To the Editor:

I applaud Tom Shales's attack on the puritanical excess of Jack Valenti ("Jack Valenti's Raters of the Lost Art," Aug. 8). It is disheartening that in our democracy personal choices are subject to secret censorship committees. I was recently in Italy where nudity is commonly shown in print and on television, although I failed to see wanton acts of sex on the street, which is perhaps what Mr. Valenti fears. Fear, as in fear of the effect art may have on others, is the basis of conservatism. Valenti's methods reflect the ever-present threat of the right and their predisposition to take away our freedoms. We must always stand guard against others inflicting their sanctimonious will upon us. I urge Mr. Shales to keep this discussion open.

Michael Anderson

Washington

To the Editor:

I was struck dumb by Tom Shales's piece, "Jack Valenti's Raters of the Lost Art" (Aug. 8). He wrote that the Motion Picture Association of America's (MPAA) movie rating system is tantamount to censorship, and that we, the moviegoing public, should be outraged. To quote Mr. Shales: "It certainly seems odd and even tragic that a country founded on freedom of speech continues to suffer under a movie-censoring system befitting a totalitarian state."

Is Mr. Shales suggesting that Jack Valenti possesses and wields such power that he can threaten movie directors and producers with (what exactly?) if they do not edit their films to conform to his standard of decency? That Jack Valenti is Stalin reincarnate? I was under the impression that Jack Valenti and the MPAA merely rated films so the moviegoing public would know what they were getting themselves and their children, mothers-in-law and first dates into before, and not after, the previews.

As for the NC-17 rating, the "successor to the old stigmatic X rating," which "everyone in the movie business [knows] is the official commercial kiss of death," I offer this opinion: If filmmakers are truly artists, the NC-17 rating should not, and could not, squelch their creative energies. When, however, filmmakers worry that their NC-17 film might not draw the same crowds as the R-rated version, they obviously worry more about their pockets than their message.

I, as an adult, can see an NC-17 rated film if I so choose. There is no Gestapo to stop me. But when I choose not to, I send the message that I am not interested in that kind of entertainment; I do not need to witness the orgy to get the point. If that's censorship, I'm all for it.

Jen Davis Halpern

Alexandria

To the Editor:

Well, Mr. Shales, I believe you have been duped. Filmmakers are, in fact, totally free to create, distribute and promote any artistic film they please at any time. Even Stanley Kubrick had a completely free choice to release his most recent film, "Eyes Wide Shut," as he saw fit. He chose, repeat chose, to modify his film to avoid an NC-17 rating because he knew he would not make money. Gee, I wonder what happened to his stand for artistic commitment in this decision? And, gee, I wonder why he was concerned about "hardly anybody" coming to see the film because it had an NC-17 rating? Maybe because he knew that the vast majority of the paying public do not wish to witness, or have their minor children witness, certain forms of "entertainment" in their neighborhood theater and refuse to waste their money. And, as deplorable as you find the rating system, it is the only system that provides any semblance of alert to the public in contrast to the generally misleading movie trailers which precede film releases. The system is far from perfect but it is the best we have, the only one we have.

While I am not, to borrow your label, a "yahoo from the Bible Belt," I offer some observations. First, filmmakers are totally free to make and distribute any film on any subject matter they please--but must be prepared to lose their shirts if the film, in fact, doesn't please the paying public. There is no restraint on freedom of speech here. By the way, this is no different than any other product such as automobiles, books or cereal. It's called competition. Second, until the industry is more honest in its advertising and more circumspect in its treatment of artistic subjects, I thank Mr. Valenti for providing some help to Americans in making knowledgeable decisions on what they or their children see in their neighborhood theaters. By the way, this is no different than other evaluations by art, drama and literary critics of the world who provide the same sort of valuable service to the public, albeit much less objectively. Again, no restraint on freedom of speech here. Third, I believe the vast majority of the public welcome thoughtful, and thought-provoking, films on the issues of society and in the interest of exposing wrongdoing. But I believe that our artistic filmmakers have sacrificed art on the altar of graphic depiction because it's easier. Alfred Hitchcock must be rolling over in his grave! His genius in this arena seems to have been forgotten.

Robert M. Kraft

Springfield

To the Editor:

In "Stop Judging Movies Like Racehorses" (Aug. 8), 20th Century Fox's Tom Rothman complains about the growing interest average Americans are taking in weekend box office revenues. He helpfully instructs American filmgoers to remember that it's not about how much money a film makes, but how good it is.

What Mr. Rothman fails to understand is that to many Americans, checking up on the weekend movie returns routinely offers better, and certainly cheaper, entertainment than the plot lines. After plunking down $9 on a Saturday afternoon for yet another insult to our collective intelligence, there's nothing quite like observing that big-budget stinker shudder and crash from the Top 10 list. It's film criticism by referendum and, admittedly, an excellent vehicle for revenge. Besides, where else would he suggest Americans go to witness more drama, more comic twists of fate and appalling acts of hubris than the Top 10 list? Maybe Mr. Rothman should honestly ask himself which of the two has genuinely surprised him more often--the film industry's weekly scorecard or the Hollywood films themselves?

Kris Knutsen

New York

Letters should be sent to: Arts Editor, Style Section, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include a daytime and nighttime phone number and an address. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.