Barry Levinson, Spike Lee and John Sayles are among the prominent American directors whose names appear on a petition urging the Motion Picture Assn. of America to create a rating category that would allow adult-themed films to avoid the commercially poisoning X.
The petition, urging MPAA President Jack Valenti to overhaul his 22-year-old ratings system "in order to more fairly reflect the original intent of the X," is being circulated by Silverlight Entertainment, a small New York distributor. Silverlight is currently handling Wayne Wang's "Life is Cheap . . .But Toilet Paper Is Expensive," set in Hong Kong.
The movie received an X this week from the MPAA's Sherman Oaks-based ratings panel.
Silverlight President Mark Lipsky said he will appeal the decision at a hearing in New York on July 23. In the meantime Lipsky is asking movie directors to add their voices to a growing concern for the "erosion of artistic freedom" that he and others attribute to Valenti's refusal to recognize the pornographic connotation of the MPAA's X.
"There is a lot of pressure on the MPAA to change, and we want to contribute to the pressure," Lipsky said. "We want them to know there are mainstream important players in the industry who disagree with their practices."
Lipsky said the ratings board would not specify on paper which scenes in Wang's film prompted its decision, but he said word "got to them" that to get an R rating Wang would have to remove scenes showing a magazine photo of a nude, pregnant woman, a scatological-humor scene and a recurring nightmare image of a man's arms being torn off.
"They said the arms coming off are no good in a nightmare scene, but in ('Total Recall') Arnold Schwarzenegger is standing there holding two arms with blood gushing out of them, and that's OK," Lipsky said. "It's inconceivable that we got an X and that didn't."
Also on the ratings front, Omega Entertainment announced late Tuesday that it will file a $15-million lawsuit against the MPAA because of the X rating given to its "In the Cold of the Night." Nico Mastorakis, Omega's chief executive officer, said he is planning to fund an independent ratings board paneled by major U.S. film critics.
"If the moviegoing public is prepared to listen to film critics before going to the theaters, and if reviews mean so much for producers and distributors, then the critics' rating system will quickly supersede any other," Mastorakis said in a prepared statement released late Tuesday. "It is our duty to remove the ax from the hands of the executioner."
Reached at his home in Los Angeles Wednesday, Mastorakis described "In the Cold of the Night" as a psychological thriller, and said he has refused to trim a "three-minute non-explicit love scene" in order to get an R rating. Mastorakis, who produced and directed "In the Cold of the Night," said he has sent videocassette copies of the movie to all 42 members of the National Society of Film Critics asking them to judge whether it is pornography or not. Next week, he said, he will begin talking to critics and other independent producers about creating a seven-member critics' rating panel.
The MPAA could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.