Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

This Film Is Not Yet Rated


Actually, it is, the infamous NC-17, the kiss of death because no studio will distribute it, very few of the enormous chains that run 90% of the screens in America will exhibit it, and few newspapers will advertise it. The process of getting this rating is part of the film, and it’s one that would have delighted Stalin or Hitler. You go in knowing nothing, and you come out with a rating. You can challenge it, and your chances of winning range from piss-poor to impossible. Thus … you cut, and you’re often not even sure what to cut, or how much. This scandalous system has been in place with almost no change since the 1960s, headed by that sanctimonious asshole, Jack Valenti, the counter-in-chief of nipples, cocks, and pussy hairs. What a job! Jack never was bothered with rape and mutilation, so long as no tits got bared. I can only find one nice thing to say about Valenti, and it is this: He wasn’t quite as bad as Will Hayes or Thomas Bowdler.

The director sets out to expose the sham that is the rating system, and scores some big hits … none of which will affect anything, but which are nice to know. Using a private detective, he discovers the top-secret names of many of the raters, who are all supposed to be parents of young children. Guess what? Hardly any of them are. If there is a system to their madness, it isn’t apparent, except that people who might actually know something about the effect of sex and violence on children are specifically excluded. The Catholic and Episcopalian Churches are not, however.

The whole star chamber system was set up by the producers, distributors, and exhibitors in the first place, and guess what again? They’re still in charge. When the director appeals his NC-17, his private detective is out there waiting, jotting down the license plate numbers of his inquisitors as they leave. All of them are high executives in studios and theater chains, representatives of the seven media conglomerates that control 95% of all media in the US. He names names, and he lost his appeal, 10-0.

But I suspect the days of influence of the MPAA are waning. Have you seen some of the commercials circulating on the Internet? They are being produced by some very big companies, and they do things you could never do on the networks, or even on HBO. One shows a man accidentally opening a bottle of beer in his friend’s rectum. A classic already: the couple going to the door and he asks her for a blowjob. My favorite: The Norelco Body Shaver, where a smug guy in a bathrobe talks about shaving his kiwis (balls), his peaches (butt cheeks), and his carrot. Advertisers have learned that, by humor, you can get the consumers themselves to spread the word about your product. We’ve already seen from early examples that small independent producers are learning how to do it, too. Pretty soon I believe that movies, quality movies, with real stars, that take sexuality to lengths we’ve never been able to see because of Valenti’s bluenoses, will become available for downloading, rated by no one, censored by no one. Consumers are buying huge screens, home theaters, soon they will be buying HD-DVDs. Theaters could soon become a small sideline of the movie industry, and (though this doesn’t make me happy) the big theatrical release could become a memory, unless the MPAA and others wake up to the fact that they’re operating under the rules of the last century. Then the MPAA, the studios, the distributors, and the exhibitors could all find themselves facing an I-Rating … for Irrelevant.