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Dallas Doesn’t Rely on Hollywood; Uses Tougher Standard to Rate Movies With PM-Dallas

January 9, 1992

Dallas Doesn’t Rely on Hollywood; Uses Tougher Standard to Rate Movies With PM-Dallas Movies-Glance

DALLAS (AP) _ In Dallas, it’s not enough for Hollywood to declare a movie suitable for children. The city applies its own, often stricter ratings to films - and backs them up with fines.

The 26-member Dallas Motion Picture Classification Board is the only agency of its kind in any large American city. Its job is to look over the shoulder of Hollywood’s Motion Picture Association of America.

It is needed, said its chairman, Fred Aurbach, because the movie-going public has gotten more conservative over the past 20 years while the MPAA ratings have become more liberal.

″I’ve seen the things that used to be rated R are now PG-13, and the things that used to be PG-13 are in the PG slot, and we’re slowly seeing things that used to be in the PG slipping into the G area,″ said Aurbach, a dentist.

MPAA chief Jack Valenti countered that the MPAA system ″is the best we can do and it’s accepted by the great majority of American parents.″

″If (review boards) ever had a usefulness, more would exist today,″ he said. ″Some 20 years ago, there were more than 50 of these so-called censorship boards, but it was plainly evident what we were doing on a national basis was far more effective than anything they could do.″

Not only are the Dallas board’s ratings frequently stricter than the MPAA’s, but a city ordinance allows fines of up $200 against theater owners who violate them. The MPAA ratings carry no sanctions.

Board spokeswoman Marsha Cranford said it has been five years since anyone was prosecuted. But filmmakers and the board have often clashed, most recently over the new Universal Studios picture ″Kuffs,″ a comedy-drama starring Christian Slater as a ″cop with an attitude.″

The MPAA rated the movie PG-13, meaning it contains material that may be inappropriate for children under 13 but is open to anyone, with or without an adult.

The Dallas board, however, thought ″Kuffs″ contained too much violence and harsh language and wanted to add its own rating of ″unsuitable for young persons.″ That would have made it illegal for people under 16 to see the movie unless accompanied by parents or guardians.

Under an out-of-court settlement the board agreed to rate the movie ″suitable, except for drugs, violence and language,″ a rating that allows kids to see it.

The board was founded in 1966, two years before the MPAA began its voluntary ratings system. Its members, who range in age from their 20s to late 70s, are appointed by the City Council.

Irving Baker, an urban political expert at Southern Methodist University, said Dallas tends to be ″traditional,″ and the classification board represents a way to maintain those standards.

The board reflects ″resistance to the kind of entertainment that could be demoralizing or demeaning or could undermine the values to which a large segment of the community ascribe,″ Baker said.

In 1968, the Supreme declared the board unconstitional because it was preventing adults from seeing certain movies. But the court ruled that cities do have the right to prevent children from seeing movies that adults would have a constitutional right to see.

Dallas then resurrected the board by rewriting the ordinance and giving it authority to govern only what children may see.

Cranford said the board screens all films that Hollywood rates G, PG or PG- 13, looking for sex, violence, nudity, drug use and offensive language. The board then adds its own ″not suitable,″ ″suitable with exceptions″ or ″suitable″ ratings. It has no authority to ban or censor any movie.

Any movie rated R by the MPAA (meaning children under 17 may see it only when accompanied by a parent or guardian) automatically wins a ″not suitable″ rating.

Some of the movies the board has successfully applied stricter standards to include: ″Invasion of the Body Snatchers,″ 1979; ″The Late Show,″ 1977; ″Paper Moon,″ 1973; and ″The Front Page,″ 1974.

It attempted to apply a ″not suitable″ rating to the hit ″Ghost″ but backed down after complaints from industry leaders, choosing instead the ″suitable with exceptions″ designation.

The board went to court, however, to keep its ″not suitable″ rating for ″Repossessed,″ a 1990 spoof of the ″The Exorcist.″ After the board sought an injunction, the movie’s distributor agreed to accept the rating.

Local theater managers and movie studio officials declined to discuss the board’s rating system.

John Neal, a spokesman for United Artists Theater circuits in Denver, said he believes ticket takers strictly follow the board’s restrictions.

But he said, ″If you could imagine for a moment if every city had a rating board and rated based on their own criteria, they would differ so much, it would be difficult to book a movie.″

Moviegoer Cindy Duncan of Dallas said she usually ignores the board’s labels and would disregard them even if she had children.

″I wouldn’t take their opinion because I know they’re strict,″ said Ms. Duncan, 29.

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