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The NC-17 and How (not) to Get It

by The Ultimate Dancing Machine

The MPAA has just hit the new William H. Macy movie, THE COOLER, with the dreaded NC-17 rating. Due to exactly one scene of suggestive sexual content, the movie has been declared altogether unfit for the under-18 crowd. If you close your eyes, you can probably hear howls of protest erupting in the distance from certain quarters in Hollywood—for the puritans have struck again. This has happened before, of course, many times; and you can guess what will likely happen next: the film will be recut, and the version of THE COOLER that will eventually appear in theatres will NOT be the one its director intended.

This is nothing new, of course, and there’s no reason why this particular example of MPAA-overkill should trigger the pithy tirade you are reading right now. Maybe it’s all that caffeine I’ve ingested today. Maybe I’m just feeling especially perky on this Fourth of July. But the truth is now clear: The experiment has officially failed. Call in the clean-up crew. Better luck next time. The NC-17 rating—it used to seem like such a good idea—has to be gotten rid of.

Brief history lesson: Back in 1990, a pack of filmmakers and assorted industry big shots got together to draft “An Open Letter to Jack Valenti”—Mr. Valenti being, if you didn’t know, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America. Arguing that the infamous X-rating was indiscriminately applied to porno flicks and artistically daring films alike, much to the detriment of the latter, they suggested the creation of a new rating, which would be applied to non-pornographic movies with “adult” content. Signers included Francis Ford Coppola, Terry Gilliam, Spike Lee, and John Schlesinger; when guys like that start throwing their weight around, somebody’s bound to notice. The NC-17 came into being shortly thereafter, immediately bringing about a Golden Age of tough-minded, unflinching films that dealt with the harsh truths of human existence.

That was the hope, anyhow.

What happened instead was that “NC-17” became synonymous with high-minded smut, with movies that might not have been pornographic, exactly, but were still probably too hot for your ten-year-old kid. The NC-17, created to sidestep the stigma of the sinful X, itself became stigmatized. The way it stands now, anyone who releases a film rated NC-17 faces at least three major obstacles, any one of which could spell commercial doom: (1) many major newspapers will not carry ads for NC-17 films, (2) many theatre chains will not show NC-17 films, and (3) Blockbuster Video—the Great Satan of video-store chains, and the biggest of them all—will not stock NC-17 films.

All this has created what they call a “chilling effect” on the movie biz. Since the inception of the NC-17 not quite a decade and a half ago, sixty-nine films have been released with the rating. But since 2000—here’s the kicker—the number of NC-17 films released is precisely four. (This number does not include the God-knows-how-many movies that were reedited upon initially receiving the NC-17. Incidentally, I got this information from the MPAA’s official site:

Now I don’t pretend to know what’s to be done about this. It’s worth pointing out that the current ratings system is strictly voluntary; you can legally put your movies in theatres with no rating at all. Perhaps if the big studios got together and gave the MPAA a collective cold shoulder, they could force some changes in the system—but you can’t reasonably expect Universal, Paramount, et al to play games like that with their $50 million productions. Also, a very real danger exists that a move to abolish the voluntary system could result in the creation of a mandatory system, with the weight of the federal government behind it.

What I propose instead is something far more modest—probably futile. But here we go: I am calling upon you, dear reader, to help me celebrate NC-17 Day. July 4, 2003, is NC-17 Day. A day for watching NC-17 movies. A day to honor the poor quixotic fucks who went ahead and released movies with a rating that virtually guaranteed financial death. All you have to do on this special day is go out and rent or buy an NC-17 movie. You non-American readers who have different ratings schemes can also help—international grosses count, too.

For the sake of convenience, I have provided below a complete list of all the movies currently rated NC-17 (this, too, is taken from the MPAA’s website). Please note that some of these films are unavailable on video or DVD; others have been released in several different versions, so make sure you check the box to ensure that you’re getting an authentic NC-17 movie.

And above all, have fun.

Wadd: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes
Story of O, The
Wvag In New York City
Female Trouble
Barcelona Erotic Film Festival, The
Two Girls and a Guy
La Grande Bouffe
Last Tango in Paris
Hell's Belles
Pink Flamingos
Broken English
Comfortably Numb
Delta of Venus
Showgirls: Sneak Preview
Hottest Bid, The
Paris, France
Evil Dead
Tokyo Decadence
Man Bites Dog
Tower of Terror
Easyriders Video Magazine #13
Intent to Kill
Wide Sargasso Sea
Tropic of Cancer
Bad Lieutenant
Loves of Lady Chatterly, The
Arabian Nights
Canterbury Tales, The
Dark Obsession
Dice Rules
Dolls, The
Emmanuelle The Joys Of A Woman
Flesh Gordon II
Games of Love
In the Realm of the Senses
Modern Love
Rodney Dangerfield "Nothin' Goes Right"
Santa Sangre
Shadowed Mind, The
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Blonde Emanuelle in 3-D
Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, The
Henry & June
In the Cold of the Night
Midnight Woman
Nineteen Hundred
Play Thing
Radio Active
Romantic Memoirs
Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet, The
Softly From Paris - Series I
Softly From Paris - Series II
Softly From Paris - Series III
Softly From Paris - Series IV
Softly From Paris - Series V
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

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originally posted: 07/05/03 09:38:27
last updated: 05/29/04 00:48:18
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