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The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), in their continuing effort to protect people from reality, has slapped an R-rating on Lee Hirsch’s new documentary 'Bully,' which followed the lives of middle-school & high-school students. The Weinstein Company had planned to offer the film to various school systems in an effort to start a discussion about bullying. However, since the documentary does what documentaries usually do (which is offer an uncensored look at a subject), there are kids swearing with dirty, dirty language that I'm sure no one's virginal ears have ever heard before. So an R-rating puts up considerable barriers to showing the film in schools, since the subjects can't even watch the damn thing in a theater without an adult. And then there's the irony that footage shot in public schools will be deemed inappropriate to be shown in those very same schools.

This story gives me an excuse to revisit a topic I've touched on before; Controversial Films. Which films have been lambasted & created controversy (from either the left or right side of the spectrum)? And did the movies deserve it, or was it all an overreaction?

It also gives me a chance to look at the MPAA's ratings decisions again. The ratings for films (G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17) have long been a source of contention among filmmakers, since the standards can be very subjective with no accounting for context, and how well a film is distributed, marketed, and attended/sold can be affected by the arbitrary ratings.

From Deadline Hollywood:

The Weinstein Company will appeal to the MPAA after the film-rating group slapped the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival documentary Bully with an R rating. Harvey Weinstein and one of the film’s featured subjects Alex Libby will attend a hearing on the matter set for Thursday in Sherman Oaks, with Motion Picture Consulting’s Ethan Noble assisting Weinstein. The R-rating was made due to “language,” restricting minors under 17 from seeing the Lee Hirsch-directed film about the effects of school bullying unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. That would in effect ban screenings at U.S. middle and high schools, where Weinstein and the filmmakers want to show it. ”We have to change hearts and minds in order to stop this epidemic, which has scarred countless lives and driven many children to suicide,” said Hirsch, who became a regular on shows such as CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 following the film’s premiere last year, which coincided with several teen suicides allegedly as a result of school bullying.
The current MPAA rating system was introduced in the late 1960s as a self-administered replacement of the Hays Code. Both systems were intended in part by the film industry to be ways to stave off forms of government censorship. The similar video game rating system, adopted by the video game industry in the '90s, was created for almost exactly the same reasons, after hearings in Congress that implied possible government action.

However, in function, the MPAA's rating system leaves a lot to be desired. While it's not outright censorship per se, the effect of the ratings can have a chilling effect on what's produced & how it's distributed. About 6 years ago, Kirby Dick directed & produced a documentary called 'This Film Is Not Yet Rated' about the rating system of the MPAA. The film documents how the identity of the people who rate movies are kept a secret, some of the board members have no training or film background, and they can make decisions that show wide disparities of reasoning from film to film. The MPAA has come under heavy criticism for subjective ratings when it comes to language, sexuality (depictions of gay affection is usually treated harsher), violence, or even smoking by characters (which the MPAA has used as a consideration for a film's rating since 2007). Also, films that are independently produced seem to be graded harder than films that are products of the studio system, which shouldn't come as a surprise since the MPAA is a film industry creation.

From Film School Rejects:

The biggest recent example of obvious bias came with Black Swan (released by Fox Searchlight) and Blue Valentine (an independent distributed by The Weinstein Company). The one with ties to the MPAA got an R-rating. The one without, got an NC-17. This, despite no quantitative difference between two scenes of oral sex. In the end, The Weinstein Company successfully got the MPAA to change the rating, which is great, but also proves that their ratings system is arbitrary to begin with.

This also happened around the same time that David Schwimmer’s Trust was bizarrely slapped with an NC-17 for a scene that involved implied sexuality and zero nudity. Compare that with a movie like, say, Forgetting Sarah Marshall (from MPAA member Universal) which got an R-rating with sexual content and graphic nudity.

