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Interview With Elvis Mitchell

Aired August 6, 2003 - 19:39   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A major movie with a major star and an X rating. 1973's "Last Tango in Paris," believe it or not, the last X-rated movie to get an Academy Award nomination. I guess it's not so hard to believe. These days, forget about X. Studios are not even handing out NC-17 ratings. Seems they're scared of sex. It's often said American culture has become too crass, too sexualized. But today an article in the "New York Times" caught our eye. The writer was pointing out how realistic portrayals of sex have all but disappeared from American movies.
Political correctness or is it basic economics? The writer turned out to be "New York Times" film critic Elvis Mitchell and he joins me now. So what is it, you're basically arguing that there's not enough sex in movies?

ELVIS MITCHELL, "NEW YORK TIMES": There's never enough sex in movies, but that's another show altogether.


MITCHELL: No, there's this real fear of dealing with adult sexuality in movies. Movies are now teasing about sex. They're sexy without being sexual. You look at the "Charlie's Angels" movies, which use sex as a way to sell the picture to you, or sexiness, you know. Girls dancing around in skimpy outfits. We have the first fully clothed lap dance in the history of motion pictures. That's the kind of lie I think we see in movies these days.

COOPER: Let's go back to 1969. I think "Midnight Cowboy."

MITCHELL: "Midnight Cowboy." John Schlesinger, who just died a couple of weeks ago. The first X-rated movie to not only get a nomination for best picture, but to win the Oscar. And that was the year of "True Grit," a year of a lot really staid, quiet, boring, all- square Hollywood movies. But this was a movie with great performances. Certainly Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, both of whom were nominated for best actor. It was a movie about male prostitutes, and it was more the material than the actual picture itself, because when it was re-released in '75, it got an R rating.

It was really kind of interesting, this movie that didn't shy away from the fact that sex was messy, complicated. Adults ruin their lives by it.

COOPER: And you're saying there's no way that would get made today. MITCHELL: I can't think of a major movie star who would commit to doing something like that. No, I mean, they're all afraid of it. Not only that, but studios won't release them because you can't get advertising for them. You know, Thursday night, big night before the movies, and every -- you turn on "Friends" or this show and anything else like that, you see tons of ads for movies that are coming out the next day.

COOPER: And by the way, that is a choice viewers have to make often, it is either "Friends" or this show.

MITCHELL: It's a choice I have to make on a regular basis.

COOPER: There was -- I guess it was 1995 that the now renowned "Showgirl" -- is it "Showgirl" or "Showgirls?"

MITCHELL: "Showgirls." The European version was "Showgirl."

COOPER: OK, "Showgirls." With Elizabeth Berkley, if I'm not wrong?

MITCHELL: You're not wrong at all.

COOPER: I've seen this movie a couple of times, I will admit.

MITCHELL: It was the most fabulous movie I ever saw in my entire life. I still choke thinking about how terrible it was.

COOPER: Now, was this NC-17 or was this X?

MITCHELL: It was 17. The "X" was retired in 1999 because it had been basically coopted by pornographers. You see the XXX. I mean, is there a RR? I mean, it's ridiculous. But because the X wasn't copyrighted, you could put it on anything. You didn't have to submit the movie to the MPAA. So to take that away and try to reclaim that material, the NC-17 was invented, and that was the year of the movie "Henry and June..."

COOPER: And "Showgirls" was the last NC-17?

MITCHELL: The last studio NC-17.

COOPER: Really? In 1995? That's amazing. And what a film it was.

MITCHELL: Well, you can see why, can't you? I mean, it almost scare you away from movies.


COOPER: There was a lot of alleged acting going on in that movie. But you know, it's not just movies. We were talking about this in the office today. Your article sort of spurred a lot of discussion, and it's sort of one person termed it the baby sitting of America, and they brought up the point, Whoopi Goldberg has come under a lot criticism. She has a new TV show coming out, in which her character smokes. And I think we have a clip of it. Let's just show a little clip from this.



WHOOPI GOLDBERG, ACTRESS: You're right, sir. I'm sorry. I'll put it out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, secondhand smoke kills.

GOLDBERG: So do I, baby. Walk on.


COOPER: Now, does it surprise you that there is sort of a kerfaffle (ph) about this?

MITCHELL: Kerfaffle (ph). I'm not -- I don't speak French.

COOPER: I don't feel that word is used enough on CNN.

MITCHELL: And there's a reason it's not used enough on CNN.

But there's this fear, I mean, it's funny we're talking about this, there is a great scene in "Basic Instinct" when Sharon Stone goes, "what are you going to do, arrest me for smoking?" There was a time when TV was about sort of pushing boundaries, in the same way movies did. It's the same time. In the early '70s, you had the great Norman Lear shows like "All in the Family," and "Maude," shows that were about discussion, shows that were about really to try to sort of make sense of what was going on in the world. It's funny, now what we have on TV is that same kind of sectionism (ph) I'm talking about in the movies, where there's really not about sexual complications, just jokes about sex you can get what I call the Fox Network ooh.

COOPER: So you're really arguing for or sort of discussing I guess as a movie critic, you have to see all these movies, so you want to see more of realistic portrayals of human sexuality?

MITCHELL: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) grownup portrayals of sexuality, you know, because you have Marlon Brando in a movie by Bernardo Bertolucci, certainly one of the premier filmmakers of our time, you had Stanley Kubrick making "A Clockwork Orange," and he actually censored himself for "Eyes Wide Shut" in 1999. There was a scene that might have gotten the movie an NC-17, and so he personally had some computer work done so the picture would get an R. Basically, there's no fear of violence in the movies. That was the same year of "The Matrix," which is nothing but violence. There is one scene where there are more shell casings on the floor than there were probably in all of World War II in that movie, but that's OK.

COOPER: Violence is OK, sex not. All right. Interesting. Elvis Mitchell, thanks very much. It was a great article.

MITCHELL: Thanks, Anderson.


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