Imagine a kinder, gentler NC-17 rating
Last week, Motion Picture Association of America honcho Dan Glickman promised to work with the nation’s theater owners to tweak the movie ratings system that slaps films with those Gs, PGs, PG-13s, Rs, and (cue shrieking Psycho violins!) NC-17s. This week, at a Sundance panel, Glickman offered the eyebrow-raising proclamation that he hoped the NC-17 would no longer be considered synonymous with porn and would actually become a viable rating. More notable was what Glickman did not say, which was how, exactly, this rehabilitation of the NC-17 might come to pass. After all, the only tangible plans Glickman has announced involve more transparency in the decision-making and arbitration processes — in other words, improving the image of the ratings board, rather than actually changing the way the board evaluates movies. Wowee.
It’s all well and good for Glickman to recognize that the industry ought to embrace the dreaded NC-17 rating more than it does now. Which, last we checked, is not at all. Implicit in the former politician’s remarks is a nod toward the fact that, for a brief moment (circa 1969-71), X-rated movies like Midnight Cowboy and A Clockwork Orange had credibility at the box office and among critics. But since the MPAA invented the NC-17 in 1990 (in a feeble and instantly doomed attempt to differentiate porn from mainstream movies for grownups), such critical and commercial success has been hard to come by for films slapped with the “kiss of death” — Glickman’s words, not ours. After all, media outlets decline to run those movies’ advertisements; more importantly, many theaters refuse to show them, and major video retailers won’t stock them. So unless Glickman can convince his homies the theater owners to actually book films rated NC-17 (and so far there’s no indication that they will), his upbeat rhetoric carries no real weight.
Instead, Glickman is at Sundance, trying to sell his shinier, happier ratings board to indie filmmakers, who have no real power to effect industry-wide change, and whose complaints the board had long ignored. It’s nice to know that the MPAA cares (for what appears to be the first time in its history) what filmmakers think, but a real show of good faith would be to try to sell a stigma-free NC-17 to the major studios who pay Glickman’s salary — and who haven’t shown any interest in rehabilitating the NC-17 since 1995’s Showgirls. How many of you think this will happen, PopWatchers? Show of hands…