One notorious example of how ridiculous the line between R & PG-13 can be is the "One Fuck Rule":
  • "One Fuck Rule" - With very few exceptions, under the MPAA rating system a movie is allowed to use the word "fuck" once and maintain a PG-13 rating. If the word fuck is used twice, no matter the context, it's usually an automatic R-rating. There are some exceptions to this. If the one use of the word "fuck" is part of a compound expletive ("I've had it with the Motherfuckin' snakes on this...") then it can still be an automatic R, or if the one use of fuck is used in a sexual manner instead of an excited one (yelling "Fuck You!" in anger versus a character saying "You fucked him?") then it can still be an automatic R.

From an essay by James Berardinelli over at Reelviews entitled "Life Is Not PG-13":

The insidious thing about this is that movies that should be rated R are emasculated in order to get a PG-13 rating. Nudity is obscured, sex becomes implied, and no more than one "fuck" is allowed... People can be murdered, but their deaths can't be bloody. It works the other way, too. In order to avoid a PG rating, some filmmakers intentionally add profanity, mild sexual content, and a little violence to attain a PG-13. Sometimes, deletions represent ornamental (as opposed to substantive) cutting. But there are times when they genuinely impact the director's vision and/or the viewing experience, when the artificiality of how a scene is shot or edited call attention to what's going on.
The PG-13 rating was created back in the mid '80s as a middle ground, because of controversy over the PG rating given to 'Poltergeist,' 'Gremlins,' 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,' and other films. If you go back and look at some older films from the 1970s & early 80s, there are many PG rated films with lots of "strong language," and nudity. However, in general, the current rating standards are such that any depiction of female nudity is usually an automatic R-rating.

Whether a film is rated PG-13 or R can mean millions of dollars, especially to movies that need to recoup large budgets. A PG-13 film can be attended by teenagers, where an R rating may mean fewer screens showing the film & less advertising from the studio. For example, one big change from the 1980s to today is that almost all action movies are PG-13 instead of R, because the studios want the added revenue from teenagers. The studios also rationalize the decision by thinking they can always add the violence & sex back in for the DVD & market it as a "Director's Cut."

Aint It Cool News recently had a post that looked back at the Class of 1987; 'Predator' and 'RoboCop.'

Paul Verhoeven's 'RoboCop' is quite possibly the most successful anti-corporate action film ever released by a studio. It masks its social commentary on government & corporations behind its Sci-Fi concept. However, upon release it was also rated "X" because of the violence (e.g. this is the original cut of the boardroom "glitch" scene with ED-209, which was cut down to get an R-rating).
I think that we can all agree that the modern day action film, for the most part, has had its teeth pulled. Because they are so expensive to make now, the studios meticulously oversee all manner of production, all the way up to release, and if they can’t get a PG-13, they cut until they can. R rated films can’t bring in the box office like the PG-13s can; that’s just a cold hard truth. They may release so-called director’s cuts or unrated edits for home release, but for the most part, the days of DIE HARD or LETHAL WEAPON, with their kind of violence, are gone.  Sure, we get some harder-edged action films once in a while – THE RAID looks to be one of those – but they aren’t the norm. Even THE EXPENDABLES 2, filled to the brim with 1980s action heroes that would have never balked at being in an R rated movie back in the day, will be PG-13. Chuck Norris used to embrace the ultraviolence; now he outwardly says that those movies aren’t for him anymore.

So what’s happened to the real action movies from the 1980s and even the 1990s that we know and love?  Michael Bay’s doing TRANSFORMERS movies, for Christ’s sake – this is the guy who in BAD BOYS 2 had our heroes destroy a shantytown in Cuba in a Humvee, because he took the phrase “war on poverty” literally. John Woo went back to China. John McTiernan’s gotten into legal trouble, and we haven’t seen Paul Verhoeven for a while now. There isn’t one thing that can define why action films in general have become tamer – we live in a different world now, for certain, than in the Cold War 1980s. Our sensibilities are different.

