Twenty years ago this fall, the late Jack Valenti and the Motion Picture Association of America created the infamous “No Children” rating and on October 5, 1990, Phillip Kaufman’s “Henry and June” was the first film released with the designation when Universal opened the movie in theaters. Two decades later, the MPAA is commemorating the occasion by apparently branding Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” with the same mark. Huh?
The news caught a lot of people by surprise this morning, including a friend involved with the movie (who hadn’t seen Mike Fleming’s Deadline.com piece until I emailed it and asked for insight).
Back in 1990, Valenti and the MPAA were under fire for assigning an ‘X’ rating to films such as like Almodovar’s ”Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!,” John McNaughton’s “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” and Peter Greenaway’s ”The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover,” which had to be released unrated to avoid the negative connotations of a rating that had been embraced by the porn industry. I was in college at the time and the ratings buzz surrounding those films is what lured me and my friends to see the movies in the first place. It was an event when a group of us got together to see “Henry and June” on the opening weekend. And now I have to wonder, how would I have discovered Pedro Almodovar without the controversy? So, while such a rating for “Blue Valentine” (one of my favorite movies of this year) is entirely idiotic, might the mark mean more attention for the movie?
At the time the new rating felt like a victory. Phillip Kaufman celebrated the MPAA’s move even as Jack Valenti denied that pressure over his groups ‘X’ rating of “Henry and June” had caused the creation of the new ‘NC-17’ label, according to the New York Times. ”It’s great that the M.P.A.A. has been bold enough to change the guidelines of a system that had fallen into disrepair,” Kaufman told the Times. ”We made an adult movie about a serious subject, and I’m glad it can now be shown uncut in this country. In situations like mine, you always have to go through a sort of game, a long and lengthy war of attrition, in fighting for an R rating, and maybe that will now change. There should be freedom to make the film you want to make.”
Today, the ‘NC-17’ rating feels a lot like the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. While they sorta made sense as small victories at the time, now both are just plain stupid.
“Two decades on, Stu Van Airsdale wrote in Movieline this week, recognizing the twentieth anniversary of the ‘NC-17’ rating, “It remains an imperfect solution for a problem that refuses to go away.”