Ratings weren’t always around to tell us how objectionable a movie might be. In fact, before the Production Code (or Hays Code, as it is also known), a lot of movies were a bit risque. Unfortunately, the code was difficult to enforce, so directors found ways around it from 1930 to its end in 1968. In 1968, the ratings system that we know today was started. While PG-13 was not in the original set, and M was eventually changed to PG, we’ve also seen X go the way of NC-17. And yet, despite the objectionable content in X films at the time, they have since been downgraded to R, merely as a testament of the desensitization of our society. Still, an X-Rated film being a nominee for a Best Picture Oscar was a big deal. Only two films have ever been nominated for the award, and they sit a mere two years apart from each other. This week’s two films are a little hard to watch, but were both nominated for the highest honor a film can earn.
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours
Part of the reason that X was replaced by NC-17 is that it was not trademarked by the MPAA, instead being the designation assigned by pornographers. Of course, when a film like Midnight Cowboy comes out, there’s no way to filter it down to an R due to the simple fact that it’s the story of a male prostitute trying to make a living in New York City. Sex has to be a part of the film, otherwise it doesn’t really make much sense. And yet, as I have mentioned above, this film is really quite tame when compared to what they show nowadays. Even television has been pushing the envelope, along with the motion picture industry. It may be a downward spiral of obscenity and smut, but that’s merely the world we live in now: fallen, flawed, and looking to shock more than to teach.
Hailing as the only X rated film to ever win Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy starts with the journey of a man from Texas. Joe Buck (Jon Voight) has decided to quit his low-income job and has traveled to New York City in the hopes that some highly lucrative male prostitution might serve him better. Unfortunately, instead of making money, he seems to be losing it at an incredible rate. New York is a harsh place, and Joe is just too nice to take it seriously. Then comes Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), who (like Joe) doesn’t really like where he’s living. Ratso dreams of eventually moving to Miami, where it is warmer and much lazier. These two hit it off and become fast friends, despite having to endure the harsh city life. Soon, Joe makes the difficult decision to forego his dreams in order to help Ratso realize his.
A Clockwork Orange
Length: 136 minutes / 2.26 hours
A few choice ingredients in a film will propel it toward an X rating. Sex is obvious (including nudity), but violence is also a big player in determining a movies’ rating. While summer blockbusters may have a lot of fantasy violence that we don’t even notice anymore, the simple fact of the matter is that there is some violence (like torture and other non-fatal dealings) that is very difficult to watch. And yet, sometimes the objectionable material is needed in order to prove a larger point about our society. Despite missing the plot from the final chapter of the book it’s based on, this film really dives deep into the themes of morality and psychology. A Clockwork Orange is a look into capital punishment in a dystopian future, and may not be for everyone.
Alex (Malcom McDowell) is the leader of a gang that goes about England assaulting random people with “a bit of the old ultra-violence.” Eventually, Alex is captured by the authorities and is subjected to psychological conditioning to make him a meek and cowardly individual when confronted with violence or sex. Most will probably agree that they won’t be able to listen to some classical music (by Ludwig Van [Beethoven]) or “Singin’ in the Rain” quite the same way after watching this movie. And yet, when he is released from prison, this conditioning has backfired to the point of putting Alex in some serious danger. If you can stomach it, A Clockwork Orange provides a thought-provoking look into capital punishment and should be seen at least once.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 X Rated eXamples