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Miramax appeals NC-17 'Clerks' rating

By TRACY CONNOR

NEW YORK, Oct. 4 -- Miramax Films will appeal an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America for explicit language in the low-budget feature 'Clerks,' the studio's attorney said Tuesday. Constitutional lawyer Alan Dershowitz, representing Miramax, said at a Manhattan news conference that the rating amounts to censorship because it bars youths under age 17 on the basis of words -- not sexual or violent content. 'An NC-17 rating is the kiss of death. It means many theaters will not play the film. Some newspapers will not accept advertising. Some small towns and malls will simply refuse to let the film be shown,' Dershowitz said. 'When a rating system simply gives information to parents, that is not censorship,' he said. 'But when the decision is taken away from parents and given to theater owners, the mall owners or the city, that is censorship.' 'Clerks,' produced for $27,000, chronicles the lives of two Generation Xers working at a convenience store and video shop in Leonardo, N.J. Dershowitz said it's ironic big-budget releases like 'Natural Born Killers,' with graphic violence, or 'Basic Instinct,' with nudity, obtain R ratings, requiring parents to accompany children under 17. 'There's no violence in this film. There's joking about sex the way kids working in a 7-Eleven would joke about sex. This is not a film that promotes evil, horrible values.' Long on humor and short on plot, 'Clerks' is full of 'tasty dialogue' and appropriate for 'anyone who's ever had a crappy job,' said director and writer Kevin Smith, a New Jersey native who worked at the Quick Stop grocery used as the movie's setting.

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In fact, there's crude discussion of sex, and one character unwittingly has sex with a dead man. But John Logigian, Miramax's executive vice president for legal affairs, said the studio hasn't asked Smith to rework the picture, which won Cannes and Sundance festival awards. Instead, on Oct. 11, offcials will appear at a closed hearing before the 13-member MPAA board. After a screening and presentation, board members decide whether to repeal the rating, requiring a two-thirds vote. MPAA Chairman Jack Valenti has criticized Miramax for challenging the rating system. He told The New York Times last month, 'There are millions of Americans who become hysterical about the kind of bad language that may be de rigueur around dinner tables in the East Side of Manhattan. But in the cities andvillages and towns across this free and loving land it's not that way at all.' If the appeal fails, legal action in the courts may be pursued, Logigian said. A last resort is chopping up the movie, he said. Smith, 23, doesn't think 'Clerks' can be edited. 'If there was a sex scene or we were blowing someone away, we could cut a few seconds without losing anything,' he said. 'But this film is all dialogue and intricately connected dialogue.'

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