What Does Movieguide Really Want?

What Does Movieguide Really Want? March 6, 2008

At Christ and Pop Culture, Movieguide reportedly has “the last word.”

Here’s what they want:

We support a return to the Moral Code of Decency and the vetting of all scripts for movies going to public theater and DVD retail within 20 years, if not in 3-5 years. That would probably include the elimination of all R-rated and NC-17 content as well as most PG-13 content. We also look forward to Christian/biblical hegemony within the industry. If this ministry had much more support, our progress would be that much quicker.

“The last word.” But not if people respond with comments, I suppose…

I would say more. But then, well, that’s why I wrote Through a Screen Darkly.

And by the way, the best movie in theaters movie right now, according to Movieguide, is College Road Trip, starring Martin Lawrence.

Meanwhile, they rate Gus Van Sant’s celebrated film Paranoid Park as one of the worst, for reasons like this: “No strong moral points are made…” and “… the main character is somewhat androgynous and does not really care about the opposite sex …”

[UPDATE: In the comments below, note #6. This isn’t the first time that a disgruntled reviewer for Movieguide has written in with a testimony about¬†Ted Baehr’s unethical editorial practices. Flashback to Sean Gaffney’s previous testimony.]

[UPDATE #2: At Bartholemew’s Notes on Religion, an interesting Movieguide contradiction is highlighted.]

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • (I could happily debate Production Code-era film history, which I find fascinating, all day, but nevermind that.)

    Fair enough. My wife has a huge problem with gratuitous sex in movies and I have to really do my research before watching something with her. She’ll ask, “Why did that have to be in there?” and it’s frustrating when I have no answer. It didn’t have to be. It shouldn’t have been. Other elements, like language, I see as fairly insignificant, but I know that many (like my parents) do not. That prevents me from sharing certain movies with them (also frustrating).

    In any case, I understand that some people take issue with certain things, and others less so . . . which is precisely why the decision of whether to go see a movie is one that should undoubtedly remain with the individual, not be made for him by a faceless group with their own “one-sided political and social agenda.”

    I have not yet heard a compelling argument for why filmmakers should be forced to cater to the sensibilities of a particular group (who make up only a fraction of the moviegoing public) rather than that group exercising whatever level of discernment they choose before walking into a theater or walking out of a video store. There will always be movies of a family-friendly nature for those who demand them (those wonderful Production Code films certainly aren’t going anywhere). The problem is that many (perhaps the majority) of the most talented filmmakers today don’t make that sort of movie, while many of those who do are so concerned with being innocuous that they fail to be excellent. I’m afraid a new Production Code would do nothing to fix that.

  • epaddon

    What some would define as “pushing the envelope” within that, others would define as showing a greater level of creativity in the areas of writing and the imagination while respecting a basic base-level standard that is totally lacking in the anything-goes mentality of the post-Code era.

    The only reason though *why* you have people who sympathize with the Movieguide perspective, as I am proud to admit I do, is because in the post-Code era there has been an ever-increasing lack of self-restraint on the part of most filmmakers, to the point where those of us who would have gladly watched films made during the Code era that skated the edge at times but still had an edge they couldn’t teeter over and fall off from, and dealt with some tough subjects, have no desire to see films made in a present era where we know that sooner or later we’ll see a requisite share of gratuitousness in some area, be it violence, language or sex pretentiously masquerading in the guise of “realism”. And then of course, there’s the matter of the one-sided political and social agenda that has also gone hand-in-glove with the post-Code thinking on standards, that has also made movies and TV of the present age unwatchable for so many others, and it isn’t because those of us who choose to do so, lack any kind of appreciation for so-called “art”.

  • the pre-1968 days when for so many people, movies were made a lot better (and somehow managed to deal with ‚Äúadult‚Äù themes quite often)

    Pardon me if I oversimplify or generalize a little, I’m trying to stay brief:

    The claim that the art of moviemaking was somehow elevated from 1932 to 1967 is a dubious one (and obviously subjective). Furthermore, as someone who has spent some time studying the Production Code and its effects on motion pictures, I have to point out that many of the greatest films produced during that time were so good because they pushed the envelope and ignored the spirit of the Code even if they seemed to be following the letter. Prime examples include iconic names like Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder and Elia Kazan. Besides, 1968 isn’t quite the right date. As much as a decade earlier, films were being released in direct defiance of the code (including one of my all-time favorites: Anatomy of a Murder, 1959, starring wholesome, family-favorite Jimmy Stewart).

    Here’s a link to the Production Code, for easy reference. Items like the ban on interracial couples aside (and our own age would certainly come up with its own horribly intolerant articles were such a document to be redrafted) much of what is presented here doesn’t really sound too awful . . . What’s awful is this idea that adults nationwide should not be permitted to police their own moviegoing habits, the role of their conscience instead filled by an arbitrarily-selected group of sundry self-righteous laypeople and, yes, clerics.

    Most important of all to remember, though, is this: Movieguide will never get what they want. Not in 3-5 years, not in 20 years, not in a hundred. The days of the Production Code came about at a particular moment in our history when the majority of moviegoing citizens demanded it and the industry complied out of a need for self-preservation. It ended when the public made it clear that they didn’t care anymore, and, if anything, they care even less now than they did then.

  • puckspice

    Thank you so so so much for your continued criticism of Movieguide’s abiblical view of art. I made the mistake of working for Movieguide when I first moved to LA and reviewed a couple movies. My reviews were rewritten without my permission, with my name still attached, and when I confronted the editors not only on the practice, but also on the abiblical nature of the rewrites, I was chastised until I decided we wouldn’t be able to find common ground and resigned. I’ve since spent my time tracking down every site to whom they (without notifying me) sold my butchered reviews with my name still attached, trying to convince the owners to change the name. So far, Christianity Today’s the only publication with an editorial conscience. :)

    So thanks for asking important questions of those tactics. One the surface, Ted Baehr’s ideas seem very nice. In reality, I know more people who’ve rejected the Gospel because of them than have embraced it.

  • epaddon

    If wishing for over the long-haul to see a return to the pre-1968 days when for so many people, movies were made a lot better (and somehow managed to deal with “adult” themes quite often) than they are now is somehow supposed to be likened to being the same perspective as what a “cleric in Teheran” would want, then remind me not take up residence in the place where you would then move to.

  • Hooray for a future where we won’t need discernment.

  • This summer, if it hasn’t been done already, I promise you I will buy that book and review it for CAPC. And I’m going to finish Auralia’s Colors!

    Anyway, thanks so much for the link and the support.

  • fluffdaddy

    Ah, Jeffrey, the Movieguide “modest proposal” is a ga-rate idea – I mean, you know if we manage to eliminate sin from movies, none of us will ever sin without the evil influence of the media.


    Well, maybe not.

    Sigh – thanks for writing the book. And the blog.

    aka pastor guy

  • That’s what they want, eh? Remind me to renounce my citizenship and move someplace else if these fruitcakes get what they want. Sounds like a decree from clerics in Tehran.