TANDY VERSYP Staff Writer
When I was 10, my father rarely took me to Blockbuster. Every time we went to the video store, I begged and begged to watch “Scream,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” or “Aliens”—all R-rated. He wouldn’t even listen to my pleading about the art of filmmaking and broadening my horizons.
“Scream” is one of the smartest post-modern looks at the slasher film genre. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is without question one of the greatest films of all time and a Foucauldian look at the nature of prisoner and warden. “Aliens,” aside from simply being badass, has a strong story structure and histrionic yet believable direction by James Cameron.
These films were rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America to protect children from their adult content. If I had seen those films at 10 they probably wouldn’t have scarred me, but I wouldn’t have understood the reason behind their depiction of violence and sex.
But now I have Netflix and last night I forwent my conservative upbringing and watched my very first NC-17 rated movie. It wasn’t “Showgirls,” the last NC-17 movie to have wide release by a major studio. It was “This Film is Not Yet Rated”—a provocative and piercing documentary on the MPAA and its rating system.
I was blown away—I actually fell off my sofa—by the fascist secrecy with which the ratings are given. A board of raters watches a movie and votes on a make-or-break rating. If a film gets an NC-17 rating, studios won’t distribute it. “Showgirls” was the last widely released NC-17 rated film because upon its release it was boycotted by millions of people across the U.S.
The crazy thing is that hardly anyone knows the identities of the raters to protect them from influence, even though major studio personnel can talk to them while independent filmmakers have no clue who they are.
Many films have been re-cut to fit the R-rating standards of the MPAA, even though its standards are arbitrary, with big studio films getting a good kind of arbitrary.
For instance, “Scary Movie,” released by Dimension films (owned by Miramax) got an R-rating, even though there is a scene with a man getting his ear tickled by a penis through a bathroom glory hole. On the other hand “The Cooler,” released by Lionsgate (the biggest independent film distribution company) got an NC-17 rating for a quick shot of Maria Bello’s pubic hair during a tender sex scene between Bello and William H. Macy. It might’ve been a little racy, but in a real way it wasn’t the least bit exploitive.
“This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” showed that the MPAA looks down on the following things: gay sex, women receiving pleasure and pelvic thrusting—no matter what the context. However, they love brutal violence, military hagiographies and pleasing their studio buddies.
The documentary hinted at a twisted way seven major corporations control our culture through media rationing and shutting out films and images that truthfully depict our society.
I wanted to rage against the conglomeration of mass media somehow, but I didn’t know how—until I remembered Joss Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog.”
This hilariously campy and surprisingly poignant “silly little musical” is exactly what filmmakers, artists and potential revolutionaries must do to hold onto the ideal that art is the watchdog of society.
“Dr. Horrible” was produced and written during the 2007-2008 Writer’s Guild of America strike. It wasn’t just an artistic endeavor, it was a blatant political stand against the film industry.
Whedon made the film strictly for the Internet. He made it with no money, pulling favors from industry insiders. He didn’t even pay his crew until the film was a success through DVD sales after the fact.
“Dr. Horrible” wasn’t rated, wasn’t distributed in theaters or weighed down with studio red tape. It went straight from the artist to the public.
With all of that being said, I want to break from my usual story-structured columns.
I urge all filmmakers, writers, journalists, radio DJs and whoever else has something to say to take hold of the Internet. Right now, it is a gift. Internet regulations are almost non-existent, leaving the opportunity for a revolution of new ideas; fresh and provocative or subtle and conservative, it doesn’t matter.
Let’s take a crap on the Big-Brother-like infiltration of our culture by GE, Disney, Sony, Paramount and the MPAA. Let’s show our country things it doesn’t want to hear with grace, wisdom and self-censorship. Self-promote. Make a zine. Keep it motherf***ing real.
Let’s start thinking and creating again.
(Oh, and another thing, get Netflix and watch “This Film Is Not Yet Rated.”)