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Emily Christianson Written by Emily Christianson
Oct. 20, 2005 | 11:27 PM

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Some thoughts on the NC-17 Rating

Chances are only a few will discover Where the Truth Lies thanks to an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. The organization deemed a steamy menage-a-trios between Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth, and Rachel Blanchard a little too hot for main stream America.

The NC-17 rating, which stands for No One Under 17 Permitted, started in 1990 to label movies dealing with sex, violence and drug use that fell between R and X. Movie theater owners, video stores, and media outlets treated these films as they would X rated features and most refused to show the films, rent the videos or run the advertisements. As a result, many directors are now contractually obligated to make films within the limitations of the R rating.

With an estimated budget of $25 million, Where the Truth Lies, which was released unrated, is facing the same fate as Broken English, The Dreamers, and Showgirls which couldn?t bring in even $10 million at the box office.

The film, which opened Oct. 14 in Los Angeles, follows 1950s entertainers Lanny Morris (Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth) as the duo enjoys the power, wealth and women of showbiz. The team is torn apart when a dead beauty (Blanchard) turns up in their hotel suite. Questions about the girl?s death remain unanswered for years until a young writer (Alison Lohman) decides to turn this cold case into a best seller.

Producer Robert Lantos expressed his view on the rating at a press junket in Los Angeles this week.

What did you do to avoid an NC-17 rating?

No matter how close you look at this film, you can look frame by frame, there is nothing graphic in it. You can?t see it because it wasn?t there, so it is not graphic ? We tried to accommodate the MPAA in order to avoid the NC-17 rating, which is a kiss of death. We actually made cuts in the film but this threesome ? there is not much you can do with it because if you start cutting away at that you can?t understand what the story is about. If you don?t see what happens there then the rest makes no sense.

In our final appeal even with cuts they voted to uphold the NC-17 rating or rather 6 out of the 10 MPAA voting board members who were there voted to change the rating to an R, but you need a two thirds majority to overturn a previous decision and 6 out of 10 is not quite two thirds. So we said to hell with it, take your rating back and released the film unrated and put everything back in so the actual film being released is the original cut.

Is unrated less of a kiss of death?

No, but at least we made the statement - we don?t accept this. ThinkFilm which is not a member of the MPAA has that option.

What do you think about the MPAA rating process?

I also think it is an insidious process the MPAA - it?s not that they are bad people. They don?t want to make trouble for themselves, so by giving the most conservative possible rating for the film they only get into trouble with us, which doesn?t really matter to them very much and the distribution company ThinkFilm is a very small distribution company. By giving a more lenient rating they risk getting into trouble with the most conservative elements of American society which are very organized and very outspoken. I think they would rather avoid that.

Do you think we are living in a new era of the 1920s Hays code?

Yes, but it is unwritten. It is quite interesting and different. We live in a very liberal time it is incredibly contradictory. Any little kid can go on a laptop, punch up a few key words and be confronted by a smorgasbord of hard core porn and yet at the same time it is incomprehensible to perceive that this film by virtue of this extremely conservative rating is not going to have access to a large percentage of the US market. It does have to do with the times that we?re in. If it had been made a few years back this would not have been the case. I think it has to do with everyone worrying about who might speak out against this, which conservative organization might raise its voice.

Do you think this film would have reached a mainstream audience otherwise?

It?s not a popcorn movie so there was no intention ? this is not a movie that was made for the widest possible audience. You certainly don?t need a PHD in film and cinema studies to enjoy it. That?s the insidiousness of this new Hays code and NC-17 doesn?t ban a movie from being shown but movie theaters and retail stores that sell DVDs won?t carry a film that has that rating it amounts to the same thing without being spelled out.