Beyond R, an NC-17 rating means much more to a film than just no one 17 & under can get into to see it. That NC-17 also means some theater chains won't show the film, the studio will treat it like a red-headed stepchild & won't advertise or promote it, and some retailers won't stock the DVD/Blu-ray. Peter Greenaway's 1989 film 'The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover' begins with Albert Spica (Michaell Gambon) beating up a man, ripping off his clothes, smearing dog excrement on his face and chest, then urinating on him... and from there things get worse. Upon release, the film encountered controversy because of its depictions of sex & violence. In fact, it's one of the reasons the MPAA instituted the "NC-17" rating, after it refused to give the film an "R" rating for its release in the United States & the backlash that decision received from film critics. That left the studio that distributed the film (Miramax) with the choice of releasing the film with no rating at all or an "X" rating. That sort of choice is the film industry equivalent of choosing between being shot or stabbed. And the NC-17 rating has done nothing to solve this problem.
Roger Ebert: We live in a country where there is no appropriate category for a serious film for adults. On the one hand, there's the R rating (which means a film can be seen by anyone in possession of a parent or adult guardian) and on the other there's the X, which has been discredited by its ironclad association with hard-core porno. Why not an A rating, for adults only? That would be the appropriate rating for a movie like this. But then, God forbid, the theaters might actually have to turn potential customers away! And so the MPAA enters its third decade of hypocrisy, and serious filmmakers like Greenaway, filmmakers with something urgent to say and an extreme way of saying it, suffer the MPAA's tacit censorship.

A few years back, the MPAA was excoriated by critics for giving an R-rating to the critically acclaimed film 'The King's Speech.' The film's R-rating is due to just one segment in which the speech therapist encourages George to curse and the word "fuck" is uttered five times. For that, the film has the same rating as 'Saw 3D' where someone is lowered onto a buzz saw.

From Patrick Goldstein at the Los Angeles Times:

What does the MPAA say in its defense?

Joan Graves, who heads the MPAA’s rating board (officially known as the Classification and Rating Administration), argues against making an exception for “The King’s Speech.” “We’ve made clear what our language guidelines are, and it’s not fair, in fact it would look arbitrary, if we threw it out for just one film... Our perception is that parents still feel the same way about bad language, especially in areas like the Midwest and the South, where they often have a problem with God, as in goddamnit. On the coasts, perhaps because they have more urban centers, they’re more concerned with violence.”

Of course, as long as there's been movies there's been controversy. Hell, probably as long as there's been the written word there's been someone else who was pissed off by someone else's imagination (I suspect many a caveman were probably bonked over the head for their "inappropriate" cave drawings).

AMC's filmsite has a pretty definitive list of "controversial films."

Films always have the ability to anger us, divide us, shock us, disgust us, and more. Usually, films that inspire controversy, outright boycotting, picketing, banning, censorship, or protest have graphic sex, violence, homosexuality, religious, political or race-related themes and content. They usually push the envelope regarding what can be filmed and displayed on the screen, and are considered taboo, "immoral" or "obscene" due to language, drug use, violence and sensuality/nudity or other incendiary elements. Inevitably, controversy helps to publicize these films and fuel the box-office receipts.
Some notable films that have encountered controversy:

► 'A Clockwork Orange' (1971)

"When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man."
Based on the novel of the same name by Anthony Burgess, the film was originally given an X-rating in the U.S. (Stanley Kubrick cut out about 30 seconds of sexual content to secure an R), and was withdrawn from the United Kingdom after some copycat violence & threats against Kubrick & his family. It wasn't officially available in the U.K. again - in theaters or on video - until 2000, a year after Kubrick's death.

'A Clockwork Orange' is generally lauded today as one of Kubrick's masterpieces, with Anthony Burgess' story playing with themes of free will & individuality (even if it's the individuality of a sadist) versus the conditioning of the state towards "goodness." However, the movie's critical acclaim hasn't always been so. Noted film critic Pauline Kael called the film "Pornographic" in her review, where she also accused Kubrick of "making the attacked less human than their attackers."

From The New Yorker Magazine, January, 1972
By Pauline Kael

"Literal-minded in its sex and brutality, Teutonic in its humor, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange might be the work of a strict and exacting German professor who set out to make a porno-violent sci-fi Comedy. Is there anything sadder -- and ultimately more repellent -- than a clean-minded pornographer? The numerous rapes and beatings have no ferocity and no sensuality; they're frigidly, pedantically calculated, and because there is no motivating emotion, the viewer may experience them as an indignity and wish to leave. The movie follows the Anthony Burgess novel so closely that the book might have served as the script, yet that thick-skulled German professor may be Dr. Strangelove himself, because the meanings are turned around."

