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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