Back to Home Page

Local Links
Sun Valley Guide
Hemingway in Sun Valley
Real Estate

Opinion Column
For the week of October 4 through 10, 2000

A perspective on the nation's moral conscience

Commentary by
Rick Kessler and Steve Bynum

It's an election year and the guardians of our nation's moral conscience have trotted out their favorite whipping boy, popular culture, for a lofty go-round of political grandstanding.

It's a simplistic attempt to blame society's ills on the undue "influence" of movies, television and music instead of seriously addressing the more pertinent issues, such as, gun control (which would cost votes) and how to provide and pay for mental health care needs in this country (that would cost taxpayer money).

So, instead we get a national discourse on R-rated films and media responsibility. Congress has been addressing this question, so we thought it might be prudent to offer a perspective from midway between you, the ticket buyer, and the movie studios and distributors.

The R-rating—defined by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) as "Restricted, no one under 17 admitted without parent or certified adult guardian"—was created to enable filmmakers to tell mature stories honestly and unflinchingly, without being obligated to protect the sensibilities of the youngest, most vulnerable members of the audience. Without the liberation of the R-rating, masterpieces such as The Godfather, Raging Bull and Saving Private Ryan couldn't exist. Neither would works of considerably lesser cinematic aptitude and mastery like the more recent Scary Movie and The Blair Witch Project. So, how and when to "enforce" this rating, which is, in fact, a suggested guideline and not a legally-stipulated regulation?

There are Rs, and then there are Rs. The same R-rating that the MPAA assigns to Scream or Road Trip is equally applied to films as disparate as Pulp Fiction, Air Force One, L.A. Confidential, Jerry McGuire and The English Patient. What is one exposed to in Austin Powers (PG-13) that’s so different than There's Something About Mary (R)?

That's where you, the parent, are called upon to make a judgment call with regard to a movie’s appropriateness for your own child.

We, here at the Magic Lantern, try to aid you in several different ways. First of all, our weekly newspaper ads always define the reason that a movie has received an R-rating. Is it strictly for language or for sexuality or nudity—which can range from the romantic love scenes of Shakespeare In Love to explicit on-screen sex?

Illegal drug use receives an automatic R, whether it’s harmlessly comical a la Saving Grace or a frank depiction of the horrors of addiction. Violence is, of course, a big factor in ratings, whether it’s the shockingly realistic carnage of Saving Private Ryan or the comic-book kicks of The Matrix.

Some films are awarded an R in more than one of these four areas, as well as a fifth catch-all category termed "adult content," referring to emotional and psychological terrain that, one hopes, is far removed from children’s realm of experience. Movies that deserve an extreme R-rating can vacillate in quality and content as widely as Natural Born Killers to last year's Oscar-winner American Beauty.

Films that qualify for an "amplified" R don't receive an RRR rating, so it's important for parents to ask questions about content, tone and the moral values of a given movie. And we do our best to answer them, reminding accompanying parents that the film they are taking their children to is rated R—and why.

We have also gone so far as to require explicit parental permission (preferably in person, though telephone calls and written slips are frequently substituted) for certain films. And we are more than willing to advise you anytime in making your decision (call 726-3308). For example, anyone old enough to comprehend the magnitude of the Holocaust or the invasion of Normandy should not miss Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan, but why subject a child to the on screen violence who does not comprehend the significance?

Like reading D. H. Lawrence, J. D. Salinger or even Mark Twain, these are advanced "texts" that require mature judgment, reasoning and sensibilities. Great as they are, they may not be suitable for young children, but they are unreservedly recommended for some teens not yet 17 years old.

Despite our efforts to reasonably enforce the film rating system and not tread on First Amendment rights, we are often stunned at some of the movies parents have knowingly allowed their children to see despite our specifically alerting them (even with the managers’ personal admonition at the box office) to what these youngsters would be exposed to.

The Magic Lantern has increased vigilance with regard to R-rated films, but we cannot do it effectively without your help. Parents, please do your duty: ask questions, do a little research and accompany your teenagers to see deserving R-rated films. Afterward, discuss with them what you saw and how you each felt about it. This is the true meaning of "parental guidance."

Rick Kessler is the owner and Steve Bynum is the manager of the Magic Lantern theater in Ketchum.


Back to Front Page
Copyright 2000 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.