Michelangelo and the censors


It was appropriate for Attorney General Janet Reno to suggest recently that unless TV executives exercised a reasonable degree of self-restraint in depicting violence the government might be forced to step in. Ms. Reno implied that television should follow the example of the motion picture industry, which voluntarily adopted standards for rating the sex and violence content of films.

So far, so good. But the movie industry may not always be the model of "reasonableness." While Hollywood generally has adhered to the standards it set for itself in the 1970s, the ratings can cover a multitude of sins. At the other extreme, even Hollywood's own PC police occasionally fall into the trap of misplaced censoriousness, as the recent flap over a promotional trailer for MGM's new movie "Six Degrees of Separation" illustrates.

It seems the Motion Picture Association of America rejected the film's trailer -- the preview shown to movie audiences -- because it contained a brief glimpse of what appeared to be male frontal nudity. As it turned out, the Philistines in MPAA's advertising administration had failed to recognize the shot as a view of "The Creation of Adam" -- Michelangelo's great 16th-century fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

When the company that produced the trailer protested, MPAA president Jack Valenti admitted the error. Unfortunately, the offending snippet's pedigree was discovered too late to save it from the censor's scissors.

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