Archive for the ‘Alan Bennett’ Category

Miranda is still banging on about History Boys

May 27, 2007

In her weekly column in the Sun-Herald, Miranda Devine has returned to The History Boys. She says:

Pitched as a new Dead Poets Society, The History Boys is soaked in homoeroticism and features a teacher at a British boys’ school whose students adore him even though he fondles their genitals.

Obviously, she garnered little support or sympathy for her “not-a-prude” friend who took his pre-teen children to an M-rated film. Not even from “reader Helen” who wrote:

“If I had known, I wouldn’t have gone to see a movie about a pedophile.”

 There is something pathetically comical about having to engage in a debate  about the sexual proclivities of a fictional character, but, if only for the record, Hector, the character in question, is not a pedophile.  And only somebody with Miranda’s obsession with the “elephant in the room” could say that the film is “soaked in homoeroticism.”  That description comes out of similar polemics against the kindergarted readers which happen to depict gay or lesbian families – it comes from people who, because they want to see the world bleached of any representations of or references to homosexuality (because they hate it) see any reference to such matters as an outrage.  

With the power of the Sunday press at her disposal, Miranda has been able to elicit one colourful story of an allergic reaction to the film, by the 16-year-old friend “reader Jasmine”.  He “had been abused by his PDHPE teacher when he was 12.”

“Jasmine wrote to say they had thought The History Boys would be like Goodbye, Mr Chips but left, shocked, halfway through. She followed her friend to the toilet and held “his head as he vomited violently”.”

Of course, even rating this film MA15+ would not have prevented this occurring.  Implicitly, Miranda concedes this, because her conclusion is (emphasis added):

“An appropriate classification or honest review might have saved him the torment.”

Because her account of the film is so inaccurate, I don’t think that Miranda has established that the classification of The History Boys was inappropriate, though doubtless many of her readers, who have not seen the film , will probably now think so.

Miranda is now advocating a more complicated array of censorship classifications, as is the case in New Zealand, which provides for, as she puts it:

“eight easily comprehensible ratings: G, PG, M, R13 (restricted to people 13 and over), R15, R16, R18 and R.” 

The difference between this and the Australian system is the addition of the R13, R15, R16 classifications, all of which (unlike our MA 15+ classification: which allows people under the age of 15 to attend with a parent or guardian) are absolute age-based prohibitions.

So, do we want such a censorship system to meet the desires of parents who want the state to ensure that their children, and other people’s children, are prohibited from seeing things which they don’t like?  The case which Miranda mounts (such as it is) indicates why not, because then we will just be buying further into the arguments which we already have where a body whose only obvious expertise is in child developmental psychology erect a series of defensive ramparts against what they see as a flood of undesirable materal, and then, by extension, also apply their own prejudices against what even adults can see.

In the meantime, it is telling that Miranda reaches back to Dead Poets Society as a kind of stalking-horse.  The true elephant in the room in that film was its failure to suggest in any way that such a teacher as Robin Williams’ character is very likely to have been gay, and even if not, in real life he would certainly have been suspected of so being.  Proponents of more rigorous censorship are all about keeping that elephant invisible, so that when or if it occasionally becomes visible, it can be denounced as deviant and offensive, or as “undermining marriage,” etc etc.  There is no word from such people, such as our beloved prime minister, who has the nerve to denounce bullying in schools, of the bullying and other harm which this conributes to.

History Boys and Miranda

May 23, 2007

Miranda Devine has come out swinging against this film,  and in particular (helped by the subeditors who might, rather than Miranda, be responsible for the headline) the decision of the Film Censorship Board of Review to rate it “M: for mature audiences only.”

It is tempting to say that the warning proved useless in this case, and I can resist anything except temptation.

Spurred by Miranda’s condemnation, I went to see the film (only $8.50 on a Tuesday at Greater Union, George Street).  I had already seen the play when the National Theatre production toured to Sydney last year.  I seriously wondered if Miranda and I saw the same film.

Miranda describes the film as:

“a pederastic fantasy about teachers who fondle their students’ genitals in the nicest way and the boys don’t mind at all”

and the central character as

“Hector, a loveable, obese, married pedophile and pedagogue played by Richard Griffiths.”

Miranda provides a little critical analysis:

“The only fleshed-out female character is the history teacher played by Frances de la Tour, the horsy, gender-neutral giantess Madame Maxime in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire.

She knows about Hector’s proclivities but does nothing.”

This last point is a bit misleading.  The character in question knows about Hector’s proclivities, in a general sense, but at the point where she discovers he has acted on them to the point of fondling (which is pederastic in the sense that he is a pedagogue, but not, I think, pedophilic: the boys are studying for scholarships after completing their A levels, and the one gay boy, who looks the youngest is actually exempt from Hector’s attentions), it is hardly to the point whether she should do something, because the headmaster has delivered an ultimatum to Hector to retire at the end of term.

