The MPAA, NC-17 and politics

With Blue Is The Warmest Color getting the dreaded NC-17 rating and 50 Shades Of Grey almost destined to nab it in 2014, I was thinking back on some of the most memorable NC-17 rated films since the rating got introduced more than 20 years ago. Before that there was the X rating, which was just as bad and meant for a provocative experience to say the least .. Many of these films didn't even deserve the NC-17 they got. Martin Scorsese's upcoming The Wolf Of Street had to be trimmed down because the MPAA was about to slap it with an NC-17. Yikes. Even a master filmmaker like Scorsese is having a hard time dealing with the MPAA bullies.

Most of the time it has to do with the sex, other times it's .. actually 99% of the time it's the sex. You get Hollywood films where heads get blown off and those movies always get away with it easy, but you have two people having their genitals showing and the MPAA is up and arms over it. Talk about stupidity. I'd rather have my children watch two people having sex than a guy's head getting sawed off -Saw anyone? And then there is debate as to how violent movies are responsible for all these school shooting and mall shooting happening around our neighborhoods. Maybe if those kids were watching people having sex instead of a mindless Stallone vehicle maybe it wouldn't have turned out so bad.

Listen, I'm not for censorship of violent films. I just think it's funny that sex is still a scary thing in the States and that meanwhile out there in Europe there are nude women in bus ads. Talk about societal advancements, those Europeans got it going on. i just find it ironic that for a country that seems to be scared of sex -"oh the children", "GOD is looking down on you"- there really is less of a strict restriction from the MPAA on violent, big blockbuster movies. I mean, how shocking is it to watch a vagina? as compared to, for example, watching a woman getting her face busted in by her boyfriend in The Expendables (an R rated film by the way ..) Slapping an NC-17 rating on a film with sexually graphic scenes prevents some people from watching -for example- Blue Is The Warmest Color, which is one of the best films of the year or last year's underseen but brilliant Killer Joe.

Here are notable films that have gotten the rating since its inception back in 1990.

Bad Lieutenant
Lust, Caution
The Dreamers
Killer Joe
Where The Truth Lies
Bad Education

Kechiche, Adele and la couleur Bleu

There isn't much that's hidden in Blue Is The Warmest Color. The film's director Abdel Kechiche has taken much heat for not only having his film run more than 3 hours but also for shooting scenes of graphic sex involving his two female leads. It's more than just sex that runs through Kechiche's film but the sex is important. That's one thing I don't think people seem to be getting. Of course Kechiche shoots them in such a sensual, male-gazing kind of way and -yes- he seems to be getting away with a lot (no wonder his actresses said they felt used during the shoot). However I do think these sex scenes represent an integral part of the overall story.

Our two lovebirds Emma and Adele don't have much in common. Emma loves art and hanging out with pretentious-talking artists and doesn't really care about making as much money as possible in life. Whereas Adele -as much as she loves to read and talk art- is more earthbound and finds having a steady job and healthy salary to be of the up-most importance. That's why she pursues her passion of teaching at a daycare. These ideal are reinforced when we get to meet the parents of both young girls, they end up sharing the same common ideals. Adele's parents reinforce the question of yes, art is great but where does one's salary come from if you make it your living. Emma's parents on the other hand love art and don't mind that their daughter is putting it at the forefront of her life.

These two girls have practically nothing in common except for one thing, the lust they have for each other is tremendously intense. Sex drives their relationship. So much so that Emma finds Adele to be a kind of muse for her paintings. That is why I find Kechiche's reason for having such graphic sex scenes not out of the ordinary. Kechiche is trying to show us how these two girls can only connect in the bedroom. Outside there isn't much chemistry. Sure, they talk a lot about philosophy -Sartre!- and literature but one feels like Adele is being forced into these conversations more than passionately seduced by them. 

It is then no surprise that their union ends up fizzling out. Sex can no longer hold it together because at the end of the day it takes more than just passionate sex to make a relationship work. It takes a bond that is more than just about sexual desire. That is where Blue Is The Warmest Color hits its rough patches, we knew the end was coming and that Adele -still immature and baby-faced- would be heartbroken by a relationship that was all style and no substance. 

