|FOR ADULTS ONLY: PRE-NC-17
CINEMA IN AMERICA
with the support of the Hollywood Erotic Museum
Starting in the late1950s, a flood of largely foreign motion pictures offering
a franker, more realistic view of the world hit American shores, some prime examples being
AND GOD CREATED WOMAN (1956), Jean-Luc Godards BREATHLESS
(1959) and Federico Fellinis LA DOLCE VITA (1960). But there were also such
groundbreaking domestic movies as Otto Premingers MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955) and
Alfred Hitchcocks PSYCHO (1960) that pushed the envelope of what was acceptable on
American screens. As the 1960s progressed, the mushrooming counterculture, coupled with
the struggle for civil rights, the equality of the sexes and a growing anti-war mentality,
spurred a gradual, steady rise of ever more controversial films on U.S. screens.
When Jack Valenti became president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)
in 1966, he quickly acknowledged that changes would have to be made. In an effort to stave
off federal censorship and find a replacement for the antiquated, virtually useless Hays
code, Valenti laid the groundwork for a ratings system that would address the concerns of
parents, educators and politicians but still leave a "liberal latitude" of what
the discriminating adult might view on his or her neighborhood movie screen.
The rating system went into effect in November, 1968. Out of the initial rating letter
symbols "G" for General, "M" for Mature, "R" for
Restricted, and most notoriously, "X" for no one under 17 admitted only X
was not trademarked by the MPAA. Brian De Palmas biting anti-war satire, GREETINGS,
was the first film to receive the X rating, followed soon after by such adult-themed
movies as MIDNIGHT COWBOY (famous as the only "X" film ever to win the Academy
Award for Best Picture), IF
, THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE
DOLLS, MEDIUM COOL, THE DEVILS, MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, LAST TANGO IN PARIS, IN THE REALM OF
THE SENSES and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. While many of these films contain sexual material that
seems tame today, by the standards of the era they were seen as seriously provocative.
Just as important, many of these films were politically and socially subversive,
redefining the boundaries of what could be shown and said in commercial, mainstream
Unfortunately, every pornographer in the country began exploiting the X-rating as bait
for the libidinous viewer interested in hardcore porn. The deleterious effect on serious
adult fare with artistic or social merit still too edgy for an R rating was almost
immediately felt. Many "respectable" theater chains refused to book films with
an X rating, no matter the quality or origin, and newspapers boycotted advertising for any
movie with the disreputable rating.
The ratings system went through a series of various permutations, especially during its
first two decades in existence. Although the ratings were amended to change the confusing
M (Mature) rating to GP, then once again in 1984 transforming the GP to PG and PG-13, it
wasnt until 1990 that the X-rating was abolished and replaced with NC-17. Initial
films to receive the rating were Philip Kaufmans HENRY & JUNE and Pedro
Almodovars TIE ME UP, TIE ME DOWN (both 1990). The intent behind the NC-17 rating
revision was to rescue quality adult cinema from the pariah status of what had become an
X-rated ghetto. Unfortunately, as many studios, distributors and exhibitors soon learned,
NC-17 carried its own commercial stigma, largely propagated by the religious right in
America. Many theater chains and newspaper and media outlets picked up the torch,
boycotting exhibition and advertising of NC-17 movies, a heinous practice that continues
to this day. Although several of the films in our series such as MIDNIGHT COWBOY,
PERFORMANCE and THE DEVILS (as well as many other worthwhile,
originally-rated-X movies) were later re-rated with the R rating after miniscule cuts (or
sometimes no cuts at all), others would undoubtedly receive the stronger NC-17 if released
today for the first time.
Friday, September 10 7:00 PM
Marlon Brando Tribute New 35mm Print:
LAST TANGO IN PARIS, 1972, MGM/UA, 136 min.
The late Marlon Brando gives one of the finest performances of his career in a
sensual exploration of the dark night of one mans soul - a movie that sent shock
waves through not just the motion picture industry but society-at-large when it was
initially released. Expatriate American Paul (Brando) tries to exorcise the demons
unleashed by his wifes suicide with the erotic assistance of young waif Jeanne (Maria
Schneider). But theres no escape and Pauls lovemaking brings him neither
desired relief nor intimacy, something that is ruthlessly charted in director Bernardo
Bertoluccis erotic masterpiece. This screening is
dedicated to the memory of one of American cinemas greatest actors, Marlon Brando.
