MPAA ON TRIAL: TAKE THE NC-17 AND SHOVE IT

Usually when I aim an article towards the Motion Picture Association of America and their ridiculous standards toward giving certain films a particular rating (especially when it involves the NC-17 rating); I make sure I’ve thoroughly researched (that actually means “watched”) the film being discussed. Today on the other hand, is different. This article is in regards to a statement recently released by THINKFilm regarding Atom Egoyan’s newest film, “Where the Truth Lies” which happens to be a film I have yet to see.

The MPAA plans on slapping this film with their most despicable rating, the dreaded NC-17, for reasons of a sexual nature. Any motion picture carrying that combination of lettering is automatically shunned from many mainstream movie theaters, hurting the film financially and wrongly leaving some non-Hollywood film fans out in the cold.

In a statement released by THINKFilm on August 22nd, they plan on appealing this decision. The film focuses on a ménage à trois, which leads to the death of a girl. Apparently, it’s the whole ménage à trois sequence that earned the film the rating. The press release quotes THINKFilm’s chairman, Robert Lantos, stating, “This scene is done using a single sustained mastershot in order to allow the actors the most conducive environment for intimacy and intensity…” Egoyan has handled similar themes in many of his other films and he isn’t exactly the type of filmmaker known for shooting without any kind of artistic integrity. Furthermore, with a synopsis like this, why couldn’t the film just get an R rating and leave it to the responsibility of parents to decide what films their kids should and shouldn’t see?

Wait a second, I forgot. I live in a country where lazy parenting allows 10 year-old kids to play “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” without paying attention to the very informative rating information on, not just the front side of the packaging, but also in more detail on the back side. It’s amazing how much parents scream for every little thing in the world to have a rating on it to protect their kids but when they are actually supplied such things, they turn a blind eye and pay even less attention to what their kids are doing. Hillary Clinton should be angry at parents, not ratings.

Without digressing too much further, Lantos also stated that the film hasn’t had this kind of rancid reception with a ratings board anywhere else. “Only in America will many be deprived of access to it.”

The main problem with the NC-17 rating is that no one under 17 years of age would be allowed in theaters, whether they were accompanied by an adult or not. An R rating allows people under the age of 17 to be accompanied by an adult, which is why that rating has a huge advantage (besides the fact that it isn’t blacklisted by various theater chains).

Not to say that every NC-17 film is suitable for children (like “Showgirls” for instance, but that movie isn’t good for anyone) but there are a few exceptions. If I had kids, I would have no problem showing them a film like Larry Clark’s “Kids” or Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream.” For someone in his or her early teens, these titles would do a better job of exposing them to the dangers of unprotected sex and the horrors of drug addiction better than any school could teach. Since both of these filmmakers wanted people to actually see their films, they opted to surrender the NC-17 and go unrated. Oddly, many of the theaters that won’t play NC-17 films don’t mind showing unrated films, as long as they approve it of course.

We need to just put an end to the NC-17 and just give these films an R rating so they can get the proper theater exposure they so deserve. The MPAA needs to try and instill a little faith back into theater chains, too. How hard would it be to send out a nice little memo and remind them about the whole checking ID process? I used to work at a theater so I know getting the employees to ask a simple question while selling tickets isn’t a difficult task. So when little Joey is dropped off in front of the theater all by himself and he tries to buy tickets to see “The Wedding Crashers,” he is instead told that he must be accompanied by an adult or he must simply choose something else.

Parents should also pay a little more attention to what’s going on as well. I worked at a theater when the “South Park” movie was released in 1999 and I can’t tell you how many little kids rued their mommies or grandparents to attend the movie with them, only to have to walk out a mere 10 minutes later when Terrence and Phillip began their now infamous musical number littered with profanities. Did they not notice that it was rated R?

For THINKFilm and Atom Egoyan, an appeal date is being set about the fate of “Where the Truth Lies.” Sadly, many filmmakers that have appealed to the MPAA in the past have failed. Recently, Pedro Almodovar appealed their decision to rate “Bad Education” NC-17 last year, and while the film didn’t deserve it, the rating still stood. Let’s hope Egoyan has better luck because it would be a shame for many viewers if they were denied the opportunity to see this film or any other film brandished with this label.

Can anything be done to try and help sway the MPAA? I am not too sure, but that isn’t to say I am not going to try. Too many films have felt the wrath of this useless rating for us to tolerate it anymore. Why should we be denied access to see certain films because they feel “it’s just too inappropriate for the public”? Can we do what Howard Beale suggested in “Network” and shout from an open window, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore?” That probably won’t work, but we can always try the power of letter writing and phone calling. Thankfully, an address and a phone number can be found on their website (www.mpaa.org), so I no longer have to think that I didn’t try. For the sake of “Where the Truth Lies” and other films that may have this problem in the future, you should try, too.

For the most part, the MPAA offers a great service to the community by rating films in appropriation to age. Every once in a while, however, things go terribly awry. For example, a certain film containing the mere suggestion of certain sexual acts may get the dreaded NC-17, while another film may actually show us the sex acts in question and squeak by with an R rating. Michael Ferraro takes a look at some of these more questionable calls by the MPAA in an attempt to try and understand their madness.




Posted on September 5, 2005 in Features by
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