“Best Lodging Location for Fishermen & Beachgoers” Group Discounts P.O. Box 8 Port Aransas, TX 78373 Send for Free Gulf & Bay Fishing Information brought to justice, Whitten calls Henry “one of the most moral films dealing with violence I’ve ever seen.” He contrasts its honesty with the macho fantasies of action-adventure epics whose underlying message is a contempt for the rule of law and whose comic-book mayhem desensitizes us to everyday dangers. “I consider films like Rambo truly immoral,” Whitten said. The Rambo films were released with an R. Though Whitten might respect the rating system, he does not disguise his disdain for those who administer it, particularly Valenti. “The MPAA,” he contends, “is a trade organization whose function is to protect the interests of the eight major studios.” Valenti is their paid employee, and Whitten accuses him of discriminating against Henry, an independent feature made on a budget of $120,000. Later this summer, lawyers for Maljack, the film’s producers, are scheduled to bring arguments against the MPAA in federal court in Washington, D.C. They intend to prove that, in assigning ratings, the MPAA gives preferential treatment to releases from the major studios. Similar litigation against the MPAA has already advanced to the New York State Supreme Court. Representing Miramax, distributor of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, lawyer William Kunstler is arguing that a sex scene that apparently provoked the MPAA to assign Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s film an X is less offensive than scenes in The Postman Always Rings Twice, 9 112 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, No Way Out, The Accused, Body Heat, Lethal Weapon 2, and Blue Velvet. Each of those was arbitrarily designated R, contends Miramax, because each was produced by a major American studio. “The only reason Tie Me Up! is rated X,” claims Whitten, “is because the MPAA is ticked off at Miramax.” The distributor had promoted an earlier film, Scandal, by bashing the MPAA. Another current Miramax release, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover has been exhibited without ratings after the MPAA assigned it an X. “They’re interfering with my right to do business,” complained Ben Barenholtz, an executive of Circle Films, which is distributing The Killer, a Hong Kong export that offers more blood than Lawrence of Arabia has sand. Barenholtz arrived in San Antonio on June 29, the day after local police served a warrant against David Risher, owner of Hogwild Records and Tapes, for selling 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty as They Wanna Be to a 20-year-old man. Barenholtz was in town to gauge audience reaction before releasing The Killer unrated, but with the caveat “No one under 18 admitted” elsewhere. Known in the business as “Ramboville,” on account of its fondness for action-adventure flicks, the Alamo City, like Norfolk, Virginia, often serves a test market for sanguinary spectacles. Written and directed by John Woo, The Killer is the very gory but sentimental story of a professional assassin who has a soft spot for the beautiful woman he accidentally blinded and an arsenal of bullets for the gang that double-crossed him. Starring baby-faced Chow Yun-Fat, the hottest actor in Hong Kong, The Killer is a tale of love, loyalty, and vengeance in which blood cascades out of bodies every time someone is shot, which happens so often you have to relax and accept the proceedings as a kind of madcap Busby Berkeley ballet of mutilation. Barenholtz, whose other projects have included Therese, Raising Arizona, and Cousin, Cousine, is not a merchant of sleaze. He acknowledges that The Killer is not for every taste, but he challenges Valenti to tell him how Total Recall, which was rated R, is any less violent than his film, which received an X. Because his resources are more limited than Miramax’s, he is not doing so in court. I have not counted corpses in Die Hard 2 or Robocop H, both rated R, but they, too, could fill a fair-sized cemetery. The difference, claims Barenholtz, is that they were produced by one of the eight major studios that constitute the MPAA and pay Valenti’s salary. A further challenge to the rating system will come with the American release of Wild at Heart, which captured hearts at Cannes and which is signed by one of the few directors whose name alone draws business to the box office: David Lynch. Wild at Heart will probably be distributed unrated rather than accept an X from the MPAA. If Wild at Heart is anything like Lynch’s Blue Velvet, which, after some tinkering, appeased the MPAA enough to receive an R, or like The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Killer, and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, one would not recommend it for tender minds, faint hearts, or queasy stomachs. Let the viewer beware, but also let in formed adults be free to see what they please. None of these films could be confused with Mary Poppins, and a meaningful rating system ought to be able to separate the wheat from the wild rice. Though the threshold of offense fluctuates over time Midnight Cowboy, which received an X in 1969, most certainly would not if released today contemporary standards ought to be applied equitably and consistently. Because those letters have been copyrighted by the MPAA, producers cannot unilaterally advertise their films as G, PG, PG-13, or R. However, X was not copyrighted, and, without any authority from the MPAA, peddlers of porno and snuff films proudly proclaim their products X, XX, and XXX. Distributors of serious independent and foreign films, who claim discrimination by a rating administration that favors the American majors, feel tarnished by an X that associates them with hard-core sleaze. A new rating, argue many, would distinguish between Rampaging Nurses or The Devil in Miss Jones and Last Tango in Paris or Clockwork Orange. Without any apparent homage to Hester Prynne, they would call the new Wild at Heart were rated A, it could be advertised in “family” newspapers and screened in neighborhood theaters off-limits to X. The MPAA ratings are designed as descriptions not evaluations, and, even with an A, it is not clear on what grounds, other than the genius of its director, Pier Palo Pasolini’s Salo, which features generous displays of frontal nudity, sodomy, pederasty, masturbation, coprophagia, torture, dismemberment, and murder, would be distinguished from crude exploitation flicks. In a small group of cases, the difference between X and A would not be self-evident to the anonymous nonprofessionals who serve as MPAA jurors. But then, there are not enough letters in the alphabet to capture the distinctive quiddities of all the thousands of movies. Valenti is on record as firmly opposed to adding an A, though he also resisted introduction of PG-13 until capitulating to pressure from exhibitors. “I believe that the true reason for Valenti’s intransigence has nothing to do with moral issues,” declares Greycat’s Whitten. “It’s totally monetary. The status quo has worked for the MPAA. The majors have nothing to gain by embracing a new rating. But they do have something to lose market share. Right now, the summer is theirs.” Right now, branded as salacious and offensive, artists are on the defensive throughout the United States. The controversy over movie ratings cannot be separated entirely from attacks on Robert Mapplethorpe and 2 Live Crew. Deprived of a foreign policy initiative by an epidemic of disarmament and democratization in the Warsaw Pact, many ideological conservatives seem intent on pursuing an agenda of domestic repression. Others would limit our choices because it is better for their business. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21
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