October Films lost its bid this week to overturn an NC-17 rating on Trey Parker's upcoming film "Orgazmo," and attorney Alan Dershowitz--who was retained by October--thinks that makes no sense.
"The thing about 'Orgazmo' is it's adolescent humor. Therefore, adolescents should be able to see it," Dershowitz said of the comedy about a young Mormon man who stumbles into the lead role in a porno film that becomes a big hit. "I believe strongly that this is a film which is not appropriately rated NC-17, which denies me as a parent the right to take my 16-year-old."
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 9, 1998 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 16 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Rating--An article in Thursday's Calendar Weekend incorrectly described Todd Solondz's film "Happiness" as having received an NC-17 rating. It has not been submitted to the Motion Picture Assn. of America's rating board.
"Orgazmo," which is directed by Parker, one of the creators of the TV series "South Park," opens Oct. 23. October Films said it will release the film in its original form regardless of the rating.
Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor and well-known media commentator, aided distributor October in its appeal to the Motion Picture Assn. of America. He said Wednesday that he generally supports the MPAA's rating system, which advises parents about which movies are appropriate for children. But he said the NC-17 rating, which flatly prohibits teenagers under the age of 17 from a movie, is troublesome.
"It's the only one that doesn't fit the theory that ratings are for parental guidance . . . [and] that really in effect imposes some kind of censorship," he said. "The MPAA doesn't seem to take into account changing mores. Post-Monica [Lewinsky], everyone is talking about oral sex. My 8-year-old daughter knows what's going on. Even if 'Orgazmo' were NC-17 a year ago, which I don't think it was, it's not anymore."
John Schmidt, co-president of October Films, agreed.
"You can buy the Starr report down at Barnes & Noble and find passages that are as raunchy as what our young superhero is doing in our film," said Schmidt, who said October plans to release Parker's original cut of the film "regardless of the very serious economic impact" of the NC-17 rating.
Nowadays, many theaters will not exhibit films that carry the NC-17 rating, and major newspapers will not carry ads for such movies.
October Films has had bad luck recently with the ratings board. After writer-director Todd Solondz's controversial film "Happiness," a study of suburban dysfunction that deals with issues of child molestation, received an NC-17 earlier this year, the company abandoned its plans to release it. It will be released by Good Machine.
Under MPAA policy, members of the ratings and appellate boards do not discuss or defend the reasons for their decisions about particular films.
But that doesn't keep their critics quiet. Last year, James Toback received an NC-17 on his film "Two Girls and a Guy." He eventually succeeded in whittling the sex scenes down sufficiently to win an R, but he grumbled about it. "You don't have movies made about sex," he said at the time. "Not that every movie should be that. But should no movie be that?"
Dershowitz, meanwhile, calls "Kafkaesque" the MPAA rating board's refusal to reveal exactly which elements of a film it finds offensive.
"They won't tell you what has to be cut to get an R rating, and not telling is the worst form of censorship because what happens then is you cut things that don't have to be cut," he said.
He compared the humor in the film to this summer's breakout hit "There's Something About Mary," noting: "I think this labeling misleads. If a person goes to this movie expecting an NC-17, he or she will be very disappointed."