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Hollywood Remembers Jack Valenti


Jack Valenti, the former head of the Motion Picture Association of America, is being remembered as a man who shaped the direction of the movie industry. Valenti died Thursday in Washington of complications from a stroke at age 85. Mike O'Sullivan has more on reaction to the passing of the veteran lobbyist. Jack Valenti moved easily in two worlds, one of power politics and the other of big entertainment.

A political organizer, he was in the Dallas motorcade the day President John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and served as an aide to President Lyndon Johnson. Leaving government, he headed the movie industry lobbying group for 38 years, before retiring in 2004.

His biggest impact came in the 1960s, when Hollywood was operating under a system of self-censorship known as the Hays Code. Filmmakers chafed at the restrictions, and Valenti helped create a voluntary rating system that included categories for general audiences, including children, and others for films recommended for adults.

Producer Jonathan Taplin, whose film credits include Mean Streets and The Last Waltz, both directed by Martin Scorsese, teaches film at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.

Some moviemakers have criticized Valenti's rating system, but Taplin says it allowed cutting-edge films to reach the screen, including the 1960s classic Easy Rider, a story of the US youth culture, and the dark urban tale Midnight Cowboy.

"By basically saying, 'hey, this is only for adults,' it allowed filmmakers to say, 'yeah, those are the only people I want to see my movie. I don't want kids to see my movie.' And it may be constraining, but sometimes you need constraints in order to give yourself some freedom," said Taplin.

The rating system was refined over the years to keep parents informed about potentially disturbing scenes of sex and violence. With news of his passing, Jack Valenti drew praise from film industry leaders. Sherry Lansing, former head of Paramount Pictures, called him a man who built consensus.

Director Steven Spielberg called him a giant voice of reason. The actor Kirk Douglas called Valenti a loyal and caring friend to many people.

Jonathan Taplin says the industry that Jack Valenti helped shape is changing now. Valenti's rating system was designed for the United States, but the film industry today has become international.

"Three of the biggest Academy Award nominees came out of Mexico City. [There are] extraordinary films coming out of Bollywood in India. The Chinese film industry has been growing remarkably. So Hollywood is obviously facing a lot more worldwide competition," said Taplin.

The US industry became stronger in some ways under Valenti's tenure, as it fended off threats of censorship and some studios joined forces with television networks in a series corporate takeovers and mergers. The industry faces challenges, however, with digital entertainment available over the Internet and widespread piracy in some parts of the world.

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