By David Poland email@example.com
Return of The NC-17
So Shame has pulled down the NC-17 rating that was expected to go with Mr Fassbender’s trunk show. Time for the United States and The Academy to grow up and smell the lube. Great.
But less specifically, let’s talk about the NC-17 again.
I believe the NC-17 was a cynical attempt by the studios, aka the MPAA, to stop the conversation about the lack of a legitimate “adult” rating and to bury the artistic impulse to make films with that kind of content in them once and for all, at least at a studio level.
The late, great Jack Valenti was Mr. Ratings from the beginning. The old excuse had been that the MPAA didn’t own the X rating, which had been created by pornographers who wanted there to be a clear distinction about what their customers would receive. It was a badge of porn honor. So they used that rating, but could not stop others from using it without MPAA approval.
With the creation of the NC-17, the MPAA owned the copyright to the tag, but immediately ghettoized it by pointing out that any porn movie could get this rating. They just had to pay the fees. Of course, it is expensive to get rated and why would any porn want to pay that fee? But that rational allowed for censorship by newspapers and mall-based theaters and even some standalone theaters.
The NC-17 is now, ironically, 21 years old. Shame will be the 11th movie released with the rating from a major studio or division of same. 3 from Fine Line/New Line. 2 each from Universal, Searchlight, and Sony Classics. One Focus. One MGM.
The only film to gross more than $12 million domestically with an NC-17 is Showgirls, at just over $20m. The biggest studio-based NC-17 grosser since 1995 was an Almodovar, earning $5.3 million.
Miramax, pre-Disney, released 2. Aries, Trimark, Zeitgeist, 7 Arts, and October released one each that grossed over $500k. There are 8 other releases under $500k.
That’s 26 total in 21 years. That’s not a functional adult rating. That’s playing the lottery.
Of course, many films that might have been NC-17 have gone out unrated, which is the prerogative of any non-MPAA distributor. But there have been censorship issues with unrated films as well.
I would love for Shame to be the highest grossing NC-17 film ever. That is the high bar for Fox Searchlight to achieve here. That would open the door for other NC-17 films. But it’s a very tough film. So it won’t be easy.
What’s most interesting to me about Searchlight’s choice to buy this film is that they went there once before, disappointingly. The film, The Dreamers, offered up a very often naked Eva Green. Magnificent to look at… but not much of a movie. This time, they have a real movie. This is awards-level material. And the nudity and sex, while sometimes sexy, is not prurient. I’m sure someone will show up to ogle the cast, but this is a movie about more than sex and the experience of it is not a fun, sexy romp. Maybe that will be the great lesson… if it succeeds commercially.
The argument that MPAA/CARA lets a ton of violence pass with PG-13s that require no parental consent while an erect penis has to be hidden from anyone under 17 is a legitimate beef. But I am more concerned about the opportunity to have an adult rating that succeeds rather than getting caught up in adjudicating the ratings system’s lax attitude towards extreme violence.
Thing is, if the was a working adult rating, than there would be less pressure to be overly generous to violent studio pictures. But right now, NC-17 is a hard cap on the studio system. And I think it’s 100% as intended. Anything that limits the bottom line is bad to studios. So you could make the greatest NC-17 film ever… they’d still want an R version and if you could, a PG-13, please. They don’t want filmmakers at studios to be able to argue that a movie should.could go out NC-17. It’s just bad for business. So pretty much every deal – especially the rare final cut deals – includes language in which the director agrees to deliver a rating of R or PG-13, depending on the film.