Miranda also summarises some other aspects of the characters and plot:

“It’s about a British boys’ school in the 1980s where all the students are openly or latently gay. Even the flagrantly heterosexual pretty boy, Dakin, who is bedding the headmaster’s busty assistant, seamlessly switches sides, offering oral sex to Irwin, the slimmer of his two gay teachers, out of gratitude for winning a scholarship to Oxford.”

Well, if that doesn’t open a can of worms!  What on earth does “latently gay” mean?  Only one boy is gay.  The others are prepared to camp things up a bit (hasn’t Miranda ever seen The Footy Show?) and Dakin (who is definitely not gay) offers to let Irwin suck him off – perhaps out of gratitude, but equally, one feels, as an exercise of the hold Dakin has over him.  (It is true that, in pursuit of a cheap laugh, Bennett has another boy, who is religious, say that he will be giving thanks, as he takes it Dakin will be, on his knees, but that is not what Dakin himself says.)

Perhaps Miranda got her account of the film at second hand.  Because she explains the source of her story:

“Last weekend I ran into a friend, who is no prude, reeling out of a suburban theatre with his wife and two preteen children. They had walked out of The History Boys just as straight boy Dakin asks his teacher Irwin, ‘if there was any chance of your sucking me off’.”

Woah! That happens about ten minutes before the end of the movie.  The children had presumably dozed through the references to A E Housman and W H Auden as “nancies” and the fact that Auden had possibly interfered with his students much as “Hector” did.  I suppose they scarcely comprehended (and would therefore have been bored shitless by)the early classroom play-acting scene in French which starts out pretending to be in a French brothel and ends in a field hospital somewhere near Ypres.  They were probably left cold by the analysis of a poem by Hardy about drummer Hodge buried somewhere beneath the veldt.  I don’t know what they had made of the scene where the headmaster told Hector that he would have to resign because a lollipop lady at a school pedestrian crossing had reported that he had been observed massaging his students’ genitals whilst giving them a lift home on the back of his motor bike, the scene where Hector’s colleague, played by Frances de la Tour, roundly denounced him for such conduct, or the scenes where Hector and Irwin discussed the question of how they dealt with their attraction to their students and where Dakin made his first suggestion to Irwin (which was the fore-runner of the apparently just-too-much sucking-off proposition).  I imagine the children, if awake, would have been clamouring to be taken home or to MacDonalds by the time their parents took them out.

Miranda continues:

“My friend felt he had been tricked by the M rating and misleading advertising into taking his children to a grossly unsuitable movie which normalises pedophile behaviour and promotes a world view in which heterosexuality is aberrant, women repulsive and marriage a sham.”

The “marriage a sham” line is a reference to a scene where the Frances de la Tour character talks about what women who marry men like Hector want from such men and what they may or may not know about such men.  Maybe it means that some marriages are sham (which is debatable, in the scheme of things) but it hardly sustains the generalised description which Miranda gives it.

And since when did one “repulsive” woman (not fair to Frances de la Tour, not to mention the headmaster’s buxom secretary) in a film amount to “promoting a world view” that all women in general are so?

I can’t work out at all where the claim that the film “promotes a world view” that “heterosexuality is aberrant” comes from.

To return to Miranda:

“How could the Classification Board get it so wrong? The History Boys has the same M rating as Spider-Man 3, Harry Potter and Kenny, while in the US it was rated R because of “strong language and sexually explicit dialogue.”

This of course begs two or even three questions.  Perhaps the rating of Spider-Man 3, Harry Potter and Kenny is the problem.  The question about the US rating is my “even” third question, but the second question is, how could Miranda’s friends have got it so wrong?  Remember, this film was rated M: that means that it is for mature audiences, but not a film which (MA 15+) persons under 15 are prohibited from seeing unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.  Was Miranda’s friend, though “not a prude” (notwithstanding the distorted account of the film which he appears to have given to Miranda), simply too stingy to pay for a baby-sitter?

Miranda addresses this point further, because she doesn’t just blame the censor.

“With our untrustworthy classification system, movie reviews would usually alert parents to offensive content.

But no.”

She then quotes a number of reviews, and summarises her criticism of reviews in general as follows:

“Review after review neglects to acknowledge the elephant in the room.”

Which she contrasts with the acuity of a well-known journalistic standby (not apparently available to her “by no means a prude” friend):

“Wikipedia has no such blind spot, accurately categorising the movie as ‘pederastic film’ and ‘LGBT (lesbian, gay or transgender-related) film’.”

She concludes magisterially:

You don’t have to object to the movie, just to the inexplicable deception of the audience.

I think the first clause in this sentence is disingenuous.  It is clear that Miranda does object to the film, even if only at second-hand. And a pre-requisite to objecting to the film  (what does that mean even? object to pre-teen children being dragged to it?) would be to understand the film, which nobody could do on Miranda’s account of it. After that, we might be in a position to have a useful discussion about the respective roles of censorship boards and reviewers.

And baby-sitters.


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