Saturday, October 6, 2007

saturday's word: x-rating

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peter berlin, star + co-director of nights in black leather

eks ray ting

from 1968 to 1990, both an official but un-trademarked film certification by the motion picture association of america + a label self-applied by non-hollywood film industry (e.g., porn) denoting content suitable for adults only.

to compete with foreign + independent filmmakers, whose films dealt more frankly with sex + violence, attracting larger + larger audiences in the u.s. + abroad, hollywood studios introduced the rating system in 1968 as a self-policing alternative to government or religious censorship.

in america, the ‘x’ was almost exclusively assigned to films with ‘disturbing’ sexual content—usually meaning some reference to homosexuality, if only in characterization or dialogue—but seldom to violent films, unless, like sonny chiba's the street fighter, the film was foreign, or, like melvin van peebles' sweet sweetback’s baadasssss song, implicitly threatening to the white mainstream.

the first film to receive an x-rating was greetings (1968), directed by brian de palma.

the only x-rated film to win the academy award for best picture was midnight cowboy (1969), directed by john schlesinger.

both films were subsequently re-rated ‘r’ (restricted) with no changes in content.

big studio releases like satyricon (1969), the killing of sister george (1969), myra breckinridge (1970), clockwork orange (1971), + last tango in paris (1972), all x-rated, paved the way for the golden era of american porn films in the 1970s, encouraging ‘respectable’ yet ‘adventurous’ patrons to see more hardcore (‘xxx’) productions like ‘deep throat’ + “behind the green door.’

1970’s the boys in the band, directed by william friedkin, received an r-rating, thus breaking the trend of rating all gay-themed films ‘x.’

however, there were a number of culturally important x-rated gay films after 1970:

--boys in the sand (1971)
--nights in black leather (1973)
--kansas city trucking co. (1976)
--el paso wrecking corp. (1977)
--the bigger the better (1984)
--powertool (1986)
--big guns (1988)

since 1990, with the mpaa adoption of the nc-rating, the x-rating has existed only as a self-applied label.

in general, the rating system has favored certain films by assigning them more benign, thus more marketable, ratings.

the rating board habitually prefers american-made films over foreign-made, hollywood studio productions over independent, the 'apolitical' or conservative over the politically subversive, straight or 'gay lite' over queer, + reverence (the passion of the christ, rated 'r') over irreverence (happiness, rated 'nc-17,' then released unrated).

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