I just read a (so-so) article about the (not-so) recent controversy over Blue Valentine’s NC-17 rating and it’s impact on the advertising a studio will back for the movie (no mention was made of the crazy PR opportunity that comes with such a rating on a high-profile film). While I will probably see this movie, since I like Ryan Gosling (how great was Half-Nelson?!) and Michelle Williams (how great was Dawson’s Creek?!), what I really wanted to mention was the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated.
Ever since really loving Bowling for Columbine, only to later realize that despite his sense of humor and effectiveness as a filmmaker, Michael Moore was an arrogant jerk and his films’ were inexcusably one-sided, I have approached documentaries from a position of heightened skepticism. Despite this grain-of-salt approach, however, I fully recommend This Film Is Not Yet Rated.
It’s an independent documentary that examines the opaque organization that is the Motion Picture Association of America (i.e. the people who give movies their ratings). Among its complaints are that Hollywood has more input into the ratings it’s movies receive than independent films do, that female sexuality and homosexuality are treated as more risque and garner stricter ratings than male sexuality and heterosexuality, and that sexuality in general is treated as a more mature subject mature than violence. One important point that the aforementioned article does bring up is how the trend for acceptable levels of violence has increased at a tremendous rate (consider that the first 3 Die Hard movies were R and the most recent was an easy PG-13).
One last thought (perhaps connecting in Bowling for Columbine): I think the distinction between bloodless violence (considered less serious) and bloody violence needs to be reversed. I remember after the Columbine shootings, people were constantly talking about how violence in video games led to real life violence. In this matter, I think bloodless violence (and violent video games as well for that matter) are much worse in that they minimize the impact of violence. Anything that makes it seem less real and more accesable (which is what will get you the more lucrative PG-13 rating), makes the real thing seem less significant and terrible. Movies like Die Hard, The Transporter and all the other PG-13 action movies, make violence seem fun and light-hearted (especially when Sly Stallone has a quick one-liner after he shoots 15 people dead on the spot). I would compare those to a movie like Irreversible (which I fully recommend to anyone not squeamish, although one viewing was more than enough for me)—a movie that makes the full impact of violence (physical, sexual, etc) so visceral and uncomfortable that one cannot help but be repulsed by the actions and anyone taking pleasure in them. While officially released as unrated, Irreversible would have surely deserved the NC-17 rating, had it been submitted to the MPAA.
Update (11/18/2010): The lovable Harvey Weinstein has taken up the cause. Glad he’s on our side.