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17 Films Rated NC-17: Did They Deserve The 'Certificate Of Doom'?

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist October 24, 2013 at 4:01PM

So with its super-long and undeniably graphic sex scene, among other explicit moments, “Blue is the Warmest Color,” which is released this week, was always going to get slapped with an NC-17 rating in the U.S. But unlike many other films in a similar situation, its unassailable position as a near-universally lauded (our own review is here) Cannes Palme d’Or winner has placed the idea of cuts being made for the U.S. market out of the question. For which we heave a sigh of relief, of course: better for us that the film is released, with whatever certification, uncut, than we get some kind of hacked up version that scrapes an R. Still, it’s a debate that surrounds the inevitably controversial rating ever since it was introduced to replace the old X certificate, with an NC-17 assessment being regarded by many as, basically, the kiss of box-office death for anything but the most buzzed-about film. It carries with it not only the automatic reduction of the potential audience by exactly that segment of the population most likely to go to the theater, but also distribution woes that range from certain cinemas refusing to screen NC-17s, to certain video stores refusing to stock the DVDs.
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Mysterious Skin

Mysterious Skin” (2004)
What’s It About?: Gay youths struggle to process their past experiences of abuse in different ways.
Why Did It Get The Rating?: There are a couple of moments of homosexual intercourse between characters, but it’s largely a film that deals with the aftereffects of child abuse in an atypically frank manner.
Did It Deserve Its NC-17?: This is another case of the MPAA trying to distort and demean homosexuality, as the graphic sexual content (and the brief, harsh moments of sexual violence) would be entirely acceptable in an R-rated mainstream film had it involved heterosexuals. One could make a case for the truly discomforting flashbacks of child abuse, which are shot with an exaggerated unreality that suggests a horror film, but those segments are part of the lead characters’ own catharsis, and are not nearly as gratuitous as the lawless, confrontational sexuality present in director Gregg Araki’s earlier, unrated films. This seems to be another case of a director trying to move into a commercial realm and being punished by the MPAA for earlier work.
How Good Is It?: Araki, a bad-taste indie filmmaker along similar, though less comedic lines to John Waters, stepped up his aesthetics considerably with this mature, fully-realized work about an apathetic teen hustler, a boy hesitantly coming to terms with his sexuality, and the bond they share, which they believe might be the result of shared alien abduction. Araki’s films don’t shy from absurdism, but this picture honestly uses the alien material as a metaphor for not only the boys’ isolation, but also as a coping mechanism for survivors of sexual assault, and it replaces the snarky attitude of rebellion from Araki’s earlier work with a strain of mature humanism. It’s not like Araki sold out: the film still bristles with a counterculture energy the defines the picture squarely as Queer Cinema, and not just a Movie About Gays for mainstream consumption. But there are no performances as polished in the Araki filmography as the two that carry this picture: Joseph Gordon-Levitt turned heads for his showy portrayal of a loveless hustler who never looks back, playing his gay prostitute with a bit of James Dean swagger. But Brady Corbet, recently fantastic in the little-seen “Simon Killer,” is just as good as his meek doppelganger, a kid who just wants to know who he really is. [A-]

Inside Deep Throat

"Inside Deep Throat" (2005)
What's It About? It's a documentary detailing both the making of influential adult film "Deep Throat" (starring the iconic Linda Lovelace) and its unique cultural impact afterwards.
Why Did It Get The Rating? Because "Inside Deep Throat" dared to show actual footage from the pornographic movie it's built upon. In particular the film showed Lovelace engaging in her signature sex act: a blowjob where she takes her partner's member deep in her mouth.
Did It Deserve Its NC-17? Honestly, the sex act itself is still pretty shocking. (If you haven't seen what Lovelace does, we'll give you a few minutes to Google it, watch, and return. Wild right?) But "Inside Deep Throat" uses the footage fleetingly, mostly for dramatic and historical impact, and if you're going to make a documentary about this movie, you kind of have to see it to believe it. Still, it became the first NC-17 rated film ever shown on pay cable giant HBO and the first NC-17 rated movie Universal had released since "Henry & June."
How Good Is It? Very good. Using a combination of archival footage and new talking head interviews, "Inside Deep Throat" gives a great portrayal of both the movie and the furor that it caused (including what happened to Lovelace afterwards). What makes "Inside Deep Throat" even more impressive is the lackluster narrative film based on the same events, this year's "Lovelace." which, especially in comparison to this superior documentary, is just, well, limp. [A-]

Requiem for a Dream

Requiem for a Dream” (2000)
What's It About? In the words of “South Park”’s Mr. Mackey, “drugs are bad, mkay.” Darren Aronofsky's sophomore feature is an unrelenting, highly stylized piece of cinema following four desperate characters losing themselves to drug addiction. Adapted from the Hubert Selby, Jr. novel.
Why Did It Get The Rating? Do the words “ass to ass” mean anything to you? This one sex scene that comes at the end was the only portion edited down for an R-rated video release. Otherwise, the MPAA was totally cool with the rest, including an unforgettably disturbing image of a needle plunging into a rotting, infected arm. Writer/director Darren Aronofsky appealed the original rating given by the MPAA, arguing that any edits would dilute the film’s message. That was denied, so Artisan released it in theaters with the unrated tag.
Did It Deserve Its NC-17? Hmm… we suppose yes since its tone is so grim and unrelenting. But since the main issue for the MPAA was the sex scene, which is certainly graphic and depressing as all hell, it seems like this one should’ve been given the R just so more people could access it. The film has become quite cultish and well known since its initial release, so maybe the point is moot in the end.
How Good Is It? Though it’s an unbalanced, intense nightmare that only gives cursory acknowledgement to the fact that drugs can actually be fun, it’s so effective at making its very basic points (drug addiction = hell) that you can’t deny its power. Add that to Clint Mansell’s now iconic score and stylish visuals by Matthew Libatique and you’ve got a powerful piece of cinema that you may only want to watch once, but you’ll remember it for life. [A-]

Last Tango in Paris

Last Tango in Paris” (1972)
What's It About? While on the apartment search after his wife’s suicide, a middle-aged American widower (Marlon Brando) meets a young Parisian (Maria Schneider) and they start sexing each other, without all of that sharing intimate details nonsense. After some kinky sex (BUTTER) shot in all Bertolucci's explicit glory, Paul leaves the apartment/her and then just as abruptly tries to win her back by chasing her through the streets of Paris and a tango bar while shouting and unraveling all of his emotional baggage. Spoiler, the film ends with a bang.
Why Did It Get The Rating? Originally rated X (NC-17 wasn’t a thing until 1990), the film features not only realistic sex scenes (including a decent amount of improvisation) but also the sort of weird, disturbing sex that scars even the most jaded of modern arthouse cinemagoers (including us here at The Playlist). If you feel violated watching, here’s something to compound that with guilt—years later, Schneider went on record saying that both she and Brando felt manipulated during filming and that she felt "raped."
Did It Deserve Its NC-17? Yes, if just for children 17 and under to still be able to look at butter as food, or a food supplement (though really, if we want to help the childhood obesity epidemic….nah). Similarly, you’ll never look at corn the same way again after Claire Denis’ “Bastards,” which opened yesterday.
How Good Is It? A cinematic masterpiece. For the more prudish out there, get through the rough sex and you will find both actors at their most transcendently vulnerable and raw. Brando gives the performance of his career, which is quite a statement considering his lofty (and at times, not-so-lofty) back catalogue. Yes, we’re ready for hate comments below. [A]

This article is related to: Features, Feature, Blue is the Warmest Color


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