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Harvard Study Shows Ratings Creep

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Looking to reform and demystify the ratings system, the MPAA and National Assn. of Theater Owners are planning a series of changes, including a new admonishment to parents that certain R-rated movies aren't suitable for younger kids, period.
Then why not give them a new adults-only rating, like Ebert is always pushing for?

Why say "It isn't suitable for kids, period, but you can still bring your five-year-old if you don't feel like getting a sitter"?

Okay, maybe if there's a respectable adults-only rating, it'll just get "X"ed, the same way NC-17 did. I'm not sure how you prevent that.

That, of course, was the main reason behind shifting X to NC-17. (It also had to do with trademark rights, since the MPAA never trademarked X.) The issue is perception. People assume that NC-17 is the same as Debbie Does Dallas. Studios won't accept an NC-17 product because there are still papers that treat NC-17 as X (and won't carry ads). It will take a few bold films (that also have good quality) that are willing to take an NC-17 tag to begin the process. And studios aren't likely to put out the $$$ for the effort. Easier to make the changes or to release as unrated than to fight the system.

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NC-17: Fatally Flawed

When a film as violent as ''Hostel: Part II'' can get an R -- that is, it's deemed okay for kids to see with an adult -- it's obvious the ratings system is in serious need of reform . . .

Some have suggested that the U.S. adopt the tiered system of age cutoffs at, say, 8, 12, and 17 that some European countries use. But that's unfeasible in an era of understaffed multiplexes and Internet ticket purchases. There's also an argument for putting more teeth in the NC-17, taking a harder line about what's unsuitable for children. But I'd give that about five minutes before every interest group in America presents its own petition of topics they want to be automatic NC-17s, and we're back to a prudish laundry list of do's and don'ts that was abandoned decades ago. (The current campaign to make cigarette use in movies an automatic R illustrates how even people with an intention as decent as curbing teen smoking can be grievously misguided in attempting to use the ratings system to legislate content.)

That leaves one solution that's both radical and sensible: Dump the NC-17 completely. Provide maximum information about movie content, create a website with plot specifics and exact age recommendations, and leave it at that. The X rating was invented at a time when hardcore-porn movie houses were springing up across America. But those theaters are gone, and kids who want access to porn are only a Google away. Today, the NC-17 protects nobody and preserves the illusion that R-rated movies like Hostel: Part II are okay for kids because if they weren't, somebody would have rated them NC-17. If Hollywood places the decision about what children should see in the hands of their parents, where it belongs, many parents will, of course, make those decisions irresponsibly. But overall, could they possibly do a worse job than the people who are now paid to do their thinking for them? On the evidence of Hostel: Part II, I doubt it.

Mark Harris, Entertainment Weekly, June 18

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Study: Profanity Affects PG Box Office

A new study by The Nielsen Co. found that the PG-rated movies with the least profanity made the most money at the U.S. box office.

Sexuality or violence in those films had less to do with success than the language, the Nielsen PreView group said in a study being released Thursday.

Associated Press, March 13

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This story doesn't really have much to do with the "ratings creep" discussion, but it seemed like the best place to share it, and the story isn't in need of its own thread.

The Regal Entertainment Group has decided to allow "Red Band" trailers to be shown in their theatres.

Red band trailers, which only can appear before R-rated, NC-17-rated or unrated movies, warn that "the following preview has been approved for restricted audiences only."

Studios once used red band trailers routinely, but theaters dropped them like hot potatoes after a 2000 Federal Trade Commission report criticizing the entertainment industry for marketing violent entertainment to children.

Exhibitors cut back on red band trailers out of fear of offending patrons and also out of a concern that in handling the dozen or so films screening in a modern multiplex, a red band trailer could be attached inadvertently to a G or PG movie.

Full story here.

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Call this "internet creep". I had never even HEARD of "red band" trailers -- we don't see the bands in Canadian theatres -- until they started popping up on the internet for raunchy comedies like Knocked Up and erotic horror movies like Pathology. Now that they have proven their worth as marketing tools online, it only makes sense that at least some theatres would want to show them on the big screen.

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The Regal Entertainment Group has decided to allow "Red Band" trailers to be shown in their theatres.

Saw two today. The one for Burn After Reading (which has a link in its thread) was good. The one for Step Brothers was pathetic. If the movie is half as bad as the trailer, it could be the worst of the decade.

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R-rated comedies suffer at boxoffice

Restricted ratings limit the boxoffice prospects of comedies most dramatically, but horror films aren't hurt at all by R ratings from the MPAA.

Those are among the findings of a recent study by Nielsen PreView. . . .

Hollywood Reporter, July 29

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This might or might not count, but the PG-13 film Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002) features two Japanese girls named Fook Mi and Fook Yu, and we hear their names several times, assuming of course that the girls are saying something ELSE, before we see their names stitched on their backs (or backpacks, I forget which).

Here's another borderline example: In Post Grad, which opens Friday, some people walk in on a couple who are engaged in some foreplay -- they still have their underwear on -- and one half of that couple says "F--- me," which prompts one of the people who walked into the room to say, "I would, but it looks like someone already has."

