Film code enforced, owners say

Movies: Theater operators insist that efforts to limit teens' access to violent films are already up and running.

June 10, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Underwhelmed.

That's the reaction of many people directly affected by Tuesday's ballyhooed announcement that a majority of American theater owners would more rigidly enforce the motion picture ratings system -- requiring picture IDs for admission to R-rated films.

President Clinton made the announcement at the White House, surrounded by representatives of the National Association of Theater Owners (N.A.T.O.), a group whose members operate 65 percent of America's movie screens. The policy was billed as a show of responsibility on the part of film exhibitors, a sign that they had learned from the tragedy at Littleton, Colo., and were ready to take steps toward preventing impressionable minds from seeing too much violence.

"The president believes that everyone needs to accept responsibility for the problems that we are seeing with youth violence," says White House spokesperson Julie Goldberg. "Those within the entertainment industry need to acknowledge their influence as well. This is one solution that the motion picture industry has found."

But local theater owners say they're already checking IDs. Advocacy groups that decry the amount of movie violence seen by children say the announcement represents a nice step, but a tiny one. And some kids who would theoretically be prevented from seeing films like "Basic Instinct," "Lethal Weapon" and "Scream" don't sound all that worried.

"We've actually done that for years," says Brian Callaghan, head of communications for General Cinema, which operates 36 screens in the Baltimore area. "A lot of people seemed surprised yesterday by this announcement, but it's not a major change for us. It's part of our training. If someone appears to be under 17 years old, ask them for ID."

Adds Katie Goldrick, manager of the Loews Valley Center off Reisterstown Road, "It's basically what we've always done, so things shouldn't be any different."

Advocacy groups and those who have studied the link between film violence and behavior in adolescents guardedly applauded N.A.T.O.'s new policy. It's a beginning, they said.

"This policy is an important first step in enforcing the current rating system and keeping the public aware of what the ratings mean," says Ginny Markell, president-elect of the National PTA, while adding, "content-based ratings would enable parents to make more informed choices about what their children watch."

"Some people will be more responsible now, and if we could get -- little by little -- more theater owners to enforce these rules, that would be great," says Carole Luberman, a Beverly Hills, Calif., psychiatrist and former chairman of the International Coalition Against Violent Entertainment. "It's a long overdue pledge. I'll believe it when I see it."

J. Wayne Anderson, chief executive officer of R/C Theaters and a member of the N.A.T.O. board of directors, was at the White House Tuesday. He believes the photo ID requirement will cut down on underage filmgoing but admits that even with increased vigilance, enforcement of the R rating won't be easy. "It's a tough job," Anderson says of the heightened enforcement initiative. "If you've ever been to a big multiplex on a Friday or Saturday night, and there are thousands of people there waiting to get in it is a very difficult situation to try and control this 100 percent. Somebody's going to get around the system, that's for sure. You have to try and do the best that you can."

It's not going to be easy, given the lengths to which kids will go to see a film they shouldn't. Even if they can't buy a ticket at the local multiplex, they can buy one to a PG film and saunter into the auditorium showing its R-rated cousin. Or maybe they'll approach a man in line and offer to pay for his ticket, provided he's willing to act as a make-believe guardian. Or they'll use a fake ID. And sometimes, parents buy tickets for their kids, then abandon them at the box office.

"I probably won't have any trouble," predicts 16-year-old Erryn Claxton, who had come with friends yesterday afternoon to see the R-rated film "The Matrix" at the Loews White Marsh. Nearby, Tavon Blackwell, 20, says he never had trouble getting into an R-rated film as a teen-ager. "I went in by myself or with a friend," he says. "I just went up and got a ticket."

"They do it just to show off," 14-year-old Brian Kinnear says of his friends who sneak into R-rated movies. For him, the best way to see an adult-oriented film is to ask his parents to escort him. "It's better than risking getting in trouble."

Sharonda Loney, 22, floor manager at the UA Harbor Park Theater, says weeding out under-aged moviegoers is hardest when attendance is at its peak. "Saturdays and Sundays are the worst," says Loney, noting teens try and solicit older strangers to buy tickets. "I can usually tell when someone is trying to sneak in because they'll come in and try to get a ticket and when they can't, they suddenly come in with someone older."

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