MPAA: Director to recut 'Chained,' but asks why she needs to
On Tuesday, the filmmakers behind "Chained," a movie about a serial killer starring Vincent D’Onofrio, saw the Motion Picture Assn. of America deny their appeal of an NC-17 rating by a vote of 9 to 4.
On Wednesday, director Jennifer Lynch told 24 Frames she will recut the scene -- a graphic depiction of a woman having her throat slit open -- that landed the movie the MPAA's harshest rating. But she didn't sound like a filmmaker who understood, or was happy about, the group's decision.
"The one thing they [the appeals board] kept citing was context, that violence in a lot of other films doesn't feel as intense," she said. "I have a lot of compassion for what [the MPAA] does. And they were all very nice and warm in the room. But it doesn't seem fair to me. I feel like we are being punished because the film was done the way it was set out to be done, which was authentically."
The film's distributor, Anchor Bay Entertainment, said it has yet to decide whether it will also release an unrated version to theaters (presumably after the rated version has finished its run, per MPAA rules) or, possibly, release the unrated version on DVD. Lynch's movie centers on a serial-killing cab driver (D’Onofrio) who murders a boy's mother and then attempts to make the boy his protege; the boy must then decide whether he wants to follow in the killer's footsteps. The film has not yet been dated for release.
Kevin Carney, the Anchor Bay executive who argued the appeal alongside Lynch, said that he also was flummoxed by the MPAA's decision. He said he watched a number of movies to prepare for the appeal, including the torture-porn picture "Hostel 3," and didn't understand why that film had got an R rating while "Chained" was given the NC-17.
"There were horrific scenes [in 'Hostel 3'] that I can't get out of my head, but what the [MPAA] kept saying is that it was context, which seems arbitrary," Carney said. "Compare our movie to 'Sweeney Todd,' where 13 or 14 people get their throat slit. There's an equal amount of graphic-ness. It's just a different style."
The MPAA's context argument may elicit skepticism from some of the organization's observers, because the group has often said it strips away those concerns when evaluating a film. In the case of the recent controversy over the R rating for "Bully," for instance, filmmakers said they were told by the organization that it couldn't lower the rating for profane language simply on the basis of the profanities' context.
Lynch, the daughter of director David Lynch and a filmmaker whose movies often contain violent themes, has had her tangles with the MPAA before. She landed an NC-17 nearly 20 years ago for a decapitation scene in her debut picture, "Boxing Helena."
She said she thinks that many other blood-soaked movies get an R because they don't strive for the same intensity as her films -- a false distinction, she believes, that rewards a casual attitude toward violence.
"What you’re doing with the NC-17 is making a very potent statement that no kids should see this movie no matter what, even though kids can see [R-rated] movies where violence is sexy and funny," she said. "And I don't think it should be OK for kids to see violence just because it's sexy and funny."
She added, "As a parent, I don't make the distinction that it's OK for my daughter to see something if it's laughed at as opposed to something that's real and affecting."
The MPAA is sometimes criticized for going too lightly on violence, giving movies with comparable amounts of sex or language a harsher rating. Indeed, the reason offered by the group for the NC-17 on "Chained" was a phrase one doesn't see alongside that rating very often: "some explicit violence."
The group has been more willing to hand out the NC-17 of late. Another film, "Killer Joe," received an NC-17 in March, in that instance for "graphic aberrant content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality."
Lynch said she knew that the stigma of the NC-17 was too great to risk a commercial release with that rating. But she hopes film-goers check out her uncut version of "Chained," if only for comparison's sake. "Horror fans will see it and be stunned at the NC-17," she said. "They've seen much worse."
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Vincent D'Onofrio in "Chained." Credit: Anchor Bay