CITY’S ’DECENCY’ BOARD KEEPS TABS ON R-FLICKS
Miami Herald, The (FL) - November 13, 1982
Author: BOB MIMS Associated Press
There was a time when many people living near two drive-in movies snapped closed their living-room curtains when darkness fell.
The reason: R-rated fare on the nearby 40-foot-wide screens.
But nearly two years ago, the West Valley City, the state’s second largest city which is 10 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, passed a law creating a commission to review restricted films prior to showing.
Now, says one outdoor theater owner, it would be hard to find a truly R-rated film at the two outdoor theaters . They’re often either cut to remove objectionable scenes, or shipped back, unshown, to distributors.
"It’s a pain to be faced with this, wondering what you can play," said Wes Webb, owner of Valley-Vu Drive-In Theater . "It gives a small element of people the opportunity, whenever they see something on the screen they don’t like, to scream it’s time to enforce the law."
The Commission on Public Decency, the offspring of a local petition campaign, targets not only nudity and sex on outdoor screens, but eyes indoor theaters , sale and rental of video cassettes and distribution of adult magazines and books.
"We are reducing most of the R-rated movies to essentially PG-rated movies. We show very few R-rated movies any more," Webb said.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) defines PG movies as requiring parental guidance because some of the material may not be suited for children. R-rated movies should be restricted, according to the commission, requiring any viewer under 17 to be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.
For the recent run of Private Lessons, the story of a wealthy teenager seduced by the family housekeeper, Webb darkened the screen during scenes the commission thought were objectionable.
"The big thing we’ve got going for us is our bark, holding a sword over their heads," said City Attorney Ron Greenhalgh. "And the cooperation of the theater people has been great.
"We let the theater owners know we stand behind the
commission, and we’re not afraid to take legal action," he said. "When we talk about prosecution, we’re talking about minors being exposed to the materials."
Greenhalgh said the city could close down a theater "in the event of a couple of convictions."
Nine volunteer commission members, soon to be 12, serve one- year renewable terms at the discretion of the city manager. Under the law that created the panel, West Valley City theater owners must notify the city attorney when they are showing R- or X-rated films.
Webb said he complies with the law, but thinks it is "ridiculous, over-restrictive and very inconvenient."
Since most of the films are copyrighted and can’t be cut, theater operators often return them if they draw the committee’s ire, he said.
"If we really wanted to make money, we would challenge the law and overturn it," Webb said. "I still don’t think a soft-R picture with an occasional bare breast is offensive to children."
But Steve Allen, chairman of the Commission on Public Decency, said what may be acceptable at an indoor theater where restrictions can be enforced, can often be offensive when shown outdoors.
"Nudity, by Supreme Court standards, is not obscene," he said. "But if a lady was to stand outside a drive-in theater and take her top off, she could be arrested for indecent exposure. At the same time, we can show that same scene 40 times larger. That bothers me."
The 32-year-old father of six said although the commission is primarily concerned with the two drive-in theaters , it occasionally checks video cassette rental shops, store magazine shelves and the four indoor theaters in this city of 72,000.
Officials at Redwood Drive-In referred questions to Deanza Land and Leisure of Los Angeles, which manages West Valley City’s other outdoor theater . Company spokesman Steve Pentoney declined comment.
Meanwhile, West Valley City officials are confident their law, based on a similar ordinance in Orem, could withstand legal challenge. Webb said he has not decided whether to challege the commission’s authority in court.
But in Orem, 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, a Media Review Commission has modified its goals after theater managers began charging the city for use of equipment and projectionists during film previews.
"That got to be rather expensive," said commission secretary June Hair. "So now they go to the first showing and print the reviews in the paper."
If commission members see something they feel is legally obscene, they can notify the city attorney’s office for possible action. But primarily, the panel confines itself to developing the reviews, run as a city-paid feature in the local daily newspaper, Hair said.
"I don’t know what West Valley City is doing, but our ordinance was set up to educate people that some things are not as enjoyable or desirable to see as others," she said.