Calling the X rating the equivalent of "economic suicide" for non-pornographic films, a New York-based distributor announced on Tuesday that his company is releasing Wayne Wang's "Life Is Cheap . . . but Toilet Paper Is Expensive" with a self-annointed adults-only A rating.
"If the (Motion Picture Assn. of America) is not ready to do that, then we'll do that ourselves," said Silverlight Entertainment President Mark Lipsky, at an 11 a.m. press conference in front of the MPAA's Sherman Oaks office.
Following the press conference, Lipsky presented a petition to MPAA Senior Vice President Bethlyn Hand asking the organization to add an adult rating between R and X to allow movies without pornographic content to be released in the United States. Generally, X-rated movies face exclusion from newspaper and television advertising.
Among the 31 directors who signed the petition are Francis Coppola, Sydney Pollack, Walter Hill, Barry Levinson, Terry Gilliam, Ron Howard, Rob Reiner, Ridley Scott and Spike Lee. None of the directors was present at the press conference.
Wang's film was rated X by the MPAA's Classification and Ratings Administration earlier this month and Silverlight's appeal was rejected at a hearing in New York on Monday.
Lipsky said the A rating that Silverlight is putting on Wang's film is intended to mean that "it is not viewable by minors." It would be up to individual theaters, however, to enforce that.
Wang said that the scene that seems to have convinced the majority of raters that his film warranted an X rating was one where a man is thumbing through a magazine and pauses at a photograph, which is visible to viewers, of a nude pregnant woman.
The director said he regarded the scene as important in establishing the evil intent of one of the central characters in the film.
In his attack on the rating system, Lipsky said Valenti's rationale for maintaining the X is an annual survey showing that more than 70% of parents find the ratings either "very useful" or "fairly useful."
Lipsky suggested that that kind of approval rating in the context of movie marketing was not considered good.
"Mr. Valenti knows as well as any of us, however, that when a marketing department comes in with an audience survey revealing that a film's rating is fair to very good, that film is either completely overhauled or shelved forever."
Lipsky said that he would like to see "the phantom survey that for some unknown reason has never been released to the public."
Valenti was in Washington and not available for comment.