Right at the very end of William Friedkin’s memoir The Friedkin Connection comes a short discussion of the MPAA’s rating of his most recent film (the greasy Killer Joe). The following passage covers the appeal submitted by Tracy Letts (the playwright and screenwriter) and the producers:
Then Tracy spoke for about five minutes trying to persuade the board that our film was not exploitative; the violence and sexuality were part of the fabric of the lives of his characters. He felt frustrated and humiliated having to justify his work. “It wasn’t about anything specific in the movie” he told me. “It was the movie itself. They objected to it in total.” At one point Tracy said to them: “It’s like we’re being punished for doing this convincingly.” Their response was, “The fact that the violence waspersonalized is definitely one of the reasons.” Tracy asked, “In other words, if the violence was depersonalized it wouldn’t bother you?”
“No, it wouldn’t”, they said. “If this was just some guy dying, like in Saw, we wouldn’t care.”
Tracy felt their decision had already been made but he said. “Because we’ve given these characters depth and the actors play them well, you feel we deserve an NC-17.” Their answer was “Yes.” The board took twenty minutes to uphold the rating, unanimously, 13 to 0.
Theatermania Interview with Tracy Letts – Killer Joe , July 27,2012.
Scorecard Review Killer Joe Interview with Tracy Letts , August 8, 2012.
Critics Notebook: Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Theatre critic looks at how film can kill its drama.