In November 1995, DEAD MAN was banned in Australia because of sexual violence. This was from one small scene at the start where woman is shown performing fellatio, whilst a man holds a gun to her head.
This was one of the more stupid decisions made by the Classification Board.
The distributors, United International Pictures appealed against the decision, and on December 22nd, the Review Board awarded it an R18+ (Medium Level Violence) rating.
Here is what the Film Board of Review had to say about DEAD MAN when reviewing the original ban.
5 Finding on material questions of fact
5.1 The plot
Young accountant William Blake expends all his savings to make a long train trip from his home to the town of Machine to take up a job offer. On his arrival he finds the town to be corrupt, degraded and in poverty, and there is no job. The major part of the film is occupied by Blake's subsequent flight and pursuit after wrongly being accused of murder. He is accompanied and protected (and ultimately taken to a peaceful Indian village to die) by an Indian who believes he (Blake) is the reincarnation of poet William Blake.
The scene of sexual violence
5.2 The Board of Review considered the scene cited by the Censorship Board as in its opinion, taking the film out of the R category and causing it to warrant refusal under Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulation 13(1)(a) and under the guideline proscribing 'explicit or unjustifiable depictions of sexual violence against non-consenting persons'.
The scene, some 12 minutes into the film, takes place as Blake walks through the town of Machine on his arrival. Different facets of the town's degradation are revealed as he walks. Down an alley he sees a man leaning against a wall with a woman kneeling in front of him, implicitly fellating him. A gun held loosely in the man's hand is raised towards the horrified Blake as a warning to move on. The scene lasts approximately four seconds.
The Review Board found that the scene depicted implied sexual violence. The applicant's submission conceded this and described the scene as one of 'implicitly coerced oral sex' and that 'there is clear implication that she has been forced to do this'. The writer-director Jim Jarmusch says that 'the implication is that the woman is being forcibly subjugated by some low-life resident of the town.....Without the gun there to represent force, the woman would merely be viewed as common, vulgar whore, and the scene would reflect on her character rather than, as is intended, on the character of the town itself. With the gun however, she is clearly the victim of the town's obvious acceptance of coercion, violence and corruption on every level'.
5.3 The Review Board found that a scene at about 73 minutes of the squashing of a dead man's head with a boot, with the brain spurting out, to be cruel and relished and likely to offend some sections of the adult community. It found similarly in regard to the scene of cannibalism of a human arm.
6 Reasons for the decision.
6.1 The Review Board based its decision not to confirm that Censorship Board's decision to refuse registration on its consideration of the film as a whole and on the scene cited in 5.2 in particular.
6.2 The Review Board was of the opinion that the scene was a fleeting one of limited sexual violence. On this point it accepts the applicant's written submission supporting its application for review.
However, it also found the scene to be necessary to the narrative. As Blake walks through the town, various aspects of the degradation are revealed. The brief scene of implied forced fellatio, apparently unremarkable to any of the town's inhabitants but Blake, adds a further dimension of brutality and indifference to the picture. The walk is in strong contrast to the walk undertaken by Blake in the closing stages of the film through a peaceful and caring Indian village.
Further the Review Board found the scene, which is extremely brief and in midshot, not to be exploitative. The reaction of the viewer, as of Blake, is one of revulsion.
The Review Board therefore found the film to contain a scene of implied sexual violence, but one which was acceptable by being necessary to the narrative and not exploitative. The Review Board is mindful of community concern, reflected in the film and video classification guidelines, about portrayals of sexual violence, and in making its decision in relation to this particular film does not wish to convey the impression that its commitment to upholding the relevant guidelines have been diminished.
6.3 The film included other scenes (described in 5.3 above) of skull squashing and cannibalism. The former was shown in a manner which was detailed and cruel but which lacked some realism. In combination with the scene described in 5.2, this film could be said to have content which could be offensive to some sections of the adult community and therefore is appropriately classified For Restricted Exhibition (R18+)
6.4 The Review Board's direction that the consumer advice in relation to the film be 'Medium level violence' is made having regard to the findings in 5.2 and 5.3 above.
The Review Board's decision is to set aside the decision of the Censorship Board in relation to the film Dead Man and to grant the permission sought by the applicant, The film is to be registered and classified R18+ with consumer advice 'Medium level violence'. The decision was taken after full consideration of the applicant's submission, and after assessing the film as a whole against relevant legislative criteria, and those contained in the current film classification guidelines endorsed by Censorship Ministers 22 December
DEAD MAN had an uncut theatrical run, before a video release on the 21st Century Pictures label.
Siren was the first company to release DEAD MAN on DVD in Australia.
Madman Entertainment were again awarded an R18+ (High Level Violence) rating in June 2005. The original rating in 1995 was R18+ (Medium Level Violence). DEAD MAN was released on DVD in July 2005 as the 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION and ran 116:06.
DEAD MAN has been shown several times on SBS with an MA15+ rating. The May 2009 screening included the problem scene, so presumably all previous ones have also been uncut.
The scene that caused DEAD MAN to be banned in Australia shows Johnny Depp's character walking through the town. He looks left and spots a woman performing fellatio, while a man (Gibby Haynes from THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS) holds a gun to her head. The man spots Depp, and raises his gun to warn him away.
In the Madman DVD the scene appears between 11:27 to 11:34.