The film is also an interesting case of "creator backlash," given the attitude Burgess came to have towards the film and Stanley Kubrick. Reportedly, the story was inspired by the assault & rape of Burgess' wife. Burgess expected the audience to be repulsed by Alex de Large & the Droogs, but instead people began emulating them & made them a part of pop-culture. The film also cuts the final chapter of Burgess' novel, which is somewhat significant.

► 'Song of the South' (1946)

"Please don't throw me in dat briar patch!"
Over the years, there have been various arguments about the "unfortunate implications" in various classic Disney films, ranging from the crows in 'Dumbo' to the Indians in 'Peter Pan.' However, only one Disney film has never been released on home video, DVD or Blu-ray in the United States because of its perceived racial insensitivity.

Set in the Deep South after the Civil War, 'Song of the South' is based on the "Uncle Remus" collection of African-American folktales compiled by Joel Chandler Harris in the late 1800s, which tell of the adventures of Br'er Rabbit and his friends.

This film is also the origin of the Disney song "Zip-a-Dee Doo-Dah," which won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Song.

► 'Triumph of the Will' (1935)

This movie haunted Leni Riefenstahl to the day she died. It is widely considered one of the first & best known uses of propaganda in film history. Riefenstahl's film chronicles the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, and promotes Germany's return as a global power under the Nazis.

For decades Riefenstahl claimed she was just a documentarian chronicling events. However, she could hardly be called anything close to an "objective filmmaker," since 'Triumph of the Will' was financed by the Nazi government, commissioned by Adolf Hitler himself, and completed with the full cooperation of all involved, with the rally planned around Riefenstahl's filming.

Riefenstahl is at pains to insist she was never a member of the Nazi Party. Her position has always been that she was an artist, working in a vacuum. The tragedy of her career, from her view, is that "Triumph of the Will" and "Olympia" gained such fame, and were so closely identified with Nazism, that she was never able to finish another film. There were other documentaries about the Nazi rallies, but nobody remembers the others; only hers, because it was so good... There is no mention in her films of anti-Semitism, she points out. She did not know until after the war about Hitler's genocidal policies against the Jews. She was a naive artist, unsophisticated about politics, detached from Nazi party officials with the exception of Hitler, her friend - but not a close friend. She was concerned only with images, not ideas.

And so on. But it has been pointed out that the very absence of anti-Semitism in "Triumph of the Will" looks like a calculation; excluding the central motif of almost all of Hitler's public speeches must have been a deliberate decision to make the film more efficient as propaganda. Nor could it have been easy for a film professional working in Berlin to remain unaware of the disappearance of all of the Jews in the movie industry.

'Triumph of the Will' is also notable for its influence. Many of the techniques used by Riefenstahl have been borrowed by filmmakers and political campaigns.

From 'Star Wars' (aka Episode IV: A New Hope):

In Ridley Scott's 'Gladiator,' Commodus' (Joaquin Phoenix) entry into Rome mimics Hitler's arrival in Nuremberg in 'Triumph of the Will.'

► 'Straw Dogs' (1971)

"Heaven and Earth are not humane, and regard the people as straw dogs."

Sam Peckinpah's 1971 film 'Straw Dogs' is considered one of his best, but it was a tad controversial upon release. So much so that it was banned in the United Kingdom for a good many years.

It tells the story of David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), a timid American mathematician, who wants to escape what he perceives to be the increasing violence of American city life. Sumner and his wife Amy (Susan George) relocate to her native village of Wakely, Cornwall, in the southwest corner of England. However, almost from the get-go, David & his wife become targets for the locals, which include Amy's former lover.

Its most controversial sequence is the ambiguity in a scene in which Amy is raped. After initially resisting, Amy appears to enjoy the rape.

