Madonna pushes limits on the big screen


HOLLYWOOD -- Madonna, who's notorious for pushing th limits of acceptable sexuality on stage and in music videos, now is the central player in a new movie that may test the economic limitations of the film industry's controversial NC-17, adults-only rating.

The movie is "Body of Evidence," an erotic thriller. Its contents, apparently, are so sexually explicit that the ratings board of the Motion Picture Association of America last week slapped it with the NC-17 label, meaning that no one under age 17 can see it.

In "Body of Evidence," Madonna plays opposite Willem Dafoe as a woman on trial for the murder of her lover, an elderly man who dies while the two are having sex. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer plans to release the feature-length film in January.

None of this should be surprising to those who have followed the pop star's evolution. Her "Truth or Dare" documentary from last year was R rated for strong sexual language and situations. And she's currently working with fashion photographer Steven Meisel a book of erotic photos, and her upcoming album is titled "Erotica."

But an NC-17 rated movie is something else again. The restrictive rating poses severe commercial limitations for any movie that attempts to enter the marketplace with it. In fact, only one major studio movie has attempted to enter the market with an NC-17 in the two years since the film industry began using the copyrighted label instead of the non-copyrighted, widely used X rating. The hope was that NC-17 would create a distinction between what is adults-only fare, and what is an outright hard-core sex film.

What has happened, however, is that while the NC-17 rating serves notice on parents about a film's suitability for children, its commercial reality has been virtually untested. Many in the industry feel the NC-17 is akin to an X because most major media outlets say they will refuse to accept advertising for such films, some movie chains simply will not show them, and some video stores will not stock them.

As a result, filmmakers faced with the prospect of the NC-17 usually make whatever cuts are necessary to obtain an R rating (which means that anyone under 17 can see the film if accompanied by an adult).

But Steven Deutsch, executive producer of "Body of Evidence" and the head of production for Dino De Laurentiis Communications, said the producers and director Uli Edel are "not anxious" to make changes.

"We have no quarrel with the rating board. We understand why they gave it the rating. The question we are now asking ourselves is, 'Do we want to change it?' " Mr. Deutsch said. "We are going to consider our options."

He declined to be specific on what situations are considered objectionable. But he said that the scenes involved are clearly sexual, "not violent. This is no 'Basic Instinct,' " a reference to the sexual thriller earlier this year starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone that originally received an NC-17 rating, but was cut to meet the guidelines for an R.

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