Andrei Rublev comes to mind. There's a shot of a horse falling down some steps. I read in an essay on the film that they shot the horse in order to get it to fall. This kind of footage would never get past the BBFC
It's not so much the BBFC as the 1937 Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act, which the 1984 Video Recordings Act requires the BBFC to take into consideration (along with all other content-related legislation) when passing films as suitable for video release.
I'm a bit of a hypocrite on this subject since I have a lot of sympathy with the idea that showing scenes of real animal violence or cruelty just for the purposes of a film is terribly wrong (doesn't the BBFC consider the replaying of scenes of animal violence as being similar to replaying a crime? That making images of real violence available is sort of like being an accessory after the fact?)
However I do have Cannibal Holocaust and El Topo on my shelves and consider the horse scenes in Andrei Rublev incredibly powerful. Given the choice however I'd rather have had them find some other way of faking it - after all is that not what movies do? I also find real violent acts (outside of documentary films, where I am more lenient) are sort of an 'easy' method of gaining sympathy - it takes a hard heart not to be appalled at an animal struggling in pain - and often derails sympathy for, and in some ways cheapens, the themes of the film itself.
If the filmmakers are half-decent they can usually manage to create the idea
of violence without actually having to cause it themselves, such as in the dog fighting scenes of Amores Perros.
Although overt animal cruelty is very rare in films these days - the American Humane Association is one of the busier lobbying groups in the US (even to the point of sending me a form to complete and sign guaranteeing no animal cruelty in a British film whose start of production had been announced in the trade press just days earlier) - it's a different matter altogether when dealing with older films from Eastern Europe and Asia where standards are somewhat different.
I remember reading somewhere that a lot of the BBFC cuts are to Bollywood films that use the old horse-tripping technique to simulate the animal getting shot and that the BBFC do not like the idea of the animal being made to run at full pelt and suddenly get tripped up.
I wonder if they apply the same rules to older Hollywood films where that practice used to be common. For example I recently rewatched my US DVD of Major Dundee which has a final sequence involving a battle in a river being repelled by cannons. A trench was dug in the middle of the river so that when the horses were charged and suddenly lost their footing it seemed as if they had been hit. I'm not sure whether that would get through under the BBFC rules now (or maybe they had a member of the Humane Association there - were they around in 1964?)
But the Act's only loopholes are:
(1) if the cruelty was simulated (and can be proved to have been simulated);
(2) if the cruelty would have happened anyway, regardless of the cameras' presence (what I call the David Attenborough defence).
There also seems to be an unofficial (3), which is that the BBFC's interpretation of the Act purely covers the causing of prolonged distress and pain - a clean kill seems to be OK (two of Michael Haneke's films being cases in point).
(1) I'm most happy with that solution, although it might unofficially support filmmakers with the resources and technology to fake it convincingly (e.g. CGI-ing horse trips or bullet shots etc) while demonising the Monte Hellmans of the world who film actual cockfights.
(2)I would broadly agree with that - I mean you can't do a film about a slaughterhouse and then pussyfoot around how the process works! (Though on another note I do find that "let's watch the leopard chase and kill the gazelle because we are dispassionate observers of the natural order" a bit distasteful, even in documentary films. Mainly because I get the feeling the programme makers have to include these scenes to inject a bit of action and pathos into what they might be afraid might just be a dry wildlife film - the cumshot of nature documentaries? I end up finding a film like Africa Addio, in which the camera crew are explictly identified with the hunters - the camera zooming in harshly at the same time as the bullet hits an elephant, almost as if the camera itself is doing the damage - less questionable in a strange way. Though others would likely feel the opposite! That's the grey area of varying degrees of personal moral offence rearing its ugly head!)
(3) That seems to be the same thing they used to apply to fictional acts (i.e. no seeming enjoyment of prolonged terrorisation allowed in Texas Chain Saw Massacre). Now that they seemed to have dropped those kind of moral rulings for fiction (the latest Rambo being a case in point) they are allowing a few brief real acts through in context (was the other Haneke film the killing of the horse for its meat by the settlers at the waystation in Time Of The Wolf? I assume they picked up the horse that was going to be butchered anyway and then after it was killed in the film they let the horse be taken away to really be used for meat? Though this of course raises other questions such as if we allow the French their culturally specific meats, why are we so fussy about dog meat? Could those acts be allowed under being culturally specific?
Anyway I don't really have a point one way or other in this argument, but I hope my struggles with moral hypocrisy (of eating burgers but being in no way prepared to kill a cow for it!) were fun to read!
The BBFC are more and more redundant and reviled in this modern age. Far from thinking that they do a "great and necessary" job, I believe that the job they do is completely without purpose (thanks to the internet) and that the restrictive and costly BBFC practices to which all UK distributors are forced to comply can now be challenged in the European courts. At the very least, by government decree their work should be carried out for free.
I'm not a fan, and even less so since they decided that all commentary tracks had to be certificated due to being "further video content". This is at a cost of around £1,000 GBP for a 95 minute film, and again, another £1,000 GBP for a commentary track -- and the delays involved in the production process while they certificate prevent us from getting things out more quickly.
Audio books, radio shows, and other audio content released on CD in the UK is not certificated by the BBFC, and a DVD audio commentary does not constitute "further video content" in our book because it is audio content, so I am strongly against this inane ruling.
I sympathise a lot with peerpee's view but I am actually glad the BBFC is there and most importantly is relatively independent (though with a mandate) from the government, being an industry body set up under fears that the government would otherwise do the job itself. A fair few whipped up moral panics have been stymied by the BBFC simply saying "you are being stupid" and refusing to take allegations seriously.
Even their sitting on the video release of a film like Natural Born Killers seems to have been taken with trying to protect the filmmaking community from the opportunity for outrage it would have caused at the time. (Though I agree that I have read about situations where the BBFC would just make it economically impossible for you to get a rating for a film if you had caused trouble for them previously - death for a small distributor. They are as prone to pettiness as any other organisation I suppose.)
I would love to think a fully integrated government body would act the same way but recent fiascos suggest things might have been even worse - the last thing you want is to be subject (any more than these things always are) to short termist political changes and whims or to have your department used as a sacrificial pawn during in-fighting.