As a young filmmaker, I met the great director Frank Capra ("It's a Wonderful Life," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"). He was my mentor even before I had the rare privilege of spending a day with him. His classic films have endured the test of time. Each is a hallmark of restraint and a heart-touching, storytelling masterpiece.
Capra's films were made before ratings, but they needed no warnings to parents. Capra challenged fellow filmmakers with a sobering assertion: "To others that belong, or aspire to belong, to that privileged group of one-man, one-film, filmmakers, I dare to say, don't compromise. For only the valiant can create. Only the daring should make films. Only the morally courageous are worthy of speaking to their fellow men for two hours in the dark. Only the artistically incorrupt will earn and keep the people's trust.""Art," it has been said, "is a reflection of life." This axiom is sufficient warning that movies are mirrors of other's perceptions.
Those perceptions may inspire us or degrade us. If "bad" movies were created with deliberate, divisive agendas and a conscious disregard for the public good, they would be easier to identify and avoid.
When we realize most of what offends us is the honest expression of someone else's beliefs and perceptions, the sifting process becomes even more challenging. Tolerance is a virtue - and is politically correct. In being tolerant of lewdness, immorality, vulgarity and violence on the silver screen, however, we must persuade ourselves that we and our families are somehow exempt from the subtle - and not so subtle - influence of the images and ideas served to us in the consuming darkness of the movie experience.
In spite of good intentions, we can be victimized by our own unwillingness to control the movies we watch and the images and ideas to which we and our children are exposed.
Making those decisions ourselves becomes increasingly important. We cannot rely on others to choose for us on the basis of a letter-code rating.
The debate over the responsibility of filmmakers, the influence of their films on society and the impact of explicit depictions of sex and violence rages on.
Amid all the noise, a simple question has been silenced: Where are the morally courageous filmmakers who are worthy of speaking to their fellow men two hours in the dark? Are they making films like "In & Out," believing somehow "moral courage" is now defined by popular culture and "valiance" is measured by politically correct adoration of defiant behavior? I think not. But one thing is certain: The responsibility has shifted from moviemakers like Frank Capra to the audience. We cannot abdicate that awesome burden.
There is no restraint over what is produced, only over what is seen and the films to which we willingly subject ourselves. We have no control over the rating board, only over our own evaluation and decisions. Indeed, if we are looking for the morally courageous, we must look to ourselves.
It should be obvious that WE cannot rely on the judgment of the ratings board. The question, then, is what to do. If we abandon the rating recommendations of the Motion Picture Association of America, how do we decide which movies are appropriate for us and for our families? Information is the key. Many newspapers include their own expanded codes to give additional guidance regarding content.
Ultimately we need a comprehensive review by someone we trust who has scrutinized the film from the perspective of our value system - or at least a standard much closer to us than the 11 anonymous movie-rating board members who live and work in Hollywood's outskirts.
There is a great need within the rapidly expanding LDS culture, and those of like-minded standards, for a comprehensive review of films and television - not to censure or condemn, nor dictate to others, but to provide those of like minds with enough accurate information that responsibility may return, judgment may reign and discernment may rule.