Friday, October 20, 2006


Quite A Cockfight

Having - as I'm sure you'd noticed - had a bit of a dearth in inspiration recently, I went back over my 'to blog about' list, which contains any number of items that seemed like a good idea at one point or another before I either forgot about them or changed my mind. They're mostly rubbish, but one issue that had me pretty angry at one point this summer did spring out as worth mentioning.

At the Edinburgh Film Festival this year, one of the themes was a re-examination of critically lauded but generally forgotten films from the 1970s, one of which was going to be Monte Hellman's 'Cockfighter'. 'Cockfighter' is a brutal drama set in the Deep South, and features actual footage of cockfights. Over recent years, it has been re-appraised, and is now regarded as a very important work - and an excellent character study - by an under-appreciated director. Tony T had words of praise, and I have to go on his judgement since I haven't seen it.

A few days before the scheduled screening, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals complained to the festival organisers, who took advice from the BBFC. The BBFC said that any screening would be illegal, since it would contravene the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937, which expressly forbids public display of any film in which an animal was harmed in the making. It had once been shown in public before, at the NFT, a screening which we now know was illegal.

Although it has never been officially banned, it suffers a de facto ban in the UK. It isn't the only film about cockfighting to suffer a de facto ban. A Claire Denis film, 'No Fear, No Die' also suffers the same fate. According to the Melonfarmers, that film contains a disclaimer in the end credits saying that all the fight scenes were faked, with plastic blades being substituted for metal ones. However, the relevant law also covers 'distress', so the distributors were informally advised that the film would require massive cuts.

I just don't understand who or what is being protected here. In the case of 'Cockfighter', we clearly have animals being killed, yet banning the film is utterly pointless. The relevant roosters have been dead for over thirty years - who are we kidding by pretending it didn't happen? The usual argument about the fruitlessness of censorship in the age of the Internet also stands, only this time, you don't need to go to Ogrish or Rotten to see what the censors won't allow, because there are masses of videos on Youtube. In the case of 'No Fear, No Die', the film apparently takes a moral stance on the issue. 'K. S. Kincaid' on the IMDb:

'Gandhi once said that the true measure of how civilized a society is can be found by looking at how it treats its animals. The message of "No Fear, No Die" seems to be that disregard of and insensitivity towards the lives of animals leads to insensitivity on a greater scale. Jocelyn lets in get to him and leads him to an act of near-homicide. In a modern age in which the peoples of "civilized" nations have become so de-sensitized because of their cultures of excess, we are steadily running headfirst into the brink of our own self-destruction. But no one, it seems, can afford to give a damn.'

What really pisses me off about this is that my dad used to work (and by used to I mean until very recently) near a house in which cocks were bred for fighting, and the suspicion was dogs too. The police know - they raided the house at one point. Nothing came of it. It still goes on. If people want to get angry about cockfighting, then why don't they get angry about it actually happening now, not a film containing a few scenes of it shot three decades ago?

I suppose the law was introduced in order to stop film makers deliberately harming animals for film footage. If the footage is of a cock-fight that would've taken place anyway i suppose it's done no more harm than the vile practise itself. I can't see it glamorising the sport in anyway and if it was going to be shown at the Edinburgh Festival its not likely a hoard of people who saw it there would've been influenced into taking up the 'sport'.

As for those dog breeders in Cape Hill (Smethwick, West Midlands: crap hole extrordinare!!) it does appear sadly that the lives of animals are not regarded as important to the authorities. I know that the RSPCA desperately need more powers: they have to go to great lengths to get pets confiscated from morons who mistreat them. Plus the fact that these sort of people are often violent characters anyway, what makes stupid judges think that anyone who'll force a dog to fight would be cuddly character who wouldn't harm a human? And once their years ban from owning animals is up they won't start again?!

Anyway you're completely right instead of worrying about 30yr-old scenes like those featured in this film, they should start trying to combat the problem today.
Its because people who want censorship usually are only upset about offences they see. They're perfectly fine with hidden atrocity, and they don't SEE the cockfights in that house near your dad's work.
wanna linkx to me ill do u if u will,

ur dead brainy steeeve.
Cockfighter: Better than Rooster Cogburn.

Much better.
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