I'm often asked if there is a liberal conspiracy in Hollywood today, which might explain why movies are so sleazy, why there seems to be something offensive in nearly every picture.

My flippant answer is, "No, Hollywood is too disorganized to successfully mount a conspiracy." But in truth, I understand why so many people feel that way.

In fact, whenever we see a new film that is bereft of foul language or casual sex or which boasts an uplifting story, it is automatically classified as "old-fashioned."

"Amazing Grace"? Old-fashioned. "Miss Potter"? Old-fashioned.

But is that because they are set in another era, because they are costume dramas? Or is it because any adult film that is clean and sober — without the usual excesses that mark most contemporary pictures — seems out of step with the 21st century?

Those examples are 2007 films, but a couple of 2008 comedies also fit the bill, "Leatherheads" and "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day." In fact, it is even more apt with these because they are not only set in the early 20th century, but each also adopts a broad comic style that is reminiscent of films made in their time periods, the 1920s and '30s, respectively.

Both also seem a bit too eager to acquiesce to modern sensibilities by including a few obvious (desperate?) lowbrow moments — in "Leatherheads" with language and in "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" with partial (and implied) nudity.

These are old-fashioned movies with snippets of contemporary sleaze, as if the filmmakers didn't dare keep them clean for fear of losing an audience raised on raunchiness.

So, if "clean" equals "old-fashioned," does "dirty" equal "modern"?

Have we become such a cynical society that we can only be entertained by the coarse and the crude and the obvious?

I'm not suggesting that everything should be squeaky clean or censored or watered down. But by the same logic, should everything be sleazy and vulgar?

And when are the same old gags about anatomy, bodily functions and foul language so overused that they become cliches?

That sex sells is not a new notion, of course. That's been an advertising mantra forever, and movies have adhered to it since the dawn of film, sneaking it in when the censoring Production Code was in power and being more blatant about it now that anything goes.

In the classic 1941 Preston Sturges satire "Sullivan's Travels," the title filmmaker (played by Joel McCrea) tells his studio bosses that his new picture is "a commentary on modern conditions. Stark realism. The problems that confront the average man."

To which one of his obtuse bosses adds, "But with a little sex."

"A little," Sullivan agrees reluctantly, "but I don't want to stress it. I want this picture to be a document. I want to hold a mirror up to life. I want this to be a picture of dignity. A true canvas of the suffering of humanity."

"But with a little sex," the boss says again.

Sullivan sighs. "With a little sex in it."

Hey, some things never change.

There's actually nothing wrong with "a little sex" in an adult movie if it's suggested or subtle. But today, even when it's a minor plot point, it has to be in your face.

Does every movie have to have an offensive moment?

Or, as your mother might have put it, "If some other filmmaker jumps off a cliff, does that mean you have to?"


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