When one is looking at the history of movies, one can see that there have been major changes in what content is allowed and used by film makers. Sixty years ago, it was slightly scandalous that Clark Gable used the word "damn" in Victor Fleming's 1939 Gone With the Wind. In the late 60's and 70's, the industry began to be looser, as more expletives and scenes of nudity and graphic violence began to be shown. The attitude of most film makers today is to put anything in the movie that helps to tell the story, as long as they satisfy the MPAA enough to keep the movie rated R. But does this extra content actually help the story along as much as they think it does? In some cases yes, but often it may be overkill, distracting the audience from the movie and taking them out of the story.
We touched on this subject in class after watching Elia Kazan's 195 cinematic version of Tennessee Williams' 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire. There is a scene where the rape of Blanche (Blanche DuBois) by Stanley (Marlon Brando) is implied by the shattering of a mirror. I felt that the tension between the two characters, the shattering of the mirror, and the manhandling of Blanche by Stanley before the camera cut away did a good job of implying rape in a manner that was artistic while not being too subtle. On the other hand, if the movie were made today, there would likely be a graphic scene, showing the actual act. I think that this might detract from the story, adding too much when the movie is fine as it is. Also in this movie, there are certain scenes when Stanley is hitting Stella (Kim Hunter) that are done off camera. This is something that it may have been ok to leave in, as early in the movie it would help show Stanley's brutish nature, but it did not hurt the movie that it was left out.
I think more movies today should take cues from some of the classics. While graphic scenes do often serve a purpose and should be left in some films (the battle scenes in Steven Spielberg's 1998 Saving Private Ryan, the sexual graphicness of Larry Clark's 1955 movie, Kids), some film makers use them frivolously, and to no good effect. Too many film makers think that, just because they can put something into a movie, they should.