May 03, 2004

American Prudery

I was just watching the commentary for "Amelie", the French movie, and the director noted that the film was rated R in America. This really surprised me since it's such a sweet, magica land beautiful film. It also surprised the director since tons of kids in France saw it and loved it. But when I thought about it there are 4 sexual scenes:

1. overhead shot of a man's back while making loved to a bored-looking Amelie: this is just an insinuation; you don't see anything and it's quite funny how she seems like she's trying not to laugh b/c it's so bad. Not offensive and kids are more likely to focus on her funny face than the sex act.

2. Georgette and the jealous guy getting it on in the bathroom: Once again you see nothing, but you do see and hear lots of pounding and Georgette squealing. Once again, the comedy drowns out the sex.

3. You can see dildos in the sex shop where Nino works: like kids know what that is.

4. You see the breasts of the dancer/co-worker at Nino's sex shop: it's quick and not all in your face, but part of the scene.

So, I don't think Amelie deserves an "R". What the hell is the MPAA doing giving Amelie an R? I've seen much more crude, offensive things by way of gross, lewd, common jokes and gags in PG-13 movies that aren't nearly as worthy of being on screen as Amelie.


Another shockingly-rated movie is my other favorite French film, "Ma Vie en Rose". This simple, totally sex-free film is about a little boy who thinks he's a girl, or that he was supposed to be a girl. Also a gorgeous and sweet film, the MPAA's treatment of it is totally out of line. Firstly, I don't see how, even if you see the movie as being about homosexuality or transgenderism (is that a word?) it could be rated R. I find this especially ironic since the point of the film is that Lucien is just who he is, and is so innocent that he doesn't understand what about his actions and ways upset people so much. To not even allow a PG-13 rating shows you just how our MPAA feels about gender identity when it comes to children. If they think "Ma Vie en Rose" could damage children or young teens they're just whacked out. Like kids even know what homosexuality is, in that way. I think the idea of a boy who thinks he's a girl would seem funny to kids but also serves as a stand-in for any other thing that makes a person unique and about which others tease him. The movie is about tolerance and being yourself; how can that be a bad lesson? It's not like boys will see it and start thinking they're supposed to be girls or vice versa, and it's just silly to think so and base such a rating on such an a priori assumption.

This may not be censorship, but it's a step away. This kind of arbitrary rating based on a belief that some group of citizens have about media effects on "children" is fascist and harmful to the arts. I know that some movies deserve R and NC-17 ratings, but would you say that Amelie and Ma Vie en Rose are two of them? Are ratings really that useful and necessary in light of the fact that no study has ever proved that exposure to media has an effect on anyone? I know people don't believe that since it's intuitive that something you watch would affect you, but to assume that it would have a detrimental affect, let alone the same detrimental affect on everyone in a particular age-group is junk arm-chair psychology that should not be at the base of a system that regulates a flow of information to the public. I see the movie ratings system as a stand-in for parents, so that someone is making sure that their kids are watching inappropriate things when they're not around, and I see that it doesn't really harm kids and teens since they're minors and their rights and privileges can be limited at the will of adults that make the law. But is it really beneficial? Does it harm the film industry? Art in general? I don't believe in overprotecting children but in educating them and helping them to understand the sticky (no pun intended) issues in life in a healthy and realistic manner, so I do no endorse a system that classifies beautiful films that should be open to a wider audience as unfit for children. It's a weak excuse that I don't buy.


P.S. Here's a little background on the history of French film censorship and classification

0) $paginate_current_page = 0; $paginate_sections = array( 0 ); $paginate_top_section = $paginate_sections[$paginate_current_page-1]+1; $paginate_bottom_section = $paginate_sections[$paginate_current_page]; } else { $paginate_top_section = 1; $paginate_bottom_section = 0; } $paginate_self = '&' . $_SERVER['QUERY_STRING'] . '&'; $paginate_self = preg_replace("/&page=[^&]*&/", "&", $paginate_self); $paginate_self = substr($paginate_self, 1, strlen($paginate_self) - 1); if($paginate_self == '&') $paginate_self = ''; else $paginate_self = htmlentities($paginate_self); $paginate_self = basename($_SERVER['PHP_SELF']) . "?${paginate_self}page"; ?> Posted by Kristina at May 3, 2004 07:24 AM

From what I understand of the ratings system, it's often two things in conjunction that make a rating. You can usually have one pair of breasts in a PG-13, as long as there aren't an additional set. There's arbitrary rules about how long a closeup can linger, how much blood you can have, etc. Someone (possibly Dr. V) once very accurately stated that, if an action movie is rated PG-13, that generally means it's not going to be very good.

