R Is For Rebel
David Fincher’s Seven, (or Se7en as the film apparently prefers to be called) holds a very special significance in my life as the last R-rated film I ever saw illegally at a cinema. Sure I had been watching R-rated videos for years, mostly thanks to a friend’s very liberal-minded European parents who had no qualms exposing us to Segal and Van Damme movies since the middle of primary school, so I was no stranger to the sight of Adam’s apples being yanked out of throats or limb bones busting out of skin like dinner at KFC.
It was one thing, however, to have an adult hire you an R-rated flick – the embarrassing video equivalent of hanging outside milk bars asking passer-bys to buy you smokes – it was something altogether different to hire one yourself, and an even greater accomplishment to sneak into a cinema to watch a film that the government (well, the stooges at the Office of Film and Literature Classification – gotta be one of the cushiest jobs in the world) had deemed you too young to see. I remember growing what facial hair I had at 13 to try and get into Sirens – one of the first MA films from memory - to see Elle McPherson nakey. Things were going well until an associate of mine and his shrill, girly, ball-hadn’t-dropped voice blew our cover. Alas, I still have not seen that film, and the stills I’ve found on the Internet just seem to mock my failure every day when I look at them.
Seven was, and still is, a good film, but seeing it underage at the cinemas made it all the more impressive. Naturally, seeing anything R-rated when I was 17 or younger meant that I thought that film was automatically 20%-70% cooler than it actually was. This goes some way to explaining the love I carried for the Toxic Avenger series of movies for quite some time, and the subsequent disdain I felt when they released a kids cartoon version. “Toxy has sold out!” I declared to no one who cared. “Great theme song though”, was all I ever got back. Fair point, too. With lines like “Toxic Avenger, Toxic Avenger, He’s Gross! – But he still gets girls!!!” it is an underrated classic.
After spending the weekend at my friend’s place watching movies and eating weird meats and cheeses I used to love going to school and boasting to others about what nasty video exploits I had just witnessed. Of course very few were awed. There were a lot of kids with a lot of older brothers who had probably seen half this stuff anyway. In fact, it is only striking me now as odd that the only kids who were ever actually impressed - kids who declared that their parents would never, ever let them see something like that in a million, billion years - were the same kids who had a seemingly endless supply of explicit pornography they would share around/sell at school. Anyways, this boasting was very short lived as one day I was put in my place by a kid who not only received the very R-rated New Jack City video for his birthday – from his parents – but made copies for everyone in class (an unconnected footnote to this story is that people say he now sells smack on city street corners).
My parents may never have given me videos about black youths popping caps in each other’s asses, nor did they ever hire me scores of shitty American martial arts movies or films about men deranged by toxic spills, but they were no prudes. I was the toast of town – well my three friends – for convincing my parents to hire Pulp Fiction for a birthday party (wild, wild times. It was either that or ten-pin bowling). This might not seem like a big deal if you are Joe Cool from Cityville, but out here in the suburbs parents were taking a risk exposing other people’s children to anything other than Lassie. There’s a local story that one kid’s mother was so worried that she watched all the films for her son’s video sleepover night prior to the event, and had timed the exact moment when she needed to run in the room and fast-forward anything remotely obscene – which in The Blob was apparently Erika Eleniak’s cleavage. A pair of tits you could kind of understand, but having mere cleavage fast-forwarded (in a film, I may add, all kids present were legally allowed to watch) must have been like a slap in the face for all, and a severe blow to the birthday kid’s coolness, had he any to begin with.
There is something undeniably exciting about ‘breaking the law’ and indulging in ‘over 18’ exploits in your youth – in fact most of any good adolescence should be spent trying to do just that. Smoking, drinking, sneaking into bars and taking your parents car out for a spin may rank well above hiring out some bizarre Anime porn video for most teens on the excitement scale, and rightly so, but I will forever look back fondly on the days where watching a Japanese cartoon about a woman who eats men with her vagina was still taboo. Which brings me back to Seven (not directly I guess. I mean, it doesn’t have any carnivorous vaginas, but it’s certainly filled with some other disturbing shit, hence the seamless segue I just made. Just go with it. It’ll be easier for both of us).
I remember sitting in the cinema and loving the strange looks from others in the audience wondering what we were doing there. Looks that, in hindsight, probably never happened. As a mid-twenty-something I now find it impossible to tell the difference between a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old and thus doubt the audience members were staring at anything other than our pathetic patchy attempts at growing beards. But who cares because this time it worked (that 14-year-old Hoyts employee would no doubt be kicking herself if she realised just how badly we fooled her)! The anticipation that I was about to watch something ‘the man’ didn’t want me seeing was palpable. Of course I fucking loved it. There was no way I wouldn’t. Watching this stuff underage was almost as good as sneaking in free, except that, err, you paid for it. Going to the cinema has never been as exciting.
A few years later I was watching Boogie Nights at the movies and feeling a bit disheartened. Not at the movie’s multi-strand narrative which kept veering sharply from interesting to indulgent, but at the fact that I was now just one of the crowd. Hell, they didn’t even check my I.D. card. I was allowed to be there, permitted by law to watch such extreme coarse language, some nudity and strong sex scenes, and realising that I may never be able to recapture that pubescent excitement again, that without the R-rated 20%-70% buffer I would most likely wake up to the fact that all Steven Segal movies were actually crap and tame (who knew?), that R rated movies would have to impress me on their own merits and not rely on the illegal thrill of it all, well let’s just say that realising all of this took some of the thrill out of seeing Marky Mark’s large fake penis. Not all, mind you, but some.