Originally created by the MPAA in 1968, at the same time as the classifications G, PG and R, the original intention of the X rating was to denote 'adult content.' Sure, sometimes there was sex involved but what adult doesn't like a good bit of titillation as a side dish for their favorite flicks? Over the next few months, YBCA hosts X: The History of a Film Rating, a smattering of classic and controversial titles which originally grabbed the contested rating, before it was almost fully co-opted by the skin trade in the 1970s, prompting the MPAA to replace it with NC-17 in 1990.
The lesson begins this Thursday with what many consider to be the pinnacle of 'adult' film, Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris. Though it's an apt introduction, it's also a bold move to start the series with what many consider the ne-plus-ultra of the X-ers. Considering it in retrospect, Roger Ebert wrote "The movie frightened off imitators, and instead of being the first of many X-rated films dealing honestly with sexuality, it became almost the last." Such is the prestige of Last Tango that were it released today, it might have received an 'R' instead without any significant damage.
John McNaughton's grim, brutal Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer resolutely rejects such revisionary enjoyment, possibly any at all. Despite the protestations of the film's producers, the MPAA held fast to the film's X rating, which it received for its decidedly grim atmosphere and deadpan tone. Even today, Henry is a one-of-a-kind endeavor, an exploitation film that doesn't dramatize (or soften) its killers, and it still works brilliantly where many films since failed.
Fritz the Cat, the third film in the series and the only cartoon (it was the first such feature to garner an X), is one you may have been sat down in front of as a child--perhaps by a particularly oblivious parent or a naughty babysitter. Ralph Bakshi, the animator responsible for the original film adaptation of J. R. R. Tolken's "The Lord of the Rings" (1978), took R. Crumb's curmudgeonly cat and twisted him into a sex-crazed, pot-smoking ne'er-do-well whose primary concerns are avoiding "the man" and scoring some free love with anyone around--woman, cat or other. Though there's definitely an air of sleaze to the proceedings, it carries the flavor of the times better than most, and the gags are eye-popping as ever.
Later this month, YBCA continues the series with Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (written by none other than Roger Ebert himself); John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy, one of the first films to be rated X for drug and sexual content; John Waters' classic freak-out Pink Flamingos; Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing; and the last film to be rated X, Philip Kaufman's sexy, slinky biopic Henry & June.
X: The History of a Film Rating starts Nov 7 and runs through Dec 19. YBCA Screening Room.
3rd i Film Festival - The SF International South Asian Film Festival slides into a new calendar slot with a lineup dedicated to the region’s females--filmmakers, activists and more. Highlights include opener The Revolutionary Optimists, cricket doc Beyond All Boundaries and globetrotting transgender doc Mohammed to Maya. New People & Castro Theatre. Nov 6-10.
French Cinema Now - Film Society's annual survey of contemporary French work has an X of its own in Alain Guiraudie's Stranger by the Lake, an explicit, excuisite thriller set at a gay cruising spot. The series also scandalizes with Claire Denis' new film Bastards and the Saturday's other playfully sexy double-team, Miss and the Doctors and Suzanne. Nov 7-10. Clay Theater.
Trangender Film Festival - San Francisco’s first fest devoted to Germany's new category returns to the Roxie for its 12th year and the results are predictably pleasant and plucky. Highlights of the now 3-day fest include Loving The Bony Lady, a doc about a worshipper of La Santa Muerte, Frameline standout One Zero One and Haunted, a musical ghost story starring local alt-dragster Suppositori Spelling. Nov 8-10. Roxie.
Dallas Buyers Club - Matthew McConaughey stars in this thrilling biopic about scumbag/saint Ron Woodruff, the outspoken Texas cowboy who formed the first “buyers club” for AIDS medications in the beginning of the epidemic. Buyers Club is earning raves and could mean possible Oscar attention for co-star Jared Leto. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Sundance Kabuki.
The Motel Life - Adapted from Willy Vlautin’s novel of the same name, The Motel Life stars Emile Hirsche and Steven Dorff, two underappreciated Hollywood mainstays who can be both awesomely versatile or terribly frustrating. Early reviews of ML indicated their appeal is more opaque here. Rotten Tomatoes: No Rating Yet. Roxie.
Acid Westerns - Jesse Hawthorne Ficks’ Midnite for Maniacs grinds on with a double bill of Johnny Depp-in-the-west, screening The Lone Ranger (real bad) followed by Jarmusch’s Dead Man (real good). Festivities will move to Roxie for a late-night screening of the underseen dust-kicker Walker, starring Ed Harris (real strange). Castro Theatre and Roxie. Friday, Nov 8.