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Risque Business: 'Lolita,' 'Crash'

Films with explicit sex themes–including a “Lolita” remake–can’t get no satisfaction

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The People Vs. Larry Flynt may have audiences hissing censorship, but life in Hollywood is not, at the moment, imitating art. Starting this month, for example, TV shows will air with ratings, and studio bosses blush at a hint of controversy. However, Hollywood’s bluenosed mood isn’t stopping filmmakers from testing the corporate climate with controversial sexual content on screen.

Last year Ted Turner blocked the Oct. 4 release of his Fine Line Features’ NC-17-rated Crash, starring Holly Hunter and James Spader as car-wreck fetishists. Politicians protested its release in Great Britain, as well, while in Argentina, a citizens’ group has urged a ban (elsewhere in Europe, however, the film has grossed $11 million to date). But the drama may intensify on March 21, when Crash finally makes its U.S. debut. If the film — with its nudity, sadomasochism, and anal sex — becomes a lightning rod for criticism, Time Warner may become even more ambivalent about its Fine Line and New Line divisions, acquired during last year’s merger with Turner.

Undaunted, New Line plans to push the envelope again by releasing Boogie Nights in July. Boogie stars Mark Wahlberg as an actor who drifts into the adult film industry in the 1970s. ”I’m nervous,” says writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, who’s aiming for an R rating. ”I don’t want it to sound like some big porno film.”

Meanwhile, despite a literary pedigree and an A-list director (Indecent Proposal‘s Adrian Lyne), a reported $50 million adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita has yet to find a distributor. Lyne spent a year fine-tuning the movie to an R rating, but Lolita‘s charms may be lost on the feds. Last fall, Congress passed the Child Pornography Prevention Act, which prevents even the appearance of a minor engaging in a sexual act. (In the film, Jeremy Irons plays the prof who takes a nonacademic interest in the titular nymphet, played by teen newcomer Dominique Swain.) Potential distributors, who see the film this month, will be the first to decide whether Lyne’s big-budget proposal is indecent.