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Five NC-17 Films That Wore Their Rating Proudly
Take that, MPAA!
by Kristin Hunt
The NC-17 rating has long been labeled the kiss of death for new releases. Movies from Boys Don’t Cry to American Psycho have been recut to nab a more audience-friendly R, and directors have very publicly fought the MPAA to avoid a dreaded NC-17. (Remember the Blue Valentine debacle last year?) When Steve McQueen’s Shame got slapped with an NC-17, everyone expected a battle. But instead, McQueen and star Michael Fassbender showed a startling lack of concern. In fact, they even speculated that the rating might help their film. These two are not alone. Check out five other films that just didn’t give a damn about NC-17.
1. Showgirls, 1995
Before Showgirls hit theaters in 1995, everyone involved talked up the renaissance they were bringing to American cinema. The NC-17 designation was finally going to be acceptable and marketable, thanks to their softcore retelling of All About Eve. Unfortunately, viewers didn’t dig Paul Verhoeven’s revolutionary “vision,” which included a hammy-as-hell Elizabeth Berkley, epileptic pool sex, and the staggeringly awful song "Walk into the Wind." In the end, Showgirls hardly helped the NC-17 rating's reputation, but it did present exciting new challenges for TV editors.
2. Pink Flamingos, 1972
No one was giddier about receiving the dreaded NC-17 rating than the king of perversions himself, John Waters. When Pink Flamingos geared up for a 1997 re-release, New Line actually requested an NC-17. (The film was originally given an "X" rating for its 1972 run.) Waters savored the thought of MPAA members sitting through a screening of his trashy comedy, whose tagline proudly labels it “an exercise in poor taste.” That means, yes, Waters forced a panel of movie graders to watch Divine eat dog crap. You’d almost feel bad for them, if they weren’t such sexist, homophobic dicks.
3. Henry and June, 1990
In 1990, the MPAA introduced the NC-17 rating to replace the stigmatized X. Philip Kaufman’s 1990 movie about the menage-a-trois between Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, and Miller’s wife June landed the first NC-17 rating ever. Considering Kaufman had been appealing his initial X rating, it was a major victory — a victory that had eluded even Pedro Almodovar, who had unsuccessfully appealed the X rating of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! earlier that year. Kaufman praised the MPAA at the time for allowing filmmakers greater freedom, but when he later realized, “Oh, goddammit, this is just an X rating with a classier-sounding name,” he got a bit more critical of the ratings board.
4. Lust, Caution, 2007
Ang Lee takes to controversy like Diane Keaton to men’s hats, and it certainly showed with his follow-up to Brokeback Mountain, the kinky 2007 thriller Lust, Caution. After the movie received an NC-17, Lee and writer-producer James Schamus declared that they wouldn’t “change a single frame.” Lee further called the NC-17 a “legitimate” rating and, arguing against censorship, asked reporters why he wouldn’t show the best version of his movie, which is actually a surprisingly valid argument, if your definition of “best” hinges solely on the inclusion of graphic sex scenes. Plus, he’s apparently not opposed to making another NC-17 project, so we'd all better brace yourselves for a machine-gun- and sex-fueled Life of Pi.
5. The Dreamers
When Bernardo Bertolucci’s sexed-up tale of cinephiles made its way overseas, it was quickly branded another over-the-line movie from those debauched Europeans and given an NC-17. But Fox Searchlight, rather than go on the offensive with the MPAA, loftily compared itself to the noble distributors of Midnight Cowboy and Last Tango in Paris and refused to recut. The 2003 movie eventually grossed $2.5 million, which, considering it only played in 116 theaters, is none too shabby. It also inspired the following quote from Bertolucci, the latter half of which is probably destined for a place on his tombstone: “I’m relieved — in so many ways — that the distributors have had the vision to release my original film. After all, an orgasm is better than a bomb.”