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May 04, 2013

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"and despite the conventional wisdom that women "don't like porn""

LOL! More like, women like written porn, and don't like to admit it IS porn.

It's interesting to compare film ratings from a cultural anthropological point of view, e.g. "The Dreamers" (sex, no violence):

US - NC17
UK - 18
Canada - 18

Germany - 16
Italy - 14
France - 12

Some more - a pattern emerges, lol ...

"The Dreamlife of Angels" (sex, no violence):

US - NC17
UK - UK18

Italy - 14
Germany - 12
France - U (no restriction)


"Midnight Cowboy" (some violence, sex)

US - NC17
UK - 18

West-Germany - 16
Netherlands - 12
France - 12


"Y tu mamá también" (no violence, sex)

US - NC17
UK - 18

Germany - 16
Spain - 13
France - 12
Netherlands -12

Clearly words have power. One fascinating "feature" of the ratings system that my director pointed out to me one time:
- if, for example, you have your characters say "f*ck" a total of 4 or fewer times in the course of the film, you can get a PG-13 rating.
- But if the characters say the same work a 5th time, the rating changes to R.

Can someone explain how a word is acceptably used 4 times, but not becomes unacceptable if used a 5th?

What it looks like to me is that, when the ratings system was being created, they started with a bunch of films, and decided what category each one should be in. And then went back and analyzed the films to come up with what the appropriate parameters are. In short, it was very much an "I know it when I see it" basis for coming up with metrics.

And here is a detailed description of how the Weinstein Brothers butchered "Malena" (NSFW):

http://www.movie-censorship.com/report.php?ID=835

The rating system over here is almost as absurd in reality. A major problem is, that ratings rarely get revised. So movies that are by today's standards completely harmless but landed on the index or got an >18 rating in the past still keep that while other, newer, films get far lower ratings (rarely exceeding the '16 or over') that a few years earler would have never reached the silver screen. And ratings seem often very arbitrary, i.e. very similiar movies can get very different ratings. Movie critics in some cases give their own age recommendations. The latest discussion I remember was about the Harry Potter movies. 'Chamber of Secrets' had some cuts to keep a '6 or above' (the uncut DVDs have a 12) but the cuts made no sense (i.e. they left some of the most frightening stuff in while cutting tame stuff in other places). On the other hand the labyrinth in 'Goblet of Fire' would imo have justified a 16 but it got a 12 (no cuts).
Iirc the original 'Nosferatu' had an 18 rating when I was a kid and now has iirc a 16. I doubt one could scare a 6 year old with it these days.
And don't have me start about the topic of nudies like the infamous 'Report' series's. The ratings today are HIGHER than they were when they were made with the reasoning that youngsters could 'get severely disturbed' but it is not about the highly questionable morals (it's always the fault of those sexually rapacious girls) but about the alleged deviancy.
---
I consider writing a post on movie canons for schools and the problems with that (which would include the ratings topic).
Emphasis would be on cultural context though.

Midnight Cowboy is not rated NC-17, nor has it ever been. It was originally given an R rating, which was revised upwards to an X just prior to release in 1969, due to concerns over the portrayal of homosexuality in the film. Upon re-release in 1971 after winning Best Picture, it was revised back down to an R, which rating it retains to this day.

Hi, Phil!

I haven't seen any of the Report-films personally, but in a book on the history of the Finnish movie censorship, it was mentioned that while they received "18" rating in the 1970's, the possession of these films is criminal at the moment, as some of the actors are minors.

Nakedness, if not in sexual context, does not give you any rating at all. "The English Patient", which features full frontal nudity but only in the bathing scene with little sexual tension present, got a "12" rating, but this was most likely to the non-explicit sex scenes and violence.

On the other hand, in Finland, the easiest ways to get a high rating for a film are drugs, horror and violence. Sex gets you a "18" rating only if it is the main topic of the movie. You can get a "16" rating even with an explicit sex scene if the scene is part of the plot. On the other hand, showing the use of hard drugs (cocaine, LSD, heroine, amphetamine etc.) without showing negative effects to the user gets you almost automatic "18" rating and even minors consuming alcohol earns an automatic "12" rating.