The film was accused of implying that she brought on the assault (possibly as a means to insult her impassive husband) and actually might have enjoyed the first rape (a glamorization of rape). The climactic, stunning and barbaric ending also appeared to morally endorse vigilante violence, especially because of the main character's redemptive yet unsatisfying homicidal rampage. It was re-edited for an R-rating and faced censorship bans in England for 30 years.

► 'I Spit On Your Grave' (1978)

"This woman has just cut, chopped, broken, and burned five men beyond recognition... but no jury in America would ever convict her!"
The original 1978 film was (and arguably still is) very controversial, having been banned in a lot of countries. The controversy largely stems from a very graphic rape scene, and how you interpret the film. Is it a movie portraying the horrors of rape, and the revenge of a strong woman that's not going to take it? Or is it misogynistic trash that titillates its audience with sadism against a female protagonist?

This has long been the dichotomy of the 70s/80s era exploitation films. Some Feminists saw sexism in the T&A or the acts of violence directed at the female characters. However, the other side of the argument is some of the exploitation films were also the first films to have strong female characters that weren't dependent on men to "save" them.

From a 2009 Los Angeles Times article on Feminism & Exploitation films:

"Even in the mid-'70s, the kind of proto-feminist element was being written about," said Kathleen McHugh, director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Women. "Feminist film scholars were writing about Roger Corman and Stephanie Rothman, locating a feminist impulse in the standard plot, where you have these powerful, self-assertive, one might even use the term 'extremely aggressive' women who are wreaking vengeance against forces, people, men who are trying to keep them down."
However, not everybody saw it that way. For example, with 'I Spit On Your Grave,' Roger Ebert wrote a scathing review, calling it "an expression of the most diseased and perverted darker human natures."
July 16, 1980

A vile bag of garbage named "I Spit on Your Grave" is playing in Chicago theaters this week. It is a movie so sick, reprehensible and contemptible that I can hardly believe it's playing in respectable theaters, such as Plitt's United Artists. But it is. Attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of, my life.

This is a film without a shred of artistic distinction. It lacks even simple craftsmanship. There is no possible motive for exhibiting it, other than the totally cynical hope that it might make money. Perhaps it will make money: When I saw it at 11:20 a.m. on Monday, the theater contained a larger crowd than usual.

It was not just a large crowd, it was a profoundly disturbing one. I do not often attribute motives to audience members, nor do I try to read their minds, but the people who were sitting around me on Monday morning made it easy for me to know what they were thinking. They talked out loud. And if they seriously believed the things they were saying, they were vicarious sex criminals.

Back in 1980, Ebert & Gene Siskel devoted an entire show to "Women in Danger" films. During it, Siskel proposed the theory that these films were a reaction to the gains made by the women's movement, and fulfills a fantasy for some men of seeing a woman cowering and being "punished" whenever they have sex or do something un-lady like.

► 'Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom' (1975)

There is a reason the word "Sadism" is derived from the Marquis de Sade's name. 'Salo' is from Italian poet, novelist, painter, and director Pier Paolo Pasolini & based on the novel Les 120 journées de Sodome, written in 1785 by the Marquis de Sade, which tells the story of four libertines who kidnap a group of teenagers, take them to a chateau, and subject them to 4 months of the most depraved torture the libertines can imagine.

The film has been controversial from the beginning, and is still banned in many countries. However, the film does have fans (a 2001 Village Voice critics poll had it as the 89th greatest film of the 20th century).

In 1994, an undercover policeman in Cincinnati, Ohio rented the film from a local gay bookstore, and then arrested the owners for "pandering." A large group of artists, including Martin Scorsese and Alec Baldwin, and scholars signed a legal brief arguing the film's artistic merit; the Court dismissed the case because the police violated the owners' Fourth Amendment rights, without reaching the question of whether the film was obscene.

► 'Caligula' (1979)

When you think of epics about the Roman Empire, the brain trust of Penthouse magazine is exactly who you want in charge of the film.

