The X Factor

imagesIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom created an uproar in the movie industry. While it didn’t meet the criteria for an R rating, the intensity of the violence and its unrelenting action and danger freaked out so many kids and parents and caused so many complaints that the PG-13 rating was born – probably the same people that brought their six year old grandchildren to see Deadpool and didn’t think twice. Before that, there were just four ratings by the Motion Picture Association of America: G (general audience), PG (parental guidance suggested), R (no one under 17 without guardian), and X (now NC-17, meaning No One Under 17 Admitted, no way, no how, this will scar you for life).

Of course, as a kid, you can’t help but wonder, what’s in an X movie? What could be more violent than people beating each other up? What could be grosser than people naked?  How many more swear words are there? And then the internet was born and we’ve never wondered since.

Surprisingly, though, some of our favorite movies DID have an X rating at the start. Film makers want to be cutting-edge and push envelopes, but an X/NC17 rating c51q55v7qvblan sink an otherwise profitable film because it cuts out the teen crowd that hangs out at theaters every week and also makes some adult film-goers leery. After repeated trips back to the editing room, most of the movies do achieve their golden R rating.

Some, however, never do. Three movies were nominated for Oscars despite their X rating: Midnight Cowboy, A Clockwork Orange, and Last Tango in Paris. Midnight Cowboy actually won the Best Picture Oscar for 1970. When rereleased in 1971, it carried only an R rating, even though not a single edit had been made. It had been given the X rating for “homosexual suggestions,” and that was no longer a criteria. Times were already changing.

Two things are usually to blame for an X rating: extreme violence/gore, or explicit nudity/sexual content. It’s hard to believe, but for all the outcry against The Exorcist (some vi51kp0kgvmdlewers were taken away by ambulance), it only garnered an R rating. (So, in 1969, homosexuality would get you a deadly X rating, but by 1973, demonic possession, gore, blasphemy, and violent sexual situations involving children would not. Go figure.) Sometimes the fix was something so banal as toning down the brightness of the blood (Taxi Driver), which makes you wonder who is actually doing the judging and rating of the films. Others, like Cliffhanger, needed adjustments to almost every single scene. Although Casino cranks in at more than 420 utterances of the Fornication word (that’s almost 2.5 for every minute of film49), it was the violence that created its problems.

Here is a list of popular films you’ve probably heard of, and probably have seen, that were originally rated X before being edited yet again (American Pie needed four tries) to win the magic R. Some of these are very good films that just happen to be a little more graphic than others. Some of them you knew were headed for trouble just by the title (Freddy Got Fingered), but others, especially twenty years later when there sometimes doesn’t seem to be a limit on sex or violence in movies or on television (Boogie Nights drew trouble for a 10-second shot of a prosthetic penis, yet Life of Brian and Trainspotting didn’t for showing a real one), make you scratch your head at what the fuss was.


Mississippi Grind

indexThe movie Mississippi Grind is a little bit of a sleeper. An independent film released at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, it was never released in theaters but went straight to on-demand and video distribution.

This does not mean it is unworthy.

Mississippi Grind tells the tale of Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn), a down-and-out guy who has lost everything to his gambling addiction, including his wife and six year old daughter. Gerry will lie, cheat, and steal from anyone, good or bad, trusted or not trusted, to gain money for his next bet – and the toll of his addiction has certainly left a mark of depression on him. Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) is also a traveling gambler, but unlike Gerry, he has nothing to lose, and claims he remains untouched by it because he just likes people; he has nothing emotionally invested in his gambling. When they meet up, you might as well pour gasoline on Gerry’s fire. Between Gerry’s contacts and Curtis’s contacts, they go off on a gambling spree to try and earn the megafortune both seek, hitting up smaller gambling deals on their way to a mythical place of gambling on the Mississippi river.

Of course things go well and things go bad for them. While you feel bad for Gerry, at A1EWEItW27L._SY355_the same time you’d like to hit him with a brick and say “Enough already!”, but Gerry is truly addicted to gambling. Curtis isn’t as good a player, but he’s (slightly) more in charge of himself. In many ways, the down-and-out style of their relationship reminded me of Voigt and Hoffman in “Midnight Cowboy.” I will not spoil the ending.

The movie is slow, a character study far more than an action film, but what truly stands out is its score. Ignoring the start of the film in the mid-West, the movie overflows with languinous tracks of hardcore blues songs evocative of Mississippi and the deep south. Fast or slow, modern or old folk, it is worth watching the movie for its A1zNzWVzk6L._SY355_soundtrack alone. You know some of the singers – Odetta, John Lee Hooker, and some of the songs – a reworking of Frankie and Johnny, for instance, but together they lend an unforgettable undercurrent to the movie that will stick with you long after the credits finish rolling.  It is so chock full of music, the soundtrack was released on two albums (Gerry’s Road Mix; Curtis’s Road Mix), so if there’s one certain song you’re looking for, you’ll have to check for which one you need. Amazon won’t help you; they sell the albums but don’t list the tracks, but you can find them by Googling it.

And it makes you wonder – why wasn’t this ever put to theater release?