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The Simple Poetry of IMDb's Parents Guides

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire June 19, 2012 at 12:36PM

These helpful and weirdly specific aides for parents turn exploitation into beautiful freeform poetry.
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"Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom."
"Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom."

Doing research for an article last night, I stumbled upon a feature of the Internet Movie Database that I've never used before: the Parents Guides. I don't have any children (I do have a dog, but he's mature for his age, and he's allowed to watch R-rated movies) so I've never needed help determining whether something is appropriate viewing material for my kids. But now that I've found the Parents Guides, I'm totally obsessed.

(NOTE: The rumors that I was studying IMDb's Parents Guides as a sort-of low-rent alternative to movie nudity encyclopedia Mr. Skin are simply unfounded. I was studying IMDb's Parents Guides to find information on movie nudity for work. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.)

If you're still using IMDb's old school layout like me, you'll find each movie's Parents Guide on the IMDb left rail, in the "Awards & Reviews" section (you can also access them by appending "/parentalguide" to the URL of any IMDb movie page). As indicated by a disclaimer, these guides are not generated by the IMDb or its staff; they're submitted by users as a service to other users. A second disclaimer informs potential commenters to avoid opinions and stick to (bold theirs) "describing the facts" of relevant scenes in a variety of categories: Sex and Nudity, Violence and Gore, Profanity, Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking, and Frightening/Intense Scenes.

I'm certain that these pages are incredibly useful to parents. When I'm a parent someday, I intend to hold my kids to an incredibly strict and highly arbitrary viewing plan -- nudity's okay, but no images of smoking whatsoever; beheadings are out, but gun violence is encouraged -- so I absolutely see the value in the weirdly specific, fact-description-oriented Parents Guides. But the Parents Guides are more than a tool for parents. They're also an endless sources of entertainment for all movie lovers. By describing, sometimes bluntly, sometimes obliquely, a movie's goriest details, they transform exploitation into beautiful, freeform poetry. Here are a few inspired samples:

"Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom"

"A woman is forced to eat human feces. Dinner is served later of the same."

"The Matrix Reloaded"

"A woman eats a piece of cake which causes her to experience an orgasm."

"The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)"

"Martin cuts open a man's butt cheek (shown in graphic close-up) and pulls off a large piece of flesh (the man is shown to have died from this)."

"Cannibal Holocaust"

"A man baths with naked woman. However this is in a non-sexual way."

"The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!"

"A man is smashed by a steamroller and flattened out (the scene is played for humor)."

Since discovering the Parents Guide over the course of five non-stop hours of IMDbrowsing, I tweeted about my fascination and learned I'm not alone.  There's even a joke Twitter account -- @AdvisoryGuide -- that tweets hilarious random excerpts form the IMDb Parents Guides (recent sample: "ALCOHOL & DRUGS: Hulk Hogan at one point drinks anti-freeze to avoid being frozen"). You should follow this person right this second.

But I think there's even more that can be done with this remarkable resource. Back when I co-hosted The IFC News Podcast, we used to hold a weekly contest called "The Keyword Game": we'd present five keywords from a movie's IMDb Plot Keyword page, and listeners would have to guess what movie they belonged to. For example: "Xanadu," "Newspaper," "Flashback," "Extramarital Affair," and "Rosebud" would be...? No, not "The Land Before Time." Try again.

I think we could very easily create The Parents Guide Game along similar lines. I imagine the official version played at cocktail parties would be a sort of Name That Tune-style bet-based contest -- "I can name that movie in 3 Parents Guide entries from the Violence and Gore section" -- but for now let's get the ball rolling with a few random Parents Guide entries. Can you guess what films they belong to? The answers can be found at the bottom of the post.

1)"A man pours ice water down his pants."
2)"Some parts where people get kidnapped by a pigmask person can be a little jumpy."
3)"A couple are seen nude sitting with their legs entwined on the floor. They are shown only from the side."
4)"A woman grabs a block of wood and crushes a man's testicles. The testicle crushing is not graphic."
5)"Ken is shown in his underpants."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
(Answers: "Raging Bull," "Saw VI," "Last Tango in Paris," "Antichrist," "Toy Story 3")

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