Showtime’s slogan is “No Limits.” If the MPAA had a slogan, it would be “Oh, Yes There Are.” Now the two are deciding where the limit will be placed on the Robert Mapplethorpe photographs that form a core element of “Dirty Pictures.”
The Motion Picture Assn. of America has given Showtime’s “Dirty Pictures” an initial rating of NC-17. The cabler has the right to make edits and resubmit the film to the ratings board, and it has the right to a hearing with the association’s ratings appeals board.
A Showtime spokesperson issued this statement: “This is the first response from the MPAA. We and the filmmakers are working with them in editing the film to achieve an R rating.”
But if the NC-17 rating holds, it puts into question whether the pic can be shown during primetime. The premium cabler has agreements with some cable companies that exclude airing NC-17-rated material before a certain hour.
“Dirty Pictures” is based on the experiences of Dennis Barrie, the director of Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center who was indicted in 1990 for “pandering obscenity and illegal use of a minor in nudity-related material” when the CAC hosted the late photographer’s “The Perfect Moment” exhibit. Seven of the show’s 175 photos were named in the indictment. Barrie was acquitted on all charges later that year.
The disputed images in Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic and sadomasochistic work include a man urinating into another’s mouth. Another shows a crouching, seminaked Mapplethorpe with a bullwhip dangling from his anus. Two depict children with their genitals exposed.
The NC-17 rating comes specifically from the telepic’s use of these seven controversial photographs, which are seen briefly during a trial scene and when the lead character, played by James Woods, shows them to his wife.
The landmark 1990 trial was about the public’s right to see the photos; it would be difficult to make such a film and then not show them.
“That’s what this movie is all about,” Showtime president Jerry Offsay said at this year’s Television Critics Assn. meeting.
At that time, Offsay also pointed to the irony that a film about First Amendment rights would itself have to submit to censorship.
“It’s not our job to make people feel comfortable. It’s our job to do what we think is right, and to protect freedom of expression,” Offsay said. “The First Amendment is our lifeblood. It’s our business.”
Hank Cohen, president of MGM Television Entertainment, the studio that produced the film, said: “Like Showtime, we stand behind the movie, the filmmakers, and are confident that the network will work out a suitable arrangement with the MPAA.”
“Dirty Pictures,” which is directed by Frank Pierson and produced by Michael Manheim, is scheduled to be aired May 27 at 9 p.m.