The film is primarily infamous for trying to straddle the line between being high art & a porn film, and failing miserably at both. The original script was written by Gore Vidal (who later disowned the film) and it was directed by Tinto Brass. However, the film was produced by Bob Guccione, the founder of Penthouse magazine, who had final cut. Unhappy with Brass' product, he brought in someone else to recut the film & added in hardcore sex scenes (with some of them not making any sense to what little plot the movie had). This led to many different versions of the film.

There are nine different cuts of 'Caligula' out there somewhere, and with each of them you're still left pondering how a movie with good actors (Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud), and gratuitous amounts of sex & violence, can be so damn boring?

From the A.V. Club:

A porno starring Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole, and John Gielgud? Oh hell yeah. I was under no illusion that Caligula would be any good at all, and that 156-minute run time did make me nervous (yes, I went with the unrated cut; would you expect less?), but some movies persist in the cultural memory simply because they’re so outrageous, we can’t help but be delighted they’re real. Oh of course it’s trash, and of course it’s filth and perversion and horse-fucking and girl-on-girl and Peter O’Toole being crazy and Malcolm McDowell fisting a dude and—wait, what was I saying? Right. It’s trash, but in concept at least, it has the potential of being gloriously transgressive trash... Watching Caligula is like flipping back and forth between a prestigious but dull historical epic and a movie in which people masturbate a lot. The masturbation may be some kind of symbolism, but when you’re watching actual genitalia onscreen... well, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a dick is just a dick.

It’s tempting to blame most of Caligula’s flaws on Guccione’s meddling, and there’s little doubt that his additions—including, most infamously, a five-minute lesbian sex scene that doesn’t have anything to do with anything beyond being a five-minute lesbian sex scene—were distracting, pointless, and, by the end, irritatingly dull. During a late-movie orgy sequence, I’d swear I saw the same woman giving the same guy the same blowjob at least six times. Apart from ruining any sense of narrative momentum, the constant assault of fuckery just gets old. It starts as shocking, becomes compelling in a Rube-Goldberg-meets-the-Marquis-De-Sade kind of way, but by the time you hit your third finger-bang, the magic is gone...

Take the plot: Malcolm McDowell plays Caligula, inveterate sister-fucker and heir to not-quite-dead Emperor Tiberius (Peter O’Toole). The movie opens with a familiar quote about gaining the world and losing one’s soul, but let’s be honest here: When your idea of a perfect day involves romping naked through the woods with a sibling, then screwing that sibling to your heart’s content, the soul train has already left your particular station.

► 'Happiness' (1998)

Below is the official trailer for Todd Solondz' film 'Happiness.' It is quite possibly one of the most misleading film trailers ever made, since you would think the movie is a romantic comedy from what's presented. It is most decidedly NOT that.

The film is actually a pitch black dark comedy that revolves around the lives of people connected to three sisters (Jane Adams, Lara Flynn Boyle and Cynthia Stevenson), and is about the pursuit of happiness. Except the happiness the characters pursue involves the fulfillment of their various psychological (and criminal) dysfunctions.

The most infamous scene in 'Happiness' is one in which a pedophile father (Dylan Baker) confesses his crimes to his young son, and it's ambiguous as to whether Solondz is going for the creepiness of the scene or trying to get laughs out of child molestation.

"Todd Solondz's Happiness is a film that perplexes its viewers, even those who admire it, because it challenges the ways we attempt to respond to it. Is it a portrait of desperate human sadness? Then why are we laughing? Is it an ironic comedy? Then why its tenderness with these lonely people? Is it about depravity? Yes, but why does it make us suspect, uneasily, that the depraved are only seeking what we all seek, but with a lack of ordinary moral vision? In a film that looks into the abyss of human despair, there is the horrifying suggestion that these characters may not be grotesque exceptions, but may in fact be part of the mainstream of humanity.... It shows us people who want to be loved and who never will be -- because of their emotional incompetence and arrested development. There are lots of people who do find love and fulfillment, but they are not in this movie."


► 'The Warriors' (1979)

Warriors! Come out to plaaaaaayyyy! Based on the Anabasis by Xenophon, Walter Hill's 'The Warriors' tells the story of a Coney Island street gang trying to get back home after being framed for the murder of a gang leader ("Can you dig it?"), and being hunted by every other gang in New York City.

