Action Alert August 2010

This is an archived edition of Action Alert.

Salo Coming to a DVD Store Near You

In 1975, Italian film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini produced the movie Salo,sub-titled 120 Days of Sodom.  This disturbing film depicts the kidnapping, torture, and sexual abuse of teenagers – both male and female – by four Fascists during Mussolini’s Italy in the 1920s and 1930s.  The film portrays disturbingly strong depictions of torture, degradation, sexual violence, mutilation, and murder, all perpetrated by adults on minors.  Salo is therefore a film about paedophilia, and especially violent in its portrayal of the sexual abuse of the teenagers.

The screening of this film was legal in Australia in the early 1990s, with an R-rating.  However, by 1998, the then Office of Film and Literature Classification had imposed a RC-rating (Refused Classification) on Salo, effectively banning the screening of the film.  The classification guidelines state that a film must get a RC-rating if it contains “descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years…”  Salo definitely includes such depictions and was rightly banned.

This ban has been upheld on five subsequent occasions, the most recent in 2008, as film distributors have sought permission to re-release the film for screening in theatres or release it on DVD for home viewing.  Each time, the Classification Review Board has ruled that Salo falls outside of the guidelines, and refused it classification.  Until now!

Salo has now been released with a R18+ rating.  In May 2010, the Classification Review Board acceded to the request of a film distributor for a removal of the ban.  Had the guidelines been liberalised?  No.  Had the film been edited to delete the more horrific scenes?  No.  What had changed?  The distributor had added an extra disc featuring two hours of background information designed to place the film in its broader historical and cinematic context (although, of course, there is no guarantee that anyone watching the film will first watch the background disc).  And the other change is that most of the members of the Classification Review Board are new, being appointed in 2009 by the Labor Federal Government, and are approaching their role in a more ‘open’ manner.

In recent Senate Estimates hearings, the Chairman of the Classification Board, Mr Donald McDonald, was grilled by Coalition Senators about the removal of the ban against the distribution of Salo.  Mr McDonald admitted that the Board had no evidence that people would actually watch the contextual background material, the presence of which formed the basis of the decision to approve the film’s release on DVD.  He also acknowledged that, in his opinion, “Simulated paedophilia could be acceptable in the context of a particular film.”  He admitted that Salo did contain depictions of paedophilia, something which the members of the current Classification Board had argued otherwise. 

The Australian Christian Lobby and FamilyVoice Australia, along with Senator Julian McGauran (LIB – Victoria) and Senator Guy Barnett (LIB – Tasmania), have now launched an appeal in the Federal Court to have the ban reinstated.  Senator McGauran said, “Our chief censors, by releasing this movie, have re-defined paedophilia and its acceptance.”  ACL, FAVA, and the two Senators are arguing that the classification authorities, by approving Salo with a R18+ rating, have defied proper process and reinterpreted the law.  Mrs Ros Phillips, Family Voice Australia, said, “For many years it has been refused classification because of its scenes of young teen boys and girls being physically and sexually abused in horrible ways.”  She the went on to say, “… how can additional material justify scenes of sadistic child pornography in the main DVD?”

While it is not possible for us to influence the hearings in the Federal Court, it would be appropriate to contact the Classification Review Board to state that the decision to grant Salo a R18+ rating was wrong and to request that the Board review its own decision in this matter.  Ask the Board to reinstate the ban on this film.  Write to the Chairman, Classification Review Board, Locked Bag 3, Haymarket, NSW, 1240 [telephone (02) 92897100, or fax (02) 92897101, or email by going to the website]. 

If the R18+ rating is allowed to stand for Salo just because it has been released as a two disc package, there will be a series of other graphic films currently with a RC-ratings being re-released with accompanying discs of background material.  If this is allowed to stand, our nation may as well abandon any attempt at film classification!

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Who will stand up for me against evildoers?
Who will take his stand for me against those who do wickedness?
Psalm 94:16

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This monthly release is prepared by Pastor Brian Robertson (P O Box 2367, Bundaberg, 4670) to inform Christian people about issues within our society.  “Action Alert” does not promote any one political party, but encourages its readers to be “salt and light” by speaking out on some of these matters.  The views expressed in “Action Alert” are those of the author and are not necessarily those of a local church or a denominational organisation.  To the extent permissible by law, no church or denomination accepts liability for anything contained in this publication and any use made of it.