Crying ensues. The film picks up again once the two girls meet up at a coffee shop to bid their adieux's to one another. No clothes are taken off but the sexual chemistry is still there, Adele licks Emma's fingers and puts her hand between her legs. All this in broad daylight, in front of people. This scene is more sexual and provocative than any of the nudity-laced ones we had seen prior. Emma finds a way to control herself and tells Adele that it's too late. She knows that it takes more than just sex to make a relationship work. Of course, it is an important part of any relationship but Adele and Emma are two different people that somehow ended up in a relationship. Sex held it together. 

The color blue is firmly placed in almost every scene involving Adele. Emma's hair color is blue. From a scarf to the park bench where they have their first kiss, the color is subtly -or for some unsubtly- utilized to evoke the state of mind of her character. She is deeply and firmly in love and the color cannot escape her every move. It isn't up until the breakup that Kechiche decides to replace that color with red to show the vast emptiness that Emma has had on Adele's life. 

In the film's final scene we are in an art gallery at Emma's show, Adele shows up all dressed up and -to my eyes- not really sure why she is there. It is clear that Adele wants closure but how to get it. She sees Emma's circle of friends, her new girlfriend and the pretentiousness that reigns all around the room. That is more than enough for Adele to finally find closure. She knows this world is not for her, she is more than happy with her job teaching kids. In fact, just like her own self, she has graduated to teaching first graders. A subtle indication that she is growing up just like the kids she is teaching. A final shot of her walking away from the gallery is all we really needed to see to know she will be alright. 

Dallas Buyer's Club

The physical transformation Matthew Mcconaughey succumbs to in The Dallas Buyer's Club is one for the history books. Forget about the more than 40 pounds the actor had to lose to portray Ron Woodroof and think more of the way he completely delves into the mannerisms and tics of a homophobic, female loving, bigot that finds out he's HIV positive and has 30 days to live. That's what happened to Woodroof in 1985, just as the disease was taking its toll on not just the population but -SHOCK- Hollywood as well. In the early moments of the film lone star cowboys gather around the back shed of a rodeo to see the headline in the paper which reads "Ron Hudson dead of AIDS". Not many people wanted to believe it was AIDS that killed one of the most masculine actors Hollywood ever produced.

Woodroof wasn't a saint. In fact he was the complete polar opposite, a man so bigoted and endowed with his radical principles that even after the doctor tells him he's dying of AIDS he blatantly responds "I ain't no queer". So the story goes, Woodroof eventually realizes that he does have AIDS and is consequentially rejected by friends and co-workers. What must a man do next? That's where the story gets interesting. AZT was the big drug of the moment to combat the disease back in the 80's. The FDA was making clinical study after clinical study to look at the effects the drug had on AIDS patients throughout the country.

Woodroof tries it and finds his illness worsening. From there on in he travels to places as diverse as Mexico, Israel, Japan, China and Sweden to find the latest breakthroughs in medicine to combat his HIV -and others in the process. Opening up a Dallas Buyer's Club inside a rundown motel room gets Woodroof going and sets up a chain of events which eventually make him one of the top black marketers for AIDS medicine. The FDA obviously disapproved of his actions. Set out legal lawsuits against Woodroof to put a stop to his rebellious ways.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, the film has a gritty, docu-drama feel to it. The momentum it builds up in its first half can however not be maintained in its second half. cliches come to Valee's film at a furious pace, so does the presence of Jennifer Garner who's vastly underutilized as a doctor that defies her peers' orders and backs up Woodroof's case. What makes this film are its performances. Jared Leto as a transvestite that becomes Woodroof's partner is a standout. But it's Mcconaughey, skeletal and gaunt, that gives us a fearless, impassioned performance that can be qualified as artfully resonant. He deserves every award that is coming his way. He has never been better.

A little note

Sorry for the lack of posting in the last few weeks, my hands have been pretty full of late but I plan on catching up with you very soon. I have still managed to catch up with a few goodies at the cinema and will tell you all about them in the coming week or so. 2013 is shaping up to be one hell of a movie year.