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‘Dreamers’ flies flag for NC-17 tag

Bertolucci and Fox Searchlight unafraid of the rating no one wants
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

Adult moviegoers of the world, unite!

Periodically, affinity groups with a rooting interest in a special type of film — blacks, gay, Latinos — will organize around the opening of a specific movie, sending out e-mails to encourage attendance at the film’s opening weekend to send a signal to the studios that there is indeed a market for movies about blacks or gays or Latinos.

But adult moviegoers — who spend much of the year complaining that there is nothing to see at the multiplex — have generally been too cool to resort to such networking to demand more challenging movies. This weekend, though, as “The Dreamers” opens in five theaters on the two coasts, serious moviegoers should be doing everything they can to encourage one another to boost its per-screen average.

The fact that Fox Searchlight is raising the curtain on “The Dreamers” should be of more than just passing interest to anyone who views a trip to the multiplex as more than just an excuse to indulge in a bucket of popcorn. It’s not just because the film is the latest work from one of the masters of cinema, Bernardo Bertolucci, or that it tells the tale of a trio of students, drunk on film, swept up in the revolutionary passions of Paris in the tumultuous year of 1968.

Of even more importance is the fact that “The Dreamers” dares to carry the NC-17 rating that signals that no one under age 18 will be admitted. The film’s naughty bits include male and female nudity as well as a masturbation scene.

The rating that no one seems to wantThe NC-17 was introduced in 1990 to replace the rating system’s X rating. Originally intended to signify adult-themed movies that were off-limits to kids, the X had grown tawdry around its edges. The Motion Picture Association of America intentionally never trademarked the X since it didn’t want to be in the position of having to draw distinctions between seriously intentioned movies for adults and adult movies for folks whose intentions were anything but serious. But that in turn meant blue moviemakers seized on the X to hype their wares, and it quickly became a veritable synonym for sleaze that neither the studios nor mainstream exhibitors wanted to touch.

To remedy the situation, the MPAA retired the X in 1990 and replaced it with a trademarked NC-17. But most exhibitors still considered the new ratings classification beyond the pale.

As a result, the major studios have generally steered clear of NC-17 — and they also have insisted that their specialty film labels release nothing racier than an R.

As a result, serious filmmakers have had to perform nips and tucks on their movies to guarantee their distribution. And some films — including Larry Clark’s “Kids” and Todd Solondz’s “Happiness” — had to look for distributors outside the major studio system when their directors refused to make cuts.

The system is loaded down with hypocrisies. Studios force filmmakers to edit their films for an R rating, and then they package the daring edits as video extras when the films are released on DVD.

Blockbuster Video refuses to stock NC-17 films, but it does offer unrated films and R-rated movies whose unrated extras might have earned the films an NC-17 if they had made the original cut.

So kudos to the executives at Fox Searchlight. By not forcing Bertolucci to submit to edits to ensure an R — which, contractually, they could have insisted on — they have shown a willingness to treat adult moviegoers as adults. In the process, they also have discovered that exhibitors’ resistance to NC-17-rated fare is more myth than reality.

And — let’s not get too high-minded — by exploiting the NC-17 banner, they may even end up selling tickets to some horny college kids, thereby exposing them to a serious filmmaker.