For really violent/sexual movies, some directors intentionally include extra scenes they don't plan to use, simply so they can appear to make concessions by cutting them, and avoiding an NC-17. There's a scene of an exploding head in a vise from "Casino", Tommy Lee Jones' decapitated head in "Natural Born Killers", etc. Of course, the rules are much tighter on sex than violence, obviously - "American Psycho" bothered the MPAA because it had the main character having sex with two women, though later attacking the two women with an axe was presumably OK.

I think the real problem with the ratings system comes at the top end - the R/NC-17 distinction - because getting an NC-17 means you have huge advertising and ticketing restrictions, unlike the PG-13/R split. The MPAA wields a lot more power right there. For something like "Amelie", the "R" doesn't really hurt it, since its American audience is entirely over the age of 13 anyway - kids don't read subtitles.

People do seem to want some kind of ratings system, so it's hard to tell if the MPAA ratings reflect the views of just their organization, or a national feeling that ultra-violence is OK, but genitals on celluloid are an outrage. Personally, I think "Amelie" is probably a justifiable "R" because of the bathroom sex scene, even if it is played comically. Still, they should probably shift the ratings down a few years - "R" to 15, "PG-12", etc. - but I also think the ages for drinking and consent are too high, so take that as you will.

Posted by: sean at May 3, 2004 11:39 AM

I think the age of consent is fine, but the drinking age should be the same as the age of consent.

Posted by: Kristina at May 3, 2004 05:51 PM

right, because how will you even get her consent if you don't get her drinking?

Posted by: didofoot at May 3, 2004 08:21 PM

I don't think kids should be allowed to see movies period. Kids are crap and all they do is yell and cry through movies anyways. Maybe the censors are just looking out for themselves--'Gee that Amelie movie was good but, Christ, what a pain it'd be to sit through it with a bunch of kids! Let's give it an R so the adults can enjoy it in peace...' And if you disagree, try this on: part of the fun of being young is sneaking into an R-rated movie and feeling super cool for breaking the rules. I still remember getting pulled out of Kids by an old woman with a beehive and forced to see the movie we bought our tickets for--Grease, against which I still hold a grudge.

Posted by: Renee at May 4, 2004 12:27 PM

The other day I went to a nice Italian restaurant near my house w/ a friend and we got seated next to 2 housewives with 5 children between them. All under the age of 4. I've never been so annoyed in my life by kids and I've been around a lot of kids and usually like them. I should have asked to be moved, if only just to show them how much I hated that they had to bring ALL their kids (and then not keep them under control/quiet at all) to such an adult place. How rude is that?

Posted by: Kristina at May 5, 2004 06:41 AM

See I told you. You didn't believe me, but I told you. Kids=crap.

Posted by: Renee at May 5, 2004 08:07 AM

P.S. As far as Jeunet goes, City of Lost Children and Delicatessen (which he directed with usual partner Marc Caro) far eclipse Amelie (which I thought was at least half an hour too long), and if you want to see Audrey Tatou in a good movie about fate and chance, see Happenstance instead.

Posted by: Renee at May 5, 2004 09:29 AM

I can understand why those are "R". I wouldn't want my kids watching a movie glorifying the plight of transsexual or gay perversions any more than I'd want them watching about zoosexuals having relationships with their dogs. Don't get me wrong, let perverts do as they will, but not in the minds of my children.

The rating system is good because it respects my right as a parent to know what type of content I'm sending my kid to see. We don't have to "prove" that such films will have a detrimental effect. You experiment with your kids, I'll experiment with mine, and may the best dominate. In the meantime, I'll be thankful for the ratings system.

Posted by: Dennis Kucinich at May 5, 2004 06:28 PM

Why, Dennis! You seem so... different from your usual self!

I was going to continue in that vein, but then I re-read the sentence, "let perverts do as they will, but not in the minds of my children." Now I'm howling with laughter. You know, I'm pretty sure I read a Poppy Z. Brite story along those lines a couple of years ago...

Posted by: Dianna at May 5, 2004 06:58 PM