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Just Keep Repeating ... It's Only a Poster ...

Ooh, how transgressive and edgy.
by Rob Gonsalves

So yeah, you've heard about the whole "Captivity" thing. You haven't? How're the acoustics in your cave? Well, in brief, the horror outfit After Dark Films submitted a pretty grody billboard concept to the MPAA advertising the latest faux-snuff flick "Captivity," starring Elisha Cuthbert. The MPAA looked at it with its four stages of cruelty and degradation and said, "Uh, no." After Dark put up the billboards anyway. The MPAA said "Oh no you DI'INT. Take 'em down." After Dark said "Okay okay, consider 'em down," and then proceeded to take their sweet time removing them. Now the MPAA has responded, according to Defamer, "by suspending the ratings process and demanding that all subsequent promotion materials be cleared with the organization." Drew McWeeny at AICN even called for the MPAA to refuse to give the film any rating at all.

To be honest, the thing that offends me most about this whole controversy is that Elisha Cuthbert continues to get work. But Captivity isn't alone among the films whose ad campaigns have raised ire, either the MPAA's or someone else's. Hell, After Dark is currently working on pissing the MPAA off yet again with their poster for Wristcutters: A Love Story, which has already drawn fire from suicide-prevention groups. One thing you can say for After Dark and its co-owner Courtney Solomon (who gave the world the Dungeons & Dragons movie): they know how to get free ink, and they don't particularly care if it's bad ink.

Lately, the MPAA has seemed to have issues with horror posters:

Just this year, Fox Atomic's original concept for the Hills Have Eyes II poster got deep-sixed. Apparently an image of a bag presumably containing a corpse is fine, but an image of a bag containing a victim who's still alive and clawing the dirt is just too much for American sensibilities to handle. The disputed image will probably end up adorning the "unrated" edition of the DVD, anyway.

For Saw II, Lionsgate came up with a memorable visual for the "two" motif I suppose we should be grateful that it wasn't a pair of other body parts but the MPAA found it too grisly. A simple zoom later, and voila! You still have the fingers, only without the icky ripped flesh and spattered blood.

A poster concept for Saw III got in trouble, but this time from the Red Cross, which didn't appreciate its organization being associated with a splatter flick even though the poster was advertising blood drives in select theaters, so it was at least for a good cause. (The Red Cross, if you recall, also got the Sleepaway Camp box set pulled and replaced because it was emblazoned with the familiar symbol.) So, as you can see (image comparison courtesy of Poster Wire), the offending red crosses were neatly whited-out.

Occasionally you don't even have to be a horror film well, not the Saturday-night teenage-crowd kind, anyway to make the MPAA flinch. The Road to Guantanamo selected an appropriately stark image to represent its tale of three innocent captives assumed to be terrorists. Even though the image paled in comparison next to the actual photos of torture and humiliation from Abu Ghraib, the MPAA ixnayed the concept, and the producers had to settle for a presumably more tasteful picture of an orange-jumpsuited prisoner kneeling out in the hot sand with blinders and headphones on. Wait, what if he's listening to obscene lyrics? Wouldn't that trouble the MPAA, too?

Sometimes it's sex that gets the prudes in a dither. A billboard depicting the most notable moment from Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny (though the details were fuzzed-out) earned protests from Sunset Boulevard locals. "I'm extremely disappointed," said Gallo. "I just wanted to make what I thought would be the most beautiful billboard in the world, and I used very extreme, bold composition and font and imagery because I felt that it related to the aesthetic sensibility of the film. Unfortunately, the billboard was reduced to something that it really wasn't." In this case, the MPAA didn't get involved, since The Brown Bunny was never submitted to them for a rating in the first place.

Another example of non-MPAA prudishness arose around the ads for Wayne Wang's The Center of the World, which was also never submitted for a rating. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, "the first ads were rejected by major newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times. The ads reproduced the movie poster, a shadowy image of a recumbent woman with her legs in the air and a lollipop near her mouth. When the lollipop was removed, the ads were accepted." You want a lollipop?? YOU CAN'T HANDLE A LOLLIPOP!!

"Community standards" were also transgressed by the billboards for the 50 Cent epic Get Rich or Die Tryin', in which Fiddy appeared holding a microphone in one hand and a gun in the other. Activists in Los Angeles called for Paramount to take down the billboards, which they said glorified the use of microphones. No, actually it was the use of guns. After all, microphones don't kill people people kill people.

Jack Valenti's legion of disapprovers did, however, blush at the original poster art for Milos Forman's The People Vs. Larry Flynt. Other countries got the full visual of Woody Harrelson crucified on a woman's bikini area; America had to make do with a close shot of Woody with the flag plastered over his mouth. Eventually, when the special-edition DVD came out, the Larry-as-Christ image turned up on the cover (though hidden by clever packaging).

The otherwise forgettable comedy Tomcats stirred up some fuss when its poster was rejected by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority yes, folks, this is the same state that called in the big guns over the Aqua Teen Hunger Force lite-brites. (I live here, so I can say that.) So...the belly shot that was the center of the American Beauty campaign was perfectly acceptable; this, not so much.

I've no idea if the MPAA demanded it, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did: the documentary Shut Up and Sing originally used the Entertainment Weekly cover image of the Dixie Chicks posing nude with various words of condemnation and praise scrawled on their bodies. In other countries, that's what appeared on the poster, but in America the Chicks were chastely clad in towels. Never mind that millions of people had already seen the picture at magazine stands everywhere. (Also, the addition of Bush holding the magic marker doesn't make much sense unless he also wrote words like "hero" on them.)

Sometimes a studio censors its own poster with nary a whisper of complaint from the MPAA or anyone else. The original artwork for the Amanda Bynes vehicle What a Girl Wants had her flashing the peace symbol. As timing would have it, the movie was released mere weeks after the Iraq War started; Warner Bros., apparently afraid that the movie would get Dixie Chicked by war-supportin' Americans, made Amanda put her offending two fingers away (I hear they later turned up on the Saw II poster).

The question I'd like to ask the MPAA, and anyone else who gets bent out of shape over the licentiousness and brutality of movie posters these days, is: Have you people had a look at some vintage grindhouse posters? I'm not even talking about Rose McGowan with a gun for a leg; I'm talking the kind of lurid stuff you can check out over at www.exploitationposterart.com, dating back to the '30s. There's nothing new under the sun: studios and low-budget producers have always used sex, drugs, and violence to lure the prurient audience, and they always will. The Captivity foofarah will not be an isolated incident, and as movies continue to struggle against the Internet, 500 cable channels, and let's-wait-for-DVD-ers, they will get your attention and get you talking about them any way they can. Better get used to it.


link directly to this feature at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=2152
originally posted: 03/31/07 20:56:02
last updated: 07/20/07 00:40:45
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