The stigma of X rated films -- ''Midnight Cowboy'' and ''Scandal'' are among the flicks that have suffered due to their X label

Crimes of Passion

The stigma of X rated films

The Motion Picture Association of America’s recent decision to abandon the X rating in favor of a new, less stigmatizing NC-17 label marks the end of an era. For more than two decades movies have been influenced by the stigma of X. Countless pictures have been cut to avoid the dreaded designation, while others — especially in recent years — have been shut out of mainstream theaters because of that scarlet letter. Here are six of the most notable major films that have suffered the sting of the X: three that carried the rating in the late ’60s or early ’70s, and three more recent films that received an X initially and are now available on video in both their complete and R-rated versions.

Greetings (Vidmark, 1968)
One of the first American films to get an X, Brian De Palma’s counterculture comedy is a series of sketches about three draft-age friends. Among the trio is a 25-year-old Robert De Niro. The movie does nothing to dispel De Palma’s bad reputation with women; in one scene, a Kennedy-assassination buff uses a nude girl as a model to mark JFK’s wounds. A stag movie parody is the film’s raunchiest moment, but by 1987 even that was considered tame enough for the MPAA to change the movie’s rating to an R. C+

Midnight Cowboy (MGM/UA, 1969)
The first-and last- X-rated film to win the Oscar for Best Picture holds up surprisingly well, thanks in large part to the performances of Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. Two decades of films about life on New York’s 42nd and other, meaner streets have made this film look fairly tame, but none has matched it for sheer human drama. In 1971 Midnight Cowboy was resubmitted and rerated R with no cuts required. The mores had changed that much in two years. B+

Performance (Warner, 1970)
The first half of this film is a hard-bitten British gangster saga, with James Fox as Chas, a London thug who enjoys his work a bit too much. Going on the < lam, Chas winds up in the clutches of Turner (Mick Jagger), a reclusive rock star, and the second half meanders into Merging Identity territory, complete with sex, drugs, and rock & roll (Jagger's rendition of ''Memo From Turner'' is a showstopper). Making a joint directorial debut were cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (The Man Who Fell to Earth) and writer Donald Camm (White of the Eye). Performance was rerated R in 1979. B

Crimes of Passion (New World, 1984)
Director Ken Russell knew from X when he made this lurid drama about China Blue, a prostitute with some strange customers. Russell released two versions of Crimes, an R-rated one for American audiences and an unrated edition for Europe. Both are available on home video; the unrated version is six minutes longer and contains a kinky scene involving China (played with relish by Kathleen Turner) and a cop customer. B

The Devil in the Flesh (Orion, 1987)
Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio’s portrait of mad love didn’t duck its X when released theatrically. The story is a reworking of the 1947 French movie about a married woman’s affair with a high school student. There’s plenty of nudity in the remake, and one scene with oral sex was too explicit for the MPAA. With that sequence trimmed, a video version was rerated R in 1989 (both versions are available on home video). Maruschka Detmers is impressively intense as the love-crazed woman. B-

Scandal (HBO, 1989)
Another film available in two home video versions, Scandal details the 1963 affair between Christine Keeler and British Secretary of War John Profumo that helped topple Britain’s Conservative Party from power. The uncut, unrated version features an orgy scene in which a couple is obviously having intercourse in the background; the couple is excised from the R-rated version. Joanne Whalley-Kilmer and Bridget Fonda are appropriately saucy as Keeler and her pal Mandy Rice-Davies, but it is John Hurt’s performance as Stephen Ward, the Keeler-Profumo matchmaker, that gives the film an unexpectedly poignant spin. A-

Crimes of Passion
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