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Tangling with Jack Valenti

Nothing gets the Hollywood entertainment media community going quite like the MPAA’s occasional puritanical habit of slapping an NC-17 rating on some unsuspecting piece of film art. The latest casualty, at least until Harvey Weinstein gets to the bottom of things, is Blue Valentine, a 2010 Sundance and Cannes entry starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

One of the very best perspectives on the matter comes from veteran reporter Jack Mathews, largely because he’s been around long enough to remember the origins of this whole NC-17 mess. In an October 14th Moviefone blog post, he writes that the latest instance reminds him of his days as an L.A. Times reporter covering Weinstein’s 1990 battles with the MPAA over Peter Greenaway‘s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.

After a brief recap of the NC-17 rating’s 1960′s  origins, Mathews segues into some fascinating lore about former MPAA head honcho Jack Valenti. Namely, that this guy knew how to manipulate the press. “Valenti was very persuasive in getting his arguments published in newspapers whose critics were attacking him [over the X, then NC-17 rating],” Mathews remembers. “He was an important guy – Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary – before taking the MPAA job, and whenever I took up the cause for change, he would write an Op Ed piece that was published within days.”

Mathews goes on to detail how Valenti once bad-mouthed him during a drop-by visit to the L.A. Times‘ D.C. bureau, tarring him at one point with an almost unbelievable Caligula reference. If Blue Valentine is anywhere near as entertaining as the Jack-vs.-Jack dances that preceded it, the film should do just fine, regardless of the final rating it receives.

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