‘Blonde’ is the first Netflix NC-17 movie (and probably the last)

In one respect, Blond looks like the end of an era for Netflix. Andrew Dominik’s dreamily dark and controversial biopic Marilyn Monroe is the kind of projects the streaming giant’s sources were likely referring to when they spoke this summer of a move away from giving major filmmakers “carte blanche” to seeking accolades. Although the $22 million Dominik would have spent is a far cry from the budget given to, say, Martin Scorsese The Irishman, that’s still money that could have been thrown at another Ryan Reynolds algorithmic vehicle instead. Yet if Blond turns out to be one of the last gasps of this company’s short-lived flirtation with arthouse, it also counts as a first in a different sense: as of this week, it’s the only Netflix Original to be rated NC -17 – and the first of its kind to be released on any major streaming platform.

It’s been a few years since any The film was released under the strictest Motion Picture Association designation, reserved for films deemed unsuitable for those under the age of 17, whether or not accompanied by an adult guardian. The last official version of the NC-17 before Blond has been This one is for the ladiesa documentary about exotic dancers that enjoyed a quiet theatrical run in 2019. Going back a decade only adds a few more titles to the list, including the scandal-plagued Cannes winner Blue is the hottest color and Steve McQueen Shame. The fact that these two films were flagged for their sexually explicit content, as opposed to violence, is a clue to what the MPA (formerly the MPAA) considers most inappropriate for younger viewers.

Prior to the introduction of the NC-17, the most restrictive rating used by the MPAA was the globally recognized X. Unlike the other rating letters (R, G, PG-13, etc.), X was not trademarked by the MPAA, and therefore could be slapped on any film without the association’s approval. . It was used as an advertising tool, especially when distributors started adding extra Xs to imply even more explicit content. As a result, X has become synonymous in the public mind with pornography, in that any non-pornographic rated film would struggle to be booked in mainstream theaters or attract a general audience. It was a scarlet letter.

In 1990, the MPAA introduced NC-17 as an alternative to X, hoping to officially distinguish “adult films” from adult-only films. (Henry & June, about the relationship between writers Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, was the first recipient.) However pure the intentions, however, the stigma of a child-barred rating has remained, likely in part because many films which started with the new note contained sexual situations. Some newspapers refused to run ads for NC-17 films, while Blockbuster quickly banned them from its shelves. Many of these movies might as well have been X-rated.

Five years after the introduction of the NC-17, MGM tried to spin it into public curiosity titillated with Showgirls, but the film only managed to rake in $20 million at the box office. It’s still NC-17’s highest-grossing release and, ironically, probably the one that killed just about all Hollywood interest in creating a market for rated films. The NC-17 had also become a scarlet letter and a kiss of death for a film’s financial viability.

After Showgirls, the rating became increasingly rare, as studios began to seek to appease MPAA censors, responding to a preliminary NC-17 by returning to the editing room and cutting out potentially deadly scenes or footage. objectionable to receive an R instead. There’s a much longer list of films that caught an NC-17 on the first pass and then made cuts: Scream, American pie, Brave heart, Team America: World Policeand last year The king’s man.

Blond could have joined this list if Dominik or Netflix had desperately wanted an R. Chances are that only a few scenes, or even just a few strokes, earned the film its NC-17. In one, President John F. Kennedy coerces a pharmaceutically inebriated – and therefore non-consenting – Marilyn (Ana de Armas) into falling on him in a New York hotel room. It’s disturbing and unpleasant, but not particularly chart, because Dominik shoots the act in a way that obscures our view of him, hiding the genitals behind a strategically placed hand. The other scenes that likely infuriated the MPA involve a miscarriage and an abortion; there is a gynecological examination which is actually filmed from the POV of Marilyn’s cervix.

Than such a callous portrait of degradation and exploitation should being easily accessible to anyone under the age of 17 is a broader discussion; it could be argued that Blond deserves its rating for the way it portrays Marilyn’s variable fact-based misfortunes. This is, in many ways, an adult movie. Nonetheless, the MPA’s decision fits squarely into a long history of trying to protect audiences from films that feature candid or brutal depictions of sex. That the vast majority of NC-17 films contain more nudity than violence speaks volumes about the particular complexes of our culture. (That said, it may be easier to excise a few seconds of bloodshed than to make an explicit sex scene less explicit after the fact; many horror films earn the NC-17 on the way to a multiplex-ready cut.)

Scoring, of course, has become part of Blond‘s buzz, one of the many elements that have been talking about the film in recent months. “A little drama is a good thing,” Dominik said recently. Filmmaker, before arguing that the film was worthy of the rating. The profitability equation that sank Showgirls nearly 30 years ago has changed in the age of streaming. While the NC-17 might soften Blond‘s at the box office (it hit select theaters two Fridays ago, ahead of its wider home availability on Wednesday), Netflix has always treated its theatrical releases as secondary to their on-platform residencies. That’s to say, BlondThe success or failure of will not be measured by ticket sales; the note can’t really hurt him. In fact, it’s debatable whether the film could become the most-watched NC-17 film of all time, thanks to its appearance on a streaming service that puts its beautifully composed miseries at the click of a button, available even to those who are too young to see it on the big screen.

whatever we think Blond as a movie, the best-case scenario is that it turns out to be a pointer for a new movement in uncensored cinema, uninhibited by the decisions of a less-than-helpful ratings board. If distributors didn’t have to worry (in the words of Kevin Smith) about the “commercial suicide” of releasing an NC-17 film in theaters, would they be more willing to fund projects that might get this rating, and more reluctant to ruthlessly edit those who do? Could streaming, without the traditional measures of box office profitability and MPA-imposed viewership barriers, become the lucrative market for NC-17 movies that Hollywood never discovered?

Probably not at Netflix, which already promises less Blonds and more Project Adams. Its first version NC-17 could very well be the last. The sobering reality is that audiences looking for something mature, in many senses of the word, may struggle to find it on the big Where small screen. It’s more than a puritanical rating system that slows the release of adult films; even the R-rated variety is endangered by an industry invested solely in blockbusters, whether made for IMAX screens or “Recommended for You” queues. All we can do is hope that Blond does not mark the end of an era in a much broader sense. Because, flawed as the MPA’s system may be, it’s appalling to envision a future where that system is completely obsolete, without films aimed at the over-17s.

AA Dowd is a Chicago-based writer and editor. His work has appeared in publications such as The audiovisual club, Vultureand rolling stone. He is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

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