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'Rated X' film retrospective shines light on illicit movies

Quad Cinema retrospective will screen a wide variety of films including "Klute," "A Clockwork Orange" and "The Evil Dead."

"A Clockwork Orange" starring, from left, James Marcus,

"A Clockwork Orange" starring, from left, James Marcus, Warren Clarke and Malcolm McDowell. Photo Credit: Courtesy Everett Collection

It's the 50th anniversary of the MPAA film rating system, and Quad Cinema is throwing a party for adults only.

The Quad's “Rated X” retrospective celebrates the “for adults only” categorization that was replaced by NC-17 in 1990. As they put it, it's both a “badge of honor and mark of shame.”

"We love a wide variety of audiences," says C. Mason Wells, Quad's director of repertory programming. “Some will come because of a filmmaker or a certain actor, others will be there for, well, you know, one aspect.”

The retrospective, which runs through January, divides between the “high and low” of what the X-rating represents. On the more cerebral side there are some films that wouldn't ruffle many feathers today, like the Jane Fonda picture “Klute” and Stanley Kubrick's “A Clockwork Orange.”

Then there are titles that could safely be called art cinema, but still shock. Most famous is the Japanese film “In The Realm of the Senses” from 1976. “It was supposed to show at the New York Film Festival and it was blocked at customs,” Wells explains. “It can surprise audiences to this day ... No spoilers, but it is legendary.”

Swedish film “I Am Curious (Yellow)” was a cause célèbre in 1967, its censorship was fought over all the way to the Supreme Court. While there is some nudity, it is not exactly a randy romp. “Yeah, some expected it to be a sexy European film and it's actually more of a political tract. But it has a lot of stylistic and revolutionary ideas, and with that rating a lot of people saw it.”

There are plenty of more sleazoid movies in the series (two early ones by trash maverick John Waters and the first “Evil Dead” among them) with some titles fully capitalizing on X-as-marketing. 1976's “Snuff” is a low-budget film about cult murders that intentionally spread the rumor that some of the gruesome footage was real. “Is it real? Is it fake? Is it just an exploitation film or is it much darker?” Another violent movie in the series the first “The Hills Have Eyes” by Wes Craven, who eventually went on to become very mainstream.

Other disturbing films in the mix include “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,” a brutal film that comes from the 1980s independent scene, separate from the slashers of the era. “The mood is so disturbing; it isn't the violence, it's getting inside someone's mind. Few movies have done it so well.”

Additional celebrated directors like Pedro Almodóvar (“Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down”) and Bernardo Bertolucci (“Last Tango In Paris”) are included, but maybe the strangest of all is the 1973 Marcello Mastroianni-starring film “La Grande Bouffe.”

“Is it a lowbrow movie? It's about people who gather with the intent of eating themselves to death. But I think it is very politically astute,” Wells says.

You'll have a chance to check all these movies out starting December 14. And if anyone sees you entering the theater, tell them it's art.

If you go: 'Rated X" runs from Dec.14 to Jan. 10 at Quad Cinema. For a full rundown of films, tickets and ticket information, go to quadcinema.com.

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