Maybe the MPAA Isn't So Bad After All; 'Klown' Gets an R

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by Matt Singer
June 26, 2012 1:10 PM
2 Comments
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"Klown."
I saw the Danish sex comedy "Klown" for the first time at Fantastic Fest, at a screening that was a cinephile's dream come true. The room was sold-out, the audience was enthusiastic, and the vibe was infectious. The movie shocked everyone -- first with its quality and then with its content, which is edgy even by sex comedy standards. Without spoiling anything, "Klown"'s got some pretty explicit imagery -- all played for laughs, of course, but explicit nonetheless -- and one shot in particular that provides the, erm, climax to the film might technically push things into the realm of pornography, and specifically pornography of a kind that is particularly (and rightfully) frowned upon in this country. This film, I wrote in my review from Fantastic Fest, "might be illegal to show in the United States." I also called the movie the funniest of the year -- but I worried that its content was so extreme that no one here would ever get to see it, at least in its intended form. The infamously censorious raters of the Motion Picture Association of America would surely hack its outrageous Scandinavian humor to ribbons.

To my delight, the folks at Drafthouse Films acquired "Klown" for U.S. distribution and, miraculously, they've even secured it an R-rating from the MPAA. Drafthouse Films president Tim League announced the news at a free screening of the movie at Brooklyn's Nitehawk Cinema last night. As League explained to the audience during the Q&A, he was as nervous about submitting the film for a rating as I'd been back in September. We've all seen "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" and heard the horror stories around the recent documentary "Bully" and the MPAA's refusal to grant it a PG-13. Here's a movie that makes "Bully" look an episode of "Barney & Friends."  

League described the call Drafthouse Films director Evan Husney received from the MPAA. "So we just watched your movie," League recounted. "And it's HILARIOUS!" Astoundingly, the version of "Klown" American audiences will get to see contains just a single change from its original Danish version -- a blurred-out image of graphic sexuality that was previously fully visible. The "climactic" shot that I thought might push the boundaries of free speech in this country? The MPAA was, shockingly, totally cool with it (the film's stars and writers, Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, explained how they got around the somewhat touchy -- wait, poor choice of words, let me rephrase that -- somewhat thorny legalities, but to reveal how would be a spoiler, so let's discuss that information at a later time).

Let's give the MPAA some credit. They get dumped on a lot for their Draconian rules about what can or cannot be shown in American movies -- and for good reason. Here's a case where they absolutely did right by a film. They probably could have slapped "Klown" with an NC-17 -- I'm frankly surprised they didn't -- but by seeing through its gross-out humor to its enormous heart, they've given an outstanding movie an even better chance of finding the audience it deserves.  So kudos, MPAA Ratings Board. I think the Drafthouse should use your line as a pull quote on the "Klown" Blu-ray.

"Klown" opens in select theaters, and on VOD and iTunes on July 27th.

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2 Comments

  • Mike McGranaghan | June 27, 2012 10:55 PMReply

    I just saw the movie and laughed hysterically, especially at that ending. I wonder, though, if the movie's foreign-ness helped it secure the R rating. Is it possible that the MPAA assumed no kids would be likely to want to watch a subtitled Danish film? Would it have been given the NC-17 if it were in English? Probably no way to know for sure, but I'm glad the movie will be able to be seen here.

  • Zack McGhee | June 26, 2012 11:55 PMReply

    The MPAA is not a censorship organization. They do not dictate "what can or cannot be shown in American movies." Not all movies need to be accessible to children. Exhibitors that won't show NC-17 movies and media outlets that won't accept advertising for NC-17 movies are the real culprits here. The MPAA is at fault only to the extent that they are so permissive with regard to extreme violence while prudish when it comes to sex and nudity. (That said, the fact that the SAW franchise should maybe be NC-17 doesn't mean that KLOWN shouldn't be, too.) Frankly, I'm not thrilled that the movie is being changed in order to make this movie available to children, even if it is just a single shot. If it's a movie for adults, why does it need to be censored so that kids under 17 can see it?

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