daily basis,’ he shrugs. ‘I think politics, science.’ In the 80s he regarded himself as being further to the left than Militant, refusing to join either those rebels or the Labour Party itself. ‘The irony was that Labour very mistakenly sent me a letter throwing me out - when I wasn’t actually a fucking member.’
Mullan is now an internationally respected actor and director - with acting credits in such films as Trainspotting, My Name is Joe, The Claim, Miss Julie, and work as an awrd-winning director with his feature films Orphans and The Magdalene Sisters. This year will see the release of his third feature as director, Neds.
However, his first work as a director was Close - a grim, brutal and darkly humorous tale of one man’s murderous breakdown in a tenement block or “close”. It is a powerful and violent piece, one that hints at the violence in Mullan’s own background:
More than that, Mullan describes a household almost under siege from his alcoholic father’s dark personality. ‘There are some people who walk into a room and they oxygenate it, by their very being there’s fresh air,’ he says. ‘Then there are those who come in with the smell of death and they suck the life out. He was one of those. I remember the undiluted, black-as-coal bile that used to come out of his mouth.’
As Charles Mullan’s lung cancer worsened, so the abuse strayed from the psychological to the physical. ‘In the later years, when he got drunk on whisky, you didnae wanna know. Eventually our household went completely nuts, because the boys became teenagers and physically strong, and violence became a way of life.’ Mullan and his brothers hit back. ‘We had no choice. I think it’s fair to say that if you walk in from school and he’s got your mother over the table with a knife at her throat, one’s going to get physical.’
Close isn’t for the faint-hearted, so you have been warned.
Mullan’s film Neds opens on the 21st January in the UK, as yet, there is no US release date.
Part 2 of ‘Close’ plus bonus trailer for ‘Neds’, after the jump…