If it's Wednesday, somebody is getting NC-17 wrong again

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It happens to the best of them.

Even Boxoffice  (NATO’s official magazine), can’t get its facts straight on the NC-17 rating. Michael Villapiano, in a November 7 blog post, retails some of the more persistent myths surrounding the rating.

It starts in the first paragraph, which I’ll reprint in full:

Historically, the most reasonable solution in avoiding the dreaded NC-17 rating has been releasing films unrated. This technique has allowed filmmakers to circumvent the Motion Picture Association of America, while at the same time enabled more print advertising and wider theatrical exhibition. Many newspapers won’t promote NC-17 films and many theaters won’t screen them. Larry Clark’s debut Kids, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream and Todd Solondz’s Happiness were all released unrated and made 7.5 million, 3.6 million, and 2.8 million respectively. These numbers may not seem astronomical, yet compared to the figures of NC-17 films, the unrated ones do quite well.

To which I can only respond:


Further, NATO members, who account for more than 29,000 U.S. movie screens, generally treat unrated films in the same manner they would an NC-17 film: No one under 17 allowed. Additionally, with one exception, all the major theater chains will play NC-17 films on a case-by-case basis. The market appeal of NC-17 rated films is likely limited already by the subject matter. Newspapers follow the same policy in regard to ads for NC-17 films.

Further nonsense is stirred up with Villapiano’s assertion that cutting the film for an R rating and then releasing it unrated will lead to more people seeing the film in the long run.

With theatrical releases becoming giant promotions for the more profitable video market, having a film released after editing for a few weeks seems a small price to pay. After a month or so it can be available on DVD complete and unrated for the home audience forever. The stigma of NC-17 is so strong that if the DVD is NC-17 as opposed to unrated, there will likely be fewer sales. Also, many large chains, Blockbuster included, have no problem renting unrated DVDs but will not rent NC-17.

Three points: The average video release window now stands at 4 months 18 days, not “a month or so”. Second, despite NATO’s opposition to unrated DVD releases as a sniggering flouting of the rating system, it is still possible for Lust, Caution to be released unrated on DVD. Third, yes Mike, by all means, let’s let Blockbuster’s hypocrisy regarding unrated DVDs that would otherwise merit an NC-17 stand as a beacon toward which all filmmakers and marketers should aspire.

Resistance to the NC-17 is a marketing problem – not a filmmaking problem or a rating problem. Villapiano suggest abandoning th rating as if that will solve all the problems:

Either the MPAA should overhaul the rating system or major studios should be able to release films theatrically unrated. However, until the problems are remedied, major studios are at the mercy of the MPAA. Recognizing this, independent filmmakers should use every opportunity to take advantage of going unrated, and large studios should convince the MPAA to straighten out the antiquated rating system.

Indeed, the solution must clearly be more hypocrisy. As long as filmmakers and marketers insist on treating the NC-17 as a stigma, while using “unrated” as either a free-speech badge of honor or a wink-wink, nudge-nudge come-on, and lazy reporters insist on unthinkingly repeating each misconception we will be stuck with an unusable rating.

The solution is to honestly rate films and honestly market them, because, as James Schamus noted here:

“Ang is the filmmaker, and he brought this adaptation to life,” Schamus said. “He knows exactly what he wants to realize and achieve in filming any given sequences, and he made the final decisions on how to stage, frame, shoot and edit them, much in the same way he did with ‘Crouching Tiger’ or ‘Brokeback.’ “

and here:

“As with so many of his previous films, Oscar-winning director Ang Lee has crafted a masterpiece about and for grown-ups”.

  Update 11:32 am (PST):Censors Sued for Cut Steamy Sex Scenes:  Man seeks $67 in “psychological damages” over edit to Ang Lee’s ‘Lust, Caution’.” See what happens when you don’t have a rating system?


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