At least in the Schoolgirl Reports (the most notorious that started the whole wave) there are no real minors, although the 21-25 year old women (few of them actual actresses, most were shop assistants and waitresses*) pretend to be and got dubbed for that purpose. Pure Dawson casting. But in some countries this pretense has become illegal now (i.e. the impression of underage sex is the thing, not the actual age of the performers).

*a few hours before the camera in a nudie got them more than a month of regular work, although they got hired because they were much cheaper than 'professionals'.

Hartmut, Lurker, other non-USans:

Do your countries' movie-ratings systems have the paradoxical effect the MPAAs do, of giving rape or dub-con a lower rating than consensual sex? At what degree of explicitness does rape cross over into adults-only territory?

I think it primarily depends on the degree of explicitness. Also p0rn is in a category of its own. Most movie rapes I am aware of in mainstream movies are primarily depicted as violence not sex, i.e. the part that is shown is the man forcing the woman offscreen with obvious intent. So, if a rape scene influences the rating it is through its violent nature. The acceptance of the depiction of sex has changed very much from zero tolerance in the post-war period (with very detailed rules about what can be said and shown dependent on the relationship of characters) to a laissez-faire in the early 70ies (if certain conditions were met) to an (imo) rather inconsistent system today. Ironically, the rules for p0rn are much stricter and get far more enforced (basic rule: if a sex scene in an imported p0rn movie is not 'motivated', a motivation has to be added via dubbing or the film gets no rating*). In general I would say violence is seen as far more problematic than sex/nudity. But distributors tend to preempt the rating boards by cutting scenes in advance for the German market (that's one reason why I usually import from the UK in cases of doubt). But this is also a highly inconsistent process. Often one gets the impression that the cuts were made for length not content (seems to hit Asian movies more often on average but I could be wrong there).

What worked, I think, as a bit of a game-changer over here is the new practice of putting films in two different versions on the market. A cut version usually gets a 16, the uncut one a simple 18 (not the equivalent of unrated as descibed below). So the willingness to self-censor leads to a certain lenience for the undiluted stuff.

*which automatically means that it is >18, cannot be publicly displayed or advertised. It is not forbidden though. One can buy or rent it, if one somehow gets the info that it exists. This applies to all rating-less films independent of content btw.

In Finland, the current system of audiovisual ratings is based on authority-certified and -trained raters working for TV channels, DVD importers and movie studios. The authority only inspects a film if citizens complain about a rating to the authority. (Trial by moral panic.) If the rating is clearly incorrect, the rater can be criminally prosecuted and sentenced up to four years in prison. (Earlier, the authority inspected all non-"18"-rated films and games but this resulted in importers rating all DVD boxes to "18". I remember seeing "Matlock" DVD box with an "18" rating, which made no sense at all.)

Since the inception of the system, 23 films have been re-rated by the authority. 12 have got a higher rating, and one film a lower one. The lates James Bond movie "Skyfall" got a rating of "12" instead of "16" that the importer's rater had used. (The original citizen complaints had probably demanded "18" and criminal prosecution of the rater.) The reason: violence is not detailed, except in a single scene and the shallowness and emotional coldness of the characters makes the horror elements quite mild.

On the other hand, a TV re-run of the "Watership Down" resulted in "12" re-classification instead of "S" (All audiences) used by the rater of our national broadcaster. The horror and violence elements were too heavy, even in animated context.

But to your original question: here rape is "18", unless it is motivated by the plot, and non-explicitly depicted. Then it can get "16". But any depiction of sexual violence is always at least "16". Insinuation of sexual violence is rated "12".

