A Filmjerk Opinion Piece About… The A Rating

A lot of you may have read about the push for a new rating classification for American movies, the A rating (for Adult), which would differentiate films with adults themes that are non inherently pornographic. The latest push for the A rating comes from the Lipsky brothers, who have been pioneers of the independent film distribution world for the last two decades, in the marketing of their company Lot 47’s latest film, L.I.E., which depicts the strange relationship between a teenage boy and an older man. The Lipskys have built a rather impressive site where they give some very convincing reasons as to why the need for an A rating is needed between the R and NC17 ratings. In a nutshell, they argue the NC17 rating rightfully conjures up images of perversion in the minds of the public. However, in all their logic, they ignore one extremely crucial point.

The reason why the NC17 rating rightfully conjures up images of perversion in the minds of the public.

The majority of films that receieve the NC17 are dirty little films with titles like The Secret Sex Life of Romeo and Juliet, Peepshow, Whore and The Barcelona Erotic Film Festival. Look at the listings on filmratings.com and you see two distinct types of films that get rated “NC17”: films that have explicit sexual content or substantial graphic horror violence and gore. Since the retirement of the X rating and the creation of the NC17 in 1990, only a handful of films have ever attempted any kind of major release with the dreaded rating: Henry and June, Showgirls, Crash and maybe Orgazmo. And it should be no surprise that Universal, MGM and New Line, the respective distributors, marketing the films as soft-core porn with name actors.

Then there are the films like Two Girls and A Guy and L.I.E. which aren’t explicitly sexual but are adult in nature. Films which could have made a difference in making the “NC17” a more respectable rating. But instead of fighting the good fight, Two Girls recut itself and took the “R” while Lot 47 has decided they’ll take up the censorship issue which never works as a way to get the word out about their new film. The Lipskys know the “A” rating will never be implemented. In July 1990, filmmakers Michael Apted, Hector Babenco, Harold Becker, Bernardo Bertolucci, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Abel Ferarra, Terry Gilliam, Meahem Golan, Walter Hill, Ron Howard, Jim Jarmusch, John Landis, Charles Lane, Spike Lee, Mark Lester, Barry Levinson, Adrian Lyne, Penny Marshall, Paul Mazursky, Sydney Pollack, Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, John Sayles, John Schlesinger, Ridley Scott, Steven Soderbergh, Wayne Wang, John Waters, Robert M. Young and Edward Zwick signed an open letter to MPAA head Jack Valenti. In part, the letter read:

The ‘X’ rating, originally conceived to indicate that a film contains mature and/or adult material and should not be viewed by children, has come to be universally recognized as pertaining simply to pornography. As a consequence, an ‘X’ rated or unrated film is denied exhibition in thousands of cinemas nationwide, display advertising is forbidden by a growing number of major metropolitan newspapers, and radio and television advertising in most markets is not available at all for films that are not rated either G, PG, PG-13 or R by your organization. We believe that it is imperative that the MPAA correct this problem by creating a new letter rating that will more fairly reflect the association’s original intentions with regard to adult-themed fare.

While the MPAA maintains that its Classification and Rating Administration does not censor films or force filmmakers to censor their films, the taint of an ‘X’ rating clearly results in massive and arbitrary corporate censorship. Failure to address this problem will help foster a new era of “McCarthyism” in the arts as during the ’50s when the networks claimed it was not they who blacklisted artists, but the sponsors. We therefore strongly suggest that a new rating of ‘A’ or ‘M’ be incorporated into the system to indicate that a film contains strong adult themes or images and that minors are not to view them.

And a new rating was created which indicated that a film contained strong adult themes or images and that minors are not to view them. It’s called the NC17. Not that any one of them outside of Lyne, Wang and maybe Bertolucci would ever make a film which might ever receive an NC17;. Yet here we are again, seeing another insider deciding, instead of make the NC17 work as it should, to rally the troops against the evil MPAA and their fascist ways.

Long time readers of FilmJerk.com know that I am no fan of Valenti or the MPAA. Yet they are a necessary evil. If we didn’t have a voluntary rating system with a standardized set of rules, we would be back to the days where most every community had their own film ratings board which was authorized to make changes to a filmmaker’s work without that filmmaker’s consent. Some oversensitive bitty in South Bend could decide to cut out certain scenes from Schindler’s List or ban it from the city altogether because she feels local kids should not know about the horrors of the Holocaust. Don’t laugh, because things like this were still happening in Dallas as late as 1994.

If the Lipskys want an effective adult rating, then they need to release films with the NC17 and work with the traditional press outlets and online news sites like us to get the word out. Education is the most effective form to combat censorship, real or perceived.