Now, historically (going back at least to the mid-'80s), a movie has always been rated R if it made sexual use of the f-word even once; saying "f--- off" would be acceptable, once or maybe even twice, in a PG-13 film, but saying "let's go upstairs and f--- our brains out" would warrant an automatic R rating even if the film never used the f-word on any other occasion.

The Austin Powers example above pushes the boundary because the word "Fook" is said repeatedly, and is assumed by Austin Powers himself to be a sexual come-on, until it is finally revealed that the women are simply saying their name; if the word had been (and meant) what Austin Powers THOUGHT it was (and meant), then the film would have been rated R, but because the film reveals that the word is something else entirely, the film got a PG-13 instead, "for sexual innuendo, crude humor and language".

Post Grad sort of goes the opposite route: The person who says "F--- me" does not mean it in a sexual way, but simply as an expression of shock or disbelief -- so it is permissible in a PG-13 movie. But the other person's comeback immediately sexualizes the word. However, because the f-word and the sexualization of the f-word are separated from one another -- spoken in different sentences, and by different people -- the film does NOT merit an R rating. Instead, it is rated PG-13 "for sexual situations and brief strong language".

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Links to Black Swan and Blue Valentine.

From Saturdays Los Angeles Times -

Two films, two sex scenes, two different ratings

One new movie generating Oscar buzz shows a woman engaged in a steamy sex act with another woman in a scene that lasts just over a minute without any nudity. Another new movie also piquing the attention of Academy Awards voters shows a man performing an identical act on a woman in a scene that lasts just over a minute without any nudity.

Filmgoers who watch both movies, especially those oral sex scenes, would be hard-pressed to describe how one is more explicit than the other.

Yet the first movie, "Black Swan," a supernatural drama from Fox Searchlight that opened this weekend, was given an R rating by the Motion Picture Assn. of America, which means it can play in nearly all theaters across the country. The second film, "Blue Valentine," which opens Dec. 31, was given a dreaded NC-17 because of what the Weinstein Co. studio says is that scene.

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On 10/7/2004 at 9:35 AM, SDG said:

Okay, lemme try a few specific questions.

 

All you trivia watchers: What's the earliest example of a PG-13 film you can think of that uses the f-word?

 

Are there any PG films that use it?

 

Any PG-13 films other than Adventures in Babysitting and About a Boy that you can think of that use it more than once? Any at all that use it more than twice?

 

What are the most outrageous (especially violent) PG-13 films you can think of in the first decade or so of PG-13 (1984 to 1994)?

Digging up an old thread. I’m not sure if SDG’s questions pertain to PG films released prior to the PG13 inclusion into the ratings system, but here’s a PG rated film that has not been rerated since it’s release, which may fit the bill. 

Last night I caught up with Warren Beatty’s 1981 film REDS for the first time since 1982. I really didn’t remember a lot about the film, so it was like seeing it for the first time. It’s a good film, with some great moments. I was very impressed with the lineup of “Witness” testimonials used throughout the film - actual interviews made by Beatty of people who knew both John Reed and Louise Bryant, which Beatty began filming as early as 1971.

It was around the 20 minute mark, during one of these testimonials (I’m pretty sure it was novelist Henry Miller), that the first F-bomb gets released. Reed has impulsively asked Bryant to come away with him to New York, where she’s introduced to the artists/activists/radicals populating Greenwich Village, all of whom seem to be living a fairly bohemian lifestyle. It’s here that the Beatty cuts to Miller’s testimonial where Miller rather bluntly states, “There was a lot of f***ing going on, back then.”

It kind of caught me off guard, because this was PG rated, and nowadays using that word in its actual context gets the film an automatic R rating. I figured maybe Beatty got away with it because he was using what could be described as documentary footage of a renowned author. But within 45 minutes Reed and Bryant have a heated argument where the f-word is used 3 or 4 more times, as a descriptor of the act, not used as a curse. Example -

John Reed: Louise, I love you. 

Louise Bryant: No, you love yourself! Me, you F***!

The argument goes on from there. 

The film contains nudity (a scene on the beach with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton), as well as a sex scene which was at least on par with a similar scene in the R rated THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. CONDOR was a more violent film, however it feels less “adult”, for lack of a better term. If released today, CONDOR might get downgraded to a PG13. 

Perhaps Beatty’s clout at the time did factor into the ratings decision. Following his success with HEAVEN CAN WAIT, where Beatty became only the second person (Orson Welles being the first) to have been nominated for four Academy Awards (producer, director, screenwriter, actor), he may have received some leeway. Also, REDS was an expensive production ($35 million), and Hollywood was still rebounding from the colossal failure of 1980’s $40 million flop HEAVEN’S GATE. Perhaps an underlying reason for some ratings leniency was to see positive box office return. REDS did go on to make $40 million, not a great return, but far exceeding HEAVEN’S GATE, and not too shabby for a 3hr 15min film that favors the expression of controversial ideas, and is short on action. Beatty would also repeat the astounding feat of being nominated in the same four categories for REDS, as he was for his previous film. For this film he won Best Director. 

Edited by John Drew

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BTW, since the OP for this topic has been deleted (I think it was an Alan Thomas thread), here’s a link to the press release from the Harvard School of Public Health, which contains a link to the Ratings Creep study. 

https://archive.sph.harvard.edu/press-releases/archives/2004-releases/press07132004.html

 

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