Thursday, October 21, 2010
Debating the Rating
Posted by Courtney Small
When it comes to filtering what is deemed acceptable in film, how much responsibility should to be placed on the viewer? Now I am not talking about the film buffs who can argue the merits of Spielberg and Kurosawa, I mean the average filmgoer. The person who helps Jackass 3D make 50 million dollars instead of supporting an independent or foreign film being shown in the same theatre. Currently the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is the governing body that determines what rating a film will get. They are the ones who decide that Toy Story receives a G rating while Inglourious Basterds receives an R rating. When it comes to the MPAA, Alan Moore’s famous line “Who watches the Watchmen?” is often quoted. Yet I think the phrase “Who profits from the Watchmen?” is more appropriate.
This question has been on my mind for a few weeks now since I first heard that the MPAA had given the movie Blue Valentine an NC-17 rating. Giving a film an NC-17 rating is essentially the kiss of death for any film. Besides the fact that it restricts anyone under the age of seventeen from accessing the film, it also gives the stigma that the film is as offensive as pornography. After seening Blue Valentine at this year’s TIFF, I was stunned that the film received such a harsh rating. According to Deadline , the film received the rating for a scene “in which the characters played by Gosling and Williams try to save their crumbling marriage by spending a night away in a hotel. They get drunk and their problems intensify when he wants to have sex and she doesn’t, but will to get him off her back. That hurts his pride and the result is an upsetting scene that makes you squirm”
Having sat through the infamous scene in question, I can say, without spoiling the film, that there is no violence in the scene and things do not unfold they way you initially think it will. The scene is actually one of my favourite moments in the film for reasons which I will elaborate more on when I post my review. Still, the fact that a film can get such a harsh rating for simply making the viewer squirm raises concern over whose interest are the MPAA really serving?
Now this is by no means a rant for the abolishment of the MPAA, unlike most film lovers I actually believe the MPAA can be a useful organization. I just think that they have lost their way in regards to ratings. Instead of taxing big budget studio films that will be seen in 2000 plus theatres, the MPAA seems to more often than not punish the films that the average filmgoer would not be seeing in the first place. With the exception of Showgirls, which is a teenage boy's wet dream of a movie, how many of the following NC-17 rated films were the average underage person really eager to see: Crash (Cronenberg’s version)? Bad Lieutenant? Requiem for a Dream? Mysterious Skin? Lust, Caution;? Chances are good these films would not have played to a wide audience even if they had received an R rating. So why do these films get the NC-17 rating while other films like Inglourious Basterds, Predators, The Expendables, Splice and the Jackass movies are allowed to play in close to 3000 theatres?
Some may argue that it is an issue of escapist fare versus more realistic themes. How then do you explain Oscar nominated films like Precious? The main character in that film is repeatedly raped, has a television thrown at her, etc. While I really enjoyed Precious, it was just as, if not more, unsettling as Blue Valentine, yet no controversy at all. I wonder if Tyler Perry and Oprah had not produced the film if the ratings would be different. It is time for the MPAA to really look at the big budget studio fair with the same fine toothed comb it looks at the smaller independent films. There should be no reason that you can watch people die on screen in gruesome ways, yet intimate character studies, that would play primarily independent, get penalized so savagely.
Again, I am not calling for the disbanding the MPAA, they are an important organization to have around. Their intentions are valid, it just that their systems for ratings films needs to be updated and clarified. The easiest and most effect solution would be to first do market research on the films that the general public are most likely to see. The research should cover everything from age, types of movies the person regularly watches, the theatres they most often go to etc. Then, based on the overall feedback, the MPAA should adjust their overall standards accordingly. There is no reason small films that skew to a more adult audience, such as Blue Valentine, get slapped with NC-17 ratings while you can go into any multiplex and watch films like Machete, or The Town without even a second thought.