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All Movie Talk

Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

All Movie Talk

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All Movie Talk, Episode 41

Show contents, with start times:

  • Director Spotlight: Coen Brothers, Part 1 (1:33)
  • Trivia Question: Vampire Without Makeup (22:01)
  • Top 6: Film Noir (22:48)
  • Industry Trend: Ratings and Censorship, Part 3 (39:48)
  • Closing: Trivia Answer, Preview of Next Week (57:00)
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Show Notes:

Director Spotlight: Coen Brothers, Part 1

The films of Joel and Ethan Coen (Joel directs, Ethan produces, but they really seem to evenly share authorship of their films).

Their movies, which include modern classics like Fargo (1996) and Raising Arizona (1987), reflect a unique style. Their films are difficult to pin down, as the Coens enjoy moving between genres and especially mashing up genres within a single film.

Perhaps the most important stylistic element of their work is the way it is heavily influenced by classic Hollywood. Whether making direct homages in the form of throwbacks like The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) or the The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), or even making movies directly about Old Hollywood (1991's Barton Fink) the Coens demonstrate a knowledge for and love of classic cinema.

Their distinct visual style is cemented by their close relationship with their cinematographers. In the ten features they've made so far, they've only worked with two cinematographers: Barry Sonnenfeld for their first three and Roger Deakins for everything else. They favor big, showy shots and wide lenses that can distort their images, making everything feel a bit fantastic.

The Coens seem to favor working with the same people over and over. In addition to their directors of photography, Carter Burwell has played a hand in scoring all of their films. Actors like Frances McDormand, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, and John Turturro also make frequent appearances in their casts.

Trivia Question: Vampire Without Makeup

This actor was seen as so ugly by his director that the director suggested the actor didn't need any makeup to play a hideous vampire in a classic vampire movie.

Top 6: Film Noir

See our separate Top 6 entry for more information about our picks.

Industry Trend: Ratings and Censorship, Part 3

By the mid-1960s, the Production Code was falling apart and the laws governing artistic speech in America were rapidly being revised by legislatures and courts. The obscenity laws in this time are a sort of moving target, and the hesitancy of courts to strictly define legal obscenity leads to the de facto legalization of pornography in most places. The Supreme Court in 1968 recognizes that states have greater power to restrict children from seeing certain films that adults would have a right to see, but it does not make it easy for states to do so, and many of the local film censorship boards are dismantled.

In 1966 a man named Jack Valenti takes over the MPAA and is faced with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the Mike Nichols film based on the popular play. This film, which helped to usher in the 1970s wave of American films, contained numerous lines not allowable under the Code. After much debate, Valenti agrees to remove the word "screw" but leave in the phrase "hump the hostess." Realizing that these sorts of decisions should not be occupying the time of grown men, Valenti advocates for an abandonment of the Production Code (see this article by Valenti for more detail about the history of the system).

The MPAA forms the Classification and Ratings Administration, an independent division of the MPAA, to come up with a method of rating films. In November 1968 they begin using four ratings: G for general audiences, M for mature audiences (changed quickly to GP and then PG), R for restricted to those under 17 without parents, and X meaning nobody under 17 allowed.

Though this system does not contain the force of law, the studios agree to submit their films for ratings and movie theaters throughout the nation begin enforcing the ratings (often loosely).

In a curious move, the X rating is the only rating not trademarked by the MPAA, meaning independent studios can use the rating for free and without submitting their films for review. Midnight Cowboy (1969) is an X-rated Best Picture winner, though quickly pornographers begin wielding the "XXX" rating as a mark of sleaziness and mainstream theaters, often under pressure from the local community, refuse to show X-rated films.

In 1984 another rating is added, PG-13, which indicates that the material may not be appropriate for children under 13. In 1990 the MPAA drops the X rating and replaces it with the trademarked NC-17, hoping to avoid the stigma of pornography, but so far to little success.

The ratings board has no requirements for membership aside from parenthood, and much of what it does is in secret in an attempt to prevent studios from influencing the process. Films are screened to members, who then fill out a piece of paper with their proposed rating and a list of reasons why it should be rated that way. Ratings are given out based on a simple majority vote by the board. Studios can appeal a rating and have access to the reasons for a rating and may edit their films and resubmit them if they are not happy with the initial rating.

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