Tagged: Motion Picture Association of America

Fool Me Once…

Today is April Fool’s Day. Since yesterday, I’ve been on high alert carefully scrutinizing anything that could be a prank. I usually forget about today—being too preoccupied with this, that, or something else, but this year, I was expecting it so I’ve been fully prepared. Although this heighten skepticism has taken most of the fun out of today, I did get a few choice pranks.

Make a Photo without a Camera

The folks at Lomography, makers of analog film cameras for the hip art-school set, has announced a new spray that will allow you to slowly expose an image onto a roll of film.

I fell for this one at first, partly because I saw it on March 31. It seems completely feasible until you read that it takes up to 24 hours for a decent exposure. I thought that was a typo. But the giveaway in this video was in the time-lapse sequence, where the guy stands with the roll of film in the dark. I’m no expert in Greek, but I know you need light to make a photograph.

Canon Wildlife Camera

Speaking of photography, I saw this announcement come across my RSS feed this morning from The Digital Picture, an expert website for Canon photographers.

Fake Canon 1D W (Wildlife) for April Fool's Day 2014

This is a very compelling prank. A camera like this makes some sense. However, as far as I know, no one has ever made a flagship (D)SLR camera specifically for one application. (Okay, fine, Canon has made two cameras specifically for astrophotography.) As I skimmed the article, I thought it was real, until I realized what day it was.

Bryan, the site’s owner, even included a link to the B&H website so you can pre-order this camera. However, that link takes you to an “April Fool’s” page, revealing that you have been had!

Apple Buys iFixit

A good April Fool’s Prank is one that seems plausible and incredible at the same time. Apple buying the hub for online do-it-yourself repair manuals seems both plausible and incredible. The press release includes some very humorous details, admitting they sold out.

“Everyone has a number”, admitted Kyle Wiens, iFixit’s CEO. “I didn’t think there was a reasonable number that would make me say, ‘You know I was going to change the world with repair documentation but here’s a number.’” In the end, Apple gave us a number that we couldn’t refuse.

I saw this from the spoil-sports at MacRumors, who not only revealed this and other “stories” to be April Fool’s hoaxes, but admitted that they did not intend to “participate” in any prank news stories. That makes sense since some of the rumors they reference are a bit unbelievable, even if some are spot-on.

Hulu Announces New Spin-Offs

Hulu announced two new spin-offs of hit series available on the streaming service, including one where Hannibal gets a cooking show.

The other is, The Field, a spin-off of the critically acclaimed series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which I haven’t yet seen (shame on me, yes, I know). 

Honestly, I figured out that these spin-offs were fake. However, I was very impressed that they went through the trouble to make two very good looking videos. 

Fake United Jeff’s Improvements for United Airlines

The Twitter account for the fake Jeff Smisek, CEO of United Airlines, is one of the few Twitter feeds I read like a blog, where I scroll back to each tweet until I read them all. Today, he’s been dispatching fake announcements to improve United Airlines, such as this one to solve the labor dispute between the airline and its two sets of pilots (former Continental and former United).

Some, however, are more sensible, so much so that you know that they’re fake.

I really hate the new logo, and I’m not alone.

EFF Reports that MPAA is to Update its Copyright Curriculum for Kindergartners

The Electronic Frontier Foundation sent out a “very special” issue of its newsletter, the EFFector. 

A few of the stories were pretty obvious pranks. For example, they mention an NSA program, IMPENDINGSLUMBER, that is designed to “intercept children’s bedtime stories.” But one was a little too close to reality to be an obvious prank. Here it is in its entirety:

Citing numerous psychological studies that indicate children under the age of eight respond primarily to fear-based cues, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is adding another character to its “Sharing Is Bad” copyright curriculum: the “Fair Use Creep,” a four-headed monster in a trench coat. “We think these children will respond well to characters like the Fair Use Creep,” said MPAA chief Chris Dodd in a press conference Friday. “And by respond well, we mean cower in fear.”

Doesn’t it seem a bit extreme for the motion picture industry to infiltrate children’s curriculum with lessons on copyright maximalism? This must be a joke, right? Sadly, it’s not.

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Whither the NC-17 Rating

The Motion Picture Association of America adopted an age-based movie rating system in 1967, taking effect the following year. Initially, there were only four ratings.

Rating Restriction
G General Audiences: All Ages
M Mature Audiences: Parental guidance
R Restricted, 16+ with parent
X Adults Only

These ratings replaced the all-or-nothing system in use since the 1930s, colloquially known as the Production Code, and segmented the movie audience by age and allowed for adult-themed movies to proliferate.

The ratings have gradually evolved in the nearly fifty years since their introduction. G and R remain largely intact to this day. M evolved to the confusing GP, meaning General Audiences with Parental Guidance, and then to now-familiar PG. And in the 1980s, PG movies that were considered a tad too violent were rated PG–13 as a middle-ground between PG and R. However, the X rating was something almost mythical. In my adolescent-of-the–1980s mind, an X-rated film was always a pornographic film, and anything X-rated was a sexually explicit, adults-only affair. It might still connote that to the kids of today.

Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones on a New York City theater marquee

Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones at a Times Square theater in New York, May 31, 1980. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff)

Study film for a few years, and you will learn that the X-rating was applied to many more films, including some that didn’t have much sexual content. For example, the 1969 Haskell Wexler film Medium Cool was initially assigned an X before an appeal reduced it to a more appropriate R rating. The film has no depictions of sex at all, although there is an extended violent sequence of documentary footage, shot by Wexler and his crew, where the Chicago police pummel protestors at the Democratic National Convention. It’s disturbing, but not X-rated disturbing.

Medium Cool has some violent content, unsuitable for young children

Medium Cool (1969) has some violent scenes of the police riot in Chicago.

The X-rating was applied to seventy-two films in its first four years, from 1968 to 1972. This peak coincided with the so-called golden age of porn, beginning in the 1970s.

Year X-Ratings Notable Titles
1968 3 Birds of Peru, The Miracle of Love, Sin with a Stranger
1969 13 Make Me a Angel, Sex of Angels, To Hex with Sex
1970 22 The Dean’s Wife, Satanis: The Devil’s Mass, Sexual Freedom In Denmark
1971 34 Bunny and Clod, The Dirty Movie, Erotic Salad, Snuff

Whither the X rating? In 1990, the Motion Picture Association of America replaced the X rating with NC–17. The rating was designated for films that were for adults but non-pornographic. Initially, films embraced the NC–17 rating as a desirable substitute for being branded with a pornographic rating or marginalized by not being rated at all.

Year NC–17 Ratings Notable Titles
1990 18 The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover, Henry and June, Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down
1991 16 In The Realm Of The Senses, Dice Rules, Rodney Dangerfield ‘Nothin’ Goes Right’
1992 7 Bad Lieutenant, The Loves Of Lady Chatterly

But as video stores and movie theaters began to associate the new NC–17 rating with the old X rating, fewer films would take the NC–17. Instead, they would surrender the rating, remaining an unrated film, or appeal for a milder R rating. Today, the rating is very rarely used. In the last three years, only five films have taken the NC–17 rating.

Year NC–17 Ratings Titles
2011 3 El Infierno, A Serbian Film, Shame
2012 0  
2013 2 Blue is the Warmest Color, Lucky Bastard

For a rating that has been around longer than the original and fabled X rating it replaced, the NC–17 appears to be a bust. Instead of classifying high-brow, adult-themed films and pave the way for more of them, it has mainly marginalized them away from a theater near you.

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Virginia Woolf forces Hollywood to Grow Up

As we saw this week in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966), Hollywood began to accept films that took greater risks in favor of the expensive epics it was releasing in the 1960s. As we discussed in class, with the explosive popularity of television in the 1950s, the roadshow film was Hollywood’s most profitable. Thompson and Bordwell note that almost all films released in the 1960s earned less than a million dollars at the box office.1

The drinking and the fighting made Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf? a film for mature audiences.

The drinking and the fighting made Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf? a film for mature audiences.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? provided Hollywood that opportunity. It was based on a respected Edward Albee play that opened in 1963. It also drew great criticism from the same Catholic establishment that had pushed for the Production Code thirty years later. Lastly, it also gave Hollywood the opportunity to release films in a different ways.

Many in Hollywood anticipated the film for months before its release in Los Angeles and New York in June 1966. Critics were worried that the language in the film would be too much for movie audiences. However the language did not seem to offend many who saw the film in its early days. One fifteen year-old patron, who attended with his mother, quipped about the language, “I’ve heard worse,” but another patron did take note of “all that drinking, from the very beginning to the very end.”2

Since the beginning of film exhibition in the United States, film censorship was an all or nothing proposition. Either a film was released to all audiences or it was available to no one. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was unique in that it was released for “Mature Audiences” only. In fact, Warner Brothers had added a clause in its contract with exhibitors that it would not admit children under 18 without a parent.3

Hollywood was undergoing a once-in-a-generation change at the time. The Production Code had been one of the most stubborn institutions of the American Film Industry. Former MPAA chief, Eric Johnson, had argued that the Code was necessary to avoid states and localities instituting their own censorship boards. However, the new MPAA head Jack Valenti had taken a different view than his predecessor. He saw the Code as an impediment to the industry’s survival. This was a conflict between old and new. In the film industry trade Moving Picture Daily, Martin Quigley Jr. declared the “Code is dead.”2 It remains one of the great Oedipal ironies in film history as it was his father, Martin Quigley, who co-author the original Code in 1930.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? helped inaugurate a new era in film history. New York Times film reporter and critic Vincent Canby asked, “how can producers make admittedly adult films without alienating a mass audience that includes children?”4 Hollywood’s answer would be to segment its mass audience. The growth of television and the changing American culture forced many media industries to segment their audiences as a way to survive in the new 1960s media landscape. Radio did so by creating music formats, and magazines did so by specializing instead of reaching a mass audience, such as Time and the Saturday Evening Post once did. Hollywood segmented its audience by age, and by doing so, a new sophisticated cinema would emerge in the United States.

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  1. Thompson, Kristin, and David Bordwell. Film History: An Introduction. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2010. 
  2. Canby, Vincent. “Public Not Afraid of Big Bad ‘Woolf’.” New York Times, June 25, 1966. 
  3. “‘Virginia Woolf’ to Be Shown As a ‘For Adults Only’ Film.” New York Times, May 26, 1966. 
  4. Canby, Vincent. “Valenti Is Facing First Film Crisis.” New York Times, May 28, 1966.