The film became controversial after release because of acts of vandalism & three murders associated with viewers who had seen the movie. In response, Paramount pulled advertising for the film, and allowed some theater owners to get out of their contractual obligations to show the movie.

From Time:

March 19, 1979

The first killing occurred on Feb. 12 at a drive-in showing the movie in Palm Springs, Calif.

During an intermission a white girl drew comment from blacks belonging to a youth gang called the Blue Coats. Their white counterparts, the Family, came to her rescue. In the shooting that followed, one of the Family, Marvin Kenneth Eller, 19, was killed by a .22-cal. bullet.

► 'The Last Temptation of Christ' (1988)

This is probably the ultimate "we haven't seen it, but we're going to protest it" film. Based on the 1960 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, Martin Scorsese's film tells the story of Jesus Christ's life and Crucifixion, except in a much more human way than is normally done. What is the last temptation of Christ? A "normal" life with a human family.

Fundamentalists objected strongly to the film, calling it blasphemous. However, the film is a fairly flattering depiction of Christ's story. It still recognizes Jesus as the Son of God, but instead of treating Jesus like a comic-book superhero, the movie treats Jesus with the dignity of being a real person.

From Roger Ebert:

Scorsese and Schrader have not made a film that panders to the audience--as almost all Hollywood religious epics traditionally have. They have paid Christ the compliment of taking him and his message seriously, and they have made a film that does not turn him into a garish, emasculated image from a religious postcard. Here he is flesh and blood, struggling, questioning, asking himself and his father which is the right way, and finally, after great suffering, earning the right to say, on the cross, "It is accomplished."

The critics of this film, many of whom have not seen it, have raised a sensational hue and cry about the final passages, in which Christ on the cross, in great pain, begins to hallucinate and imagines what his life would have been like if he had been free to live as an ordinary man. In his reverie, he marries Mary Magdelene, has children, grows old. But it is clear in the film that this hallucination is sent to him by Satan, at the time of his greatest weakness, to tempt him. And in the hallucination itself, in the film's most absorbing scene, an elderly Jesus is reproached by his aging Apostles for having abandoned his mission. Through this imaginary conversation, Jesus finds the strength to shake off his temptation and return to consciousness to accept his suffering, death and resurrection.

► 'The Birth of a Nation' (1915)

A supremely innovative & influential film from the silent era directed by D. W. Griffith. It's also a film that's historically inaccurate, promotes white supremacy, and glorifies the Ku Klux Klan.

From filmsite:

This groundbreaking, landmark American film masterpiece about two families during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods was also extremely controversial and explicitly racist. It was based on former North Carolina Baptist minister Rev. Thomas Dixon Jr.'s anti-black, 1905 bigoted play, The Clansman, the second volume in a trilogy.

Its release set up a major censorship battle over its extremist depiction of African Americans, although Griffith naively claimed that he wasn't racist at the time. Unbelievably, the film is still used today as a recruitment piece for Klan membership - and in fact, the organization experienced a revival and membership peak in the decade immediately following its initial release. And the film stirred new controversy when it was voted into the National Film Registry in 1993, and when it was voted one of the "Top 100 American Films" (at # 44) by the American Film Institute in 1998.

The subject matter of the film caused immediate criticism by the newly-created National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for its racist and "vicious" portrayal of blacks, its proclamation of miscegenation, its pro-Klan stance, and its endorsement of enslavement. As a result, two scenes were cut (a love scene between a Reconstructionist Senator and his mulatto mistress, and a fight scene).

► 'Basic Instinct' (1992)

Paul Verhoeven's film was controversial not only for Sharon Stone's "crotch shot," but also with gay groups who disliked the portrayal of a bisexual woman as a psychopathic serial killer. If I remember correctly, some of the protesters stood in front of movie theaters with signs giving away the identity of the film's killer.

