Since the first of the year I've been getting a weekly newsletter, or "bulletin," as it is called, from the Classification and Ratings Administration, the movie ratings board that operates under the auspices of the Motion Picture Association of America.
The bulletin, which has been published since the board was established in 1968, is a list of all the movies rated that week, along with the rating each received.But as of this year there has been a change - one that offers a bit of insight into the ratings system.
For the first time, the board is attempting to explain in this bulletin why R-rated movies are rated R. The list for G, PG, PG-13 and NC-17 ratings is unchanged, but an R rating now carries a brief explanation.
For example: "Hudson Hawk" in the May 8 bulletin is "rated R for language."
"Jungle Fever" in the May 15 bulletin is "rated R for sensuality, strong language, drug content and for violence."
Madonna's "Truth or Dare" in the Jan. 23 bulletin is "rated R for sensuality, violence and some language."
"The Doors" in the Jan. 16 bulletin is "rated R for heavy drug content, and for strong sexuality and language."
When this change was first announced, I thought it might make my job easier. I could review a movie without having to take such specific notice of all the potentially objectionable content - the bulletin would provide that information.
But if you've seen any of the four films listed, you know already how incomplete the bulletin's explanations are.
There is no mention of the enormous amount of violence in "Hudson Hawke," the violence in "The Doors" or the nudity in "Jungle Fever," "Truth or Dare" and "The Doors." And though the word "sensuality" is apparently intended to encompass nudity, there are nonsexual nude scenes in both "Truth or Dare" and "The Doors."
Then there is the problem of PG and PG-13 movies that contain extreme violence or wall-to-wall profanity or sex or nudity. Though it is rated PG, the upcoming Disney picture "The Rocketeer" is quite a violent movie. And there is nudity in "Drop Dead Fred," "FX 2" and "Only the Lonely," all rated PG-13.
But the board deems to explain only the R rating.
To some, this discussion may seem like nitpicking. But let's remember that the ratings board is charged with performing its duty for parents, to help them guide their children to and from certain films.
It's hard enough for parents to second-guess the ratings when they are nothing more than a series of letters on a poster; they have always been inconsistent and seemingly arbitrary. But when even the explanations seem murky, it hardly builds faith in the system.
It does, however, help us understand the system a little better: If the members of the board don't notice violence or nudity, no wonder we see so many films with the wrong ratings.
- QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Loni Anderson, interviewed by Michael Miller for Reuter news service, on why she does movies for TV but not for the big screen:
"There were lots of parts available to me in films, but I turned them all down because they called for me to be mostly nude or topless. would be very disturbing to my relationship with (husband) Burt (Reynolds). I wouldn't want him to see me romping around half nude on the screen with another man. We have discussed it and we have decided against it."
- QUOTE OF THE WEEK II: Bill Murray, star of "What About Bob?" his first Disney film, interviewed by Hillel Italie for Associated Press:
"I think Disney can make a big hit out of anything: good, bad, lousy. I think the movie is funny and you don't see many funny movies. I don't see many funny scripts at all, this is about as close as it gets."
- QUOTE OF THE WEEK III: Billy Crystal, star of "City Slickers," interviewed by Philip Wuntch for the Dallas Morning News:
"I don't do movies to get awards. I do them for the money. No, just kidding. I really, seriously do them to entertain others. When they laugh, I'm rewarded."