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College Censors Films to Measure Up to Moral Code

January 11, 1987|BARBARA BAIRD | Times Staff Writer

When Pepperdine University students see movies such as "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" and "Ruthless People" at the campus theater in Malibu, they may be surprised at how tame the language is.

Bette Midler won't swear in these two irreverent comedies at Pepperdine because the films will be censored through editing to meet moral guidelines set by the school, which is affiliated with the Churches of Christ, a fundamentalist Christian organization.

Pepperdine, which began this semester's film series Thursday, prohibits the screening of an unedited R-rated film on campus unless administrators and a review committee find that it has social, historical or educational value, campus officials said.

Rules on Student Behavior

Pepperdine's regents, at least half of whom are church members, believe that it would be inappropriate to show uncensored R-rated films at a Christian-oriented university, said spokesman Mychel Walker.

"It would not fit in with the moral standards that we try to maintain in all areas of campus life," he said.

The university has other rules governing student behavior on campus, including a ban on alcohol. Dancing is not allowed on campus except in student theatrical productions, campus officials said.

Pepperdine rents films from two companies, Swank Motion Pictures and Films International, which provide edited versions of films in which scenes with profanity, nudity and violence are deleted.

Bob White, associate director of the Campus Life office at Pepperdine, said the university has relaxed its restrictions on R-rated films.

Policy Was Modified

"Until a few years ago, our policy was that no R-rated films were allowed, period," he said. The university modified its policy when students objected that films with social merit were being excluded.

Under the new rules, an uncensored R-rated film can be shown on campus if it passes the review test, White said.

For example, he said, students were allowed to see "The Killing Fields," which was rated R for its violence, because the film provided a compelling picture of war-torn Cambodia.

White said Pepperdine's policy also allows edited versions of R-rated films like "Beverly Hills Cop." Last year, he said, students saw a version of the Eddie Murphy film that had 15 to 20 minutes of scenes with profanity deleted.

Students wanted to see the movie "St. Elmo's Fire," but there was profanity throughout the film, making it impossible to delete scenes without ruining it, he said.

Student Government Assn. President Alyssa Allen, 20, said some students oppose the banning and censoring of films but others are glad to have access to current movies every Thursday night on campus.

"It's a relaxer," she said. "Some students feel that they should be able to see any movie they want to see, but because the university makes it possible for us to see these movies practically free, I don't object."

Movies at Pepperdine are cheaper than at commercial theaters. While theaters in Westwood charge $6, admission to the 8 and 11 p.m. screenings in Pepperdine's Elkins Auditorium is only $1 a couple, Allen said. Pepperdine does not prohibit students from seeing films at off-campus theaters.

Bert Pickell, 20, said the university's restrictions on R-rated films interfere with students' freedom of choice. The Motion Picture Assn. ratings give the public fair warning of a film's content, so viewers should be able to choose whether they want to attend, he said.

"All of us on campus probably are legal adults, and can figure out for ourselves (whether to attend)," said Pickell, an economics major.

Michele Williams, 20, an advertising and graphic design student, agreed: "I don't think that at the college level we need to have censorship," she said.

Loyola Policy

Officials at the Westchester campus of Loyola Marymount, a Catholic university, said the school does not place restrictions on films. R-rated movies are shown frequently in unedited versions, said Bob Epstein, a lecturer in film history.

"The principle of freedom of expression is considered to be more important than whether someone's sensitivities may be abused (by a film)," he said. People who might find a film objectionable need not attend, he added. "No one's forcing them to go."

UCLA also imposes no restrictions on the films screened there, said Andy Sacks of the student activities office.

Besides the edited versions of the two Bette Midler films, Pepperdine will show unedited versions of the R-rated "Stand By Me," "Alien" and its sequel, "Aliens." The film series opened with Rodney Dangerfield's "Back to School," rated PG-13, which calls for parental guidance for children under 13.

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