Womens' groups called the film misogynistic, and gay-rights groups in San Francisco (including The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)) called it stereotypically-homophobic and gay-bashing. They charged that the main murderess suspect in the film was a denegrating portrayal since she was a mentally-unstable, psychotic lesbian and bi-sexual that was potentially homicidal. Activists groups such as Queer Nation and ACT-UP protested at multiple San Francisco shooting locations, chanting "Hollywood, you stink" and they attempted to disrupt filming.

► 'Last Tango In Paris' (1972)

Rated X upon its release, Bernardo Bertolucci's film tells the story of an affair between an American widower and an engaged Parisian woman (Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider). Brando received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination in 1973 for this film, and Bertolucci was nominated for Best Director.

The film's depiction of sexuality, and the turmoil (I guess that's a good word for it) of the relationship made people argue whether it was erotic art or pornography?

The film premiered in New York on 14 October 1972 to enormous public controversy. The media frenzy surrounding the film generated intense popular interest as well as moral condemnation, landing cover stories in both Time and Newsweek magazines. Playboy published a photo spread of Brando and Schneider "cavorting in the nude." Time wrote, "Any moviegoers who are not shocked, titillated, disgusted, fascinated, delighted or angered by this early scene in Bernardo Bertolucci's new movie, Last Tango in Paris, should be patient. There is more to come. Much more." The Village Voice reported walkouts by [New York Film Festival] board members and "vomiting by well-dressed wives." Columnist William F. Buckley and ABC's Harry Reasoner denounced the film as "pornography disguised as art."
Probably the most controversial scene deals with a "stick of butter." This & other scenes caused the film to be banned in various countries (Chile banned it for nearly 30 years. It was banned in its country of origin, Italy, until 1987.)
In 1974, it became the first film to be prosecuted under Britain's Obscene Publications Act - and the sodomy scene was ordered deleted. In the director's own country, the film was seized and banned, and charged for its "obscene content offensive to public decency." In the mid-70s, it was permanently banned in Italy (with all prints seized), its stars and director were condemned, and Bertolucci was given a 4-month suspended prison sentence.

► 'Deep Throat' (1972)

During the "porn chic" period of the 1970s, it was thought porn films might one day become as mainstream as any other genre of film. One of the porn films that caught the public's attention was 'Deep Throat,' starring Linda Lovelace (the pseudonym of Linda Susan Boreman). It centers on a woman (Lovelace) who learns that her clitoris isn't where it's supposed to be, but inside her throat. She can only achieve orgasm by performing the act named in the film's title.

The film made a huge profit for its investors (who may or may not have been the Colombo crime family). And the notoriety of this & other porn films led to something of an alliance between cultural conservatives & some feminists who led a backlash against the genre as immoral & misogynistic. Years later, Boreman would testify before the Meese Commission denouncing the film.

This notorious X-rated porn flick from writer/director Gerard Damiano became one of the decade's top-grossing films, and the most influential and successful (and profitable) of all films of its kind. Deep Throat was filmed in 6 days for $25,000 and was subsequently banned in 23 US states.

It was an 'event' film - a hard-core stag film that was OK to see on a date or in mixed company, yet it was banned in many localities as obscene. It inaugurated a period known as "Porno Chic" - it was the first cross-over adults-only film that became a hit. After its initial period of release, it became a cultural phenomenon and it was fashionable to talk about the film (and its educationally feminist theme of female sexual gratification) or make references to it (such as Watergate's 'Deep Throat').

Years after the film was screened, Lovelace denounced the film, claiming that she was drugged, coerced and raped during filming and that "there was a gun to my head the entire time". In the mid-70s, actor Reems was prosecuted by the federal government (under the Nixon administration) on obscenity charges - a first - although later overturned, and the film was championed by Hollywood and other intellectuals for its liberated defense of First Amendment rights.

It should be noted that the after-effects of the Reems prosecution still exist in some ways. The prosecution was brought in Memphis, Tennessee on charges of conspiracy to distribute obscenity across state lines. To this day, many of the online porn distributors will not ship products to Memphis or any of the surrounding zip codes.

Originally posted to 医生的宫殿 on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 08:20 PM PST.

Also republished by DKOMA and Community Spotlight.

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