Friday, September 10 9:45 PM
Russ Meyer/Ralph Bakshi Double Feature:
BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, 1970,
20th Century Fox/Criterion, 109 min. Dir. Russ Meyer. Girl-group madness
from the director of FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! Dolly Reed, Marcia McBroom and Cynthia
Myers journey from hicksville to Hollywood, hoping to make it with their rock trio, The
Carrie Nations. They fall prey to the "business" as well as their own inflated
ambitions in what is arguably Meyers most purely entertaining, pop-culture
sex-fest (co-written by film critic Roger Ebert). With additional tunes by The Strawberry
FRITZ THE CAT, 1972, MGM/UA, 79 min. Director
Ralph Bakshi delivers his take on R. Crumbs notorious, sidesplittingly
funny underground comic of the same name, a paean to the highs and lows of 60s
counterculture, with emphasis on sexual and social chaos. The first major animated motion
picture to receive an X rating!
Saturday, September 11 5:00 PM
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, 1971, Warners, 137 min. Master
filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was so stunned by Malcolm McDowell's debut in
IF... that he was reportedly unwilling to begin his film of Anthony Burgess' savagely
brutal, futuristic satire until he could be assured of McDowell's participation. A
CLOCKWORK ORANGE proved to be more prophetic than anyone dreamed, as the punk explosion
and skinhead-fomented violence in the later 1970s witnessed. Discussion
following with writer/critic and author of the book The Ratings Game, Stephen
Saturday, September 11 8:30 PM
MIDNIGHT COWBOY, 1969, MGM/UA, 113 min.
Director John Schlesinger (DARLING) tracks na´ve male hustler Joe Buck (Jon
Voight) on his sordid adventures from 42nd street peepshows to upscale
parties with the Warhol crowd in this trailblazing, alternately shocking and poignant
study of being down-and-out in the Big Apple. Dustin Hoffman as homeless thief
Ratso Rizzo supplies one of the touchstone performances of the burgeoning New Hollywood. A
masterpiece that won three Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Also starring
Brenda Vaccaro, Sylvia Miles, John McGiver, Barnard Hughes and Jennifer Salt.
MEDIUM COOL, 1969, Paramount, 110 min.
Photographed in and around the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, MEDIUM
COOL stars Robert Forster (JACKIE BROWN) as a cynical TV reporter trying to
maintain his equilibrium amid tear gas, yippies, black militants, and working-class mother
Verna Bloom. Written, directed and photographed by Haskell Wexler in a raw,
unnerving mixture of radical politics, documentary footage and blistering Chicago blues
(courtesy of Mike Bloomfield).
Sunday, September 12 5:00 PM
PERFORMANCE, 1970, Warner Bros.,105 min. Dirs.
Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg. Perhaps the wildest, most deeply layered
psychedelic movie ever made. Gangster James Fox goes on the lam, hiding out in
reclusive pop star Mick Jaggers decaying townhouse in the hippie London
ghetto. Jagger and poly-sexual pal Anita Pallenberg put Fox through his paces with mind
games and large doses of psylocibin mushrooms all climaxing in the mind-blowing
"Memo for Turner" production number. Brutal beatings, sexual identity crises and
prodigious drug taking is punctuated by one of Jack Nitzsches best scores
(highlighted by Ry Cooders incredible bottleneck guitar work).
THE DEVILS, 1971, Warner Bros., 111 min. Director Ken
Russells still-shocking adaptation of Aldous Huxleys "Devils
Of Loudon" was vilified as blasphemous and excessive upon its initial release, and
remains one of the most disturbingly memorable films from the early 1970s. The films
allegory of a corrupt power structure equating sexual activity with satanism, all for the
sake of political and religious repression, is more relevant today than ever. In the 17th
century, French Cardinal Richelieus minions use the womanizing of activist priest
Urban Grandier (Oliver Reed) as pretext for the Inquisition to investigate his
"diabolic possession" of the local nuns, including demented, hunchbacked Mother
Superior Sister Jeanne (an unforgettable Vanessa Redgrave). With support from an
excellent cast that includes Dudley Sutton, Gemma Jones and Michael Gothard.