Is the MPAA Giving In on CLERKS 2?

A friend of mine who has been reviewing movies from a traditional artistic viewpoint for decades pulled me aside at a screening a couple of weeks ago.

"Have you seen Clerks 2?" he asked.

"No," was my response, assuring him I was certain my family oriented audience would already be aware this wasn’t a movie to send the kids to. But what surprised me was my friend’s next comment:

"I left the screening of Clerks 2 feeling absolutely dirty. I went home and the first thing I did was take a shower. It was that bad."

Understand that this man is no prude. I have sat beside him in movies I have personally found rather revolting, and have been amazed how he can still find some artistic merit contained within the filth. So when he describes a movie in this way, I sit up and take notice, and was happy I passed it by—especially after reading the details about the content of the movie.

Likewise, Joel Siegel from ABC’s Good Morning America caused a ruckus after he stormed out of a New York City screening while yelling (according to second hand reports) "Time to go!" and "This is the first movie I’ve walked out of in 30 [expletive deleted] years!" Clerks 2 creator, Kevin Smith, later grilled the critic for his unprofessional behavior.

A few days later Smith, hero—and even arguably the creator—of the grunge cinema cult, spoke during a Q and A at the Comic-Con 2006 convention in San Diego. One of the questions posed to him by an audience member asked how close he was to an NC-17 rating for Clerks 2. I could tell by his answer that he was just as surprised as I was it received an R-rating.

"I thought we were going to get an NC-17 rating," says Smith in response to the question. "The movie is pretty [expletive deleted] out there and I was getting ready to have the jihad of all jihads with the MPAA battling it out. We put it in front of them and they said ‘here you go it’s an R’ and they didn’t ask for a single cut."

Smith mentions one of the biggest reasons for his surprise was due to his first movie, Clerks., released in 1994. That film contained non-stop sexual dialogue of the most explicit nature, and featured an off-screen "laugh" where a woman has sex with a male corpse in a convenience store bathroom.

The MPAA twelve years ago deemed that film appropriate for an NC-17 rating. Miramax, the movie’s distributor, responded with both barrels and hired famous legal wrangler Alan Dershowitz (the same guy who has represented people like Patricia Hearst and OJ Simpson) to convince the MPAA to back down from their rating. It seems the deluxe legal counsel paid off, as the lesser R-rating was granted without any changes to the film.

However, if people who saw the original Clerks. in 1994 thought it couldn’t get any more crude, they were wrong. A check of website ScreenIt’s detailed content listings for Clerks 2 reveals just how content laden the film is—with this version’s "pinnacle" scene being an extended encounter between a man and a donkey. (Please not my link to ScreenIt’s page likely contains content many readers will find offensive.) Although the explicit details of this bestiality scene are outside of camera range, there is no doubt what is happening, unlike the sick sexual scenario in the former film.

Does the MPAA understand how easy it is for kids to see an R-rated film? Government studies sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission from just a few years ago have revealed a large proportion of 13-year-olds are sneaking into R-rated movies. And if you don’t want to sneak in, simply find an older friend to take you—there is no requirement for the accompanying "adult" to be your parent.

An NC-17 movie is far more difficult gain admission to—and market, which is why studios see it as the rating of box office death. Many major theater chains won’t exhibit NC-17 movies or their landlords (if they are located in shopping malls) may prohibit such films. Some newspapers won’t carry NC-17 advertisements. Yes, life is tough when your movie features such vulgarities as a man having sex with a donkey.

Of course, my anger toward the MPAA’s decision to reward Clerks 2 with an R-rating is no shocker, but what is really unexpected is the closing comment coming from Smith back at that convention. After stating how surprised he was they received an R from the MPAA, his final off the cuff comment was, "I was elated that I didn’t have to work on the flic anymore" (meaning he didn’t have to make any further cuts) "but five minutes later I thought ‘What the [expletive deleted] is wrong with you people?’ There is a dude [expletive deleted] a donkey in this movie! It doesn’t get any more NC-17 than this!"

It’s a sad state of affairs when the MPAA can’t even measure up to Kevin Smith’s standards.

More details about the movies mentioned in this post…