July 28, 2021

Half a century of film X: against US censorship | Culture

Half a century of film X: against US censorship | Culture

Sometimes his memory falters, because it is selective. "But I remember that chapter perfectly," he says. Pedro Almodovar, leaving for a few minutes the assembly room where his new movie ends, Pain and Glory. In the mid-1990s, the director decided to bring before the US justice system the MPAA, a body founded by the majors, the great Hollywood studios to rate the premiere films, for having conferred Tie me! the most feared letter of the alphabet: the X. It was the beginning of an offensive that ended up overthrowing a classification that was applied since November 1968 and whose creation is now fulfilled half a century. It was also the first time in 20 years that a filmmaker attacked that ironclad system. "My future, at that point, did not depend on Hollywood. That's why he did not scare me. I did not deprive myself of calling things by their name: it was censorship, "recalls Almodóvar.

The complaint was made with the film's distributor, Miramax, and its then president, Harvey Weinstein. He decided to hire the lawyer William Kunstler, a well-known defender of civil rights who had represented the Ten of Chicago and members of the Black Panthers, who tried to prove that this qualification was "arbitrary and capricious", by equating the movie with pornography. "I turned that fight into something that represented all the authors, although that is a language that in the United States is not understood. There, the author of a film is not the director or the scriptwriter, but the one who puts the money, "says Almodóvar. Remember that Miramax had interests opposed to yours. "They were delighted with the controversy and turned it into an element of marketing. It was very unpleasant to notice that my traveling companion behaved in an absolutely sensationalist way, "he adds.

The X was a moral, but also economic sanction: to receive it implied that many cinemas did not project the film and that it was not announced or criticized in the majority of media, in addition to preventing its diffusion in the big video store chains, such as Blockbuster. The difference between an X and an R, the second most severe category, could be millions of dollars. The sequences that made Tie me I deserved that scarlet letter there were two: the mythical sequence of the toy submarine in the bathtub, trying to penetrate the crotch of Victoria Abril, and a sweaty sex scene with his kidnapper, Antonio Banderas. Almodóvar refused to cut them. "The funny thing was that, with the sequences of violence, which for me were much more delicate, they had no problem. If the film premiered today, I suppose they would, "says the director.

Almodóvar lost his trial, but won the battle. The day after the verdict, a petition signed by the great filmmakers of the time, such as Francis Ford Coppola, Terry Gilliam, Ridley Scott, Jim Jarmusch or Spike Lee, denounced a propitious climate "to a new era of McCarthyism" and demanded MPAA the creation of "a new letter" to name the author's films with sexual content, but not pornographic. Before the end of the year, the studios buried the X and replaced it with the so-called NC-17, which soon became a similar poison for the box office, after the failures of films like Henry and June or Showgirls. In 1990, Almodóvar did not hesitate to call this system "fascist". Today he moderates his words, but does not change his message. "Censorship and, even worse, self-censorship, are typical of totalitarianism and indicate nothing more than weakness. It is sad that the authors self-censor themselves, but that is the reality, "he concludes.

From the left, Susan Walsh, Divine and Cookie Mueller, in 'Cosa de females'.enlarge photo
From the left, Susan Walsh, Divine and Cookie Mueller, in 'Cosa de females'.

The X came into force during the revolutions of the 60, at a time of great changes for the cinema. The Hays code, a list of moral norms that prohibited nakedness, lascivious behavior and excessive violence, had fallen into disuse. Youth culture was beginning to be dominant: under 24 years accounted for 48% of box office receipts and aspired to see other types of films than their parents used to like. At the same time, in the conservative sectors there was the fear that "the acceptance of obscenity and pornography in entertainment" contributed to "a disintegration of society," as had already happened "in ancient Rome or in England. the Restoration ", as the professional magazine maintained Motion Picture Herald in a 1969 editorial. Also the League of Decency, a powerful Catholic pressure group, demanded to protect minors regarding certain contents. To avoid a government censorship, the seven major studies agreed to apply a "voluntary" type, based on a new graduation that went from G (suitable for all audiences) to X (prohibited to minors).

In the beginning, that X was almost a symbol of prestige. For example, Midnight Cowboy He won the Oscar for the best film in 1969 despite wearing that initial on his poster. "The X was equivalent to adult content, before the rise of the pornographic industry altered its meaning," explains the film historian C. Mason Wells, a programmer of a cycle in the New York Quad Cinema, which until January 11 will screen a selection of the films that faced the stigma of the X, as The mechanical orange, The empire of the senses, The last Tango in Paris, Klute or Henry: portrait of a murderer.

"When I started making films, receiving an X helped," he explains. John Waters from his office in Baltimore. The controversial director obtained the classification with three of his films: Pink Flamingos, Thing of females Y Desperate Living. "At the end of the 60s, the X was exciting, daring, wild, a sign of freedom. If the censors told you not to see a movie, you ran to buy yourself a ticket. I did not care until much later, when I started shooting movies that were not supposed to be X, "he says in reference to his projects of the 90s, which starred stars like Johnny Depp, Kathleen Turner or Melanie Griffith. Waters denounces a flawed system: the committee that awards the qualifications is formed, according to the statutes of the MPAA, by "fathers and mothers with children between 5 and 17 years old". It is they who determine the commercial career of a film. "Each viewer has different values. For example, what I find obscene are romantic comedies for all audiences. And not why I put an X, but I just do not go to see them, "adds Waters.

The first animated film rated with the X was The cat Fritz in 1972. "Receiving it was synonymous with being considered a pornographer. At first I got angry, but then I understood that it could be good, "says its director, Ralph Bakshi, retired to the mountains of New Mexico. "I wanted to prove that The cat Fritz It was not like the rest of cartoons and receiving the X allowed it to be seen as something separate. It was almost a blessing. " Bakshi believes he received it because his satire of American life, inspired by the comics of Robert Crumb, which spoke of free love and interracial relationships, did not meet the definition of what animation should be. "Then there was only Disney, who was God, and I was the opposite of him," says the director, who would open the way for adult cartoons. For Bakshi, the MPAA is a remnant of the American Puritan culture and its legendary hypocrisy. "Already in the 70s this system was stupid, because nobody asked for the card to enter the cinema, except if you arrived in diapers at the box office. Today these classifications are even more ridiculous: any young person can access the contents they want on the Internet, "says Bakshi.

Director Barbet Schroeder, who made his debut in French cinema after the radical turn of the Nouvelle Vague and then made a career in Hollywood, he also received the X with Maitresse, which was also banned in the United Kingdom (just like its debut, More, that Xfpsicotropic ode to Ibiza, it had been in France). "I'm proud that they gave me the X, it's an honor", smiles the director. Released in 1975, the film delved into the underworld of sadomasochism and included a sequence where dominatrix of the title rivets with nails the genitals of a client to a wooden board. "The X appeared in 1968 because it was an attempt to stop that wave. Unfortunately, things have not evolved much, "says Schroeder.

The director, who directed a chapter of the series Mad Men in 2009, he believes that freedom is now greater on television. "In a studio film, it is still a major problem to introduce a sequence of homosexual sex. In the season Mad Men in which I worked, several were filmed without any difficulty and always occupied a central place in the episode, "he says. The director left Hollywood after directing a dozen films for the studios (the last one was Murder … 1-2-3, with Sandra Bullock, in 2002). "My projects stopped interesting the industry. And I had no interest in just making movies where the director's mission is to deal with special effects. My most successful film, Single white woman looking …, today should be shot outside of the studios and with a tiny budget, "says Schroeder. And what would have happened then with Maitresse? "Well, it simply would not exist …", says the director.


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