For sex, soft core porn without any plot motivation is "16". A single sex scene with open nakedness can get a "12", if it has plot motivation, and teen sex comedies in the line of "American Pie" and "Sex and the City" (no explicit sex scenes but the whole movie is about sex insinuations) have an explicit authority rule of their own that guides to "12" classification. "Game of Thrones" has a rating "16" for all episodes.

Hartmut, Lurker:

Thank you so much for your info!

As you can see, one of the largest (and most hypocritical) issues for the MPAA is "language". e.g.

A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context.
In practice, this means that movies that faithfully reproduce how many teenagers talk are not considered suitable for teenagers.

Does this sort of nonsense also take place in other countries?

On average profanity has a low impact and there are no fixed rules. In a few cases of excessive profanity a 6 got replaced by a 12. One has to consider though that in German profanity tends to be far more scatological than sexual. The equivalent to the f-word is 'Scheiße' ('shit', the strong sibilants account for a lot of the appeal, I presume). So 'dirty' words are probably seen as less problematic because they don't have to automatically go into the sexual realm. This may be just my innocent upbringing but I also get the impression that the level of (hard) profanity in real world talk is significantly lower in German than in English (not for lack of options, there are enough swear words available).

Btw, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freiwillige_Selbstkontrolle_der_Filmwirtschaft>here is a link to the legal basis for German movie ratings.

In Finland, swearing or other bad language is not considered when rating. I think that if there is an excessive amount of swearing, the overall athmosphere of the movie might include "horror" (or perhaps "anguish" is better translation) elements that rate a program to "7".

Unlike in German, Finnish swearwords are of sexual nature (the most important being vittu, "c***") but they are quite routinely used without really any sexual insinuation. In fact, according to a relatively recent study, vittu has in practical speech a grammatical function similar to the English "not": Se vittu täällä ole. "He isn't, lo!, here."

note: this got caught up in the spam folder as well, probably because of the c word.

Dr. Sci: As you can see, one of the largest (and most hypocritical) issues for the MPAA is "language"

I was thinking about this in relation to the coverage of the bombings in Boston. Was watching CNN (I believe) and they were showing video of the bombing. It was perfectly fine to show the explosions itself, complete with the screams and horror of the people in the area, and later blood in the streets, but the expletives needed to be bleeped out.

It's just so maddeningly stupid, even if rational from CNN's cost/benefit analysis.

This is a really generous interpretation of the ridiculousness of women's pleasure being treated as particularly "explicit" and "inappropriate". I like it because it makes me slightly more optimistic to think that the raters think of such scenes as more "sexy" rather than more "unacceptable".

However I think there definitely has to be a strong strand of women's pleasure as being more unusual, more surprising and not just more sexy. Male pleasure and women's bodies are considered everyday because they are everyday in our society while female pleasure and male bodies (in sexy shots) are "stranger" and more eye catching because we so little of it in our society.

In Finland, swearing or other bad language is not considered when rating. I think that if there is an excessive amount of swearing, the overall athmosphere of the movie might include "horror" (or perhaps "anguish" is better translation) elements that rate a program to "7".

Unlike in German, Finnish swearwords are of sexual nature (the most important being vittu, "c***") but they are quite routinely used without really any sexual insinuation. In fact, according to a relatively recent study, vittu has in practical speech a grammatical function similar to the English "not": Se vittu täällä ole. "He isn't, lo!, here."

note: this comment is from Lurker and got caught up in the spam folder as well, probably because of the c word.

And now I see it appeared. Sorry for the repetition of Finnish swearwords...

The worst things about the MPAA rating system is that
A) they are not accountable.
B) they have no objective standards.
C) they are more lenient with big studio
films than small budget indies.

The sad thing is that newspapers that carry ads for strip joints, won't list NC-17 movies, and as a result large theater chains won't book them.

I just wish when movies go to dvd that they would put out a PG version for those of us who don't want to sit through two hours of foul language or gratuitous sex. I love that I can pull out my Cary Grant movies or my Greer Garson movies and know that I won't have to explain to a child why he/she should not use that language or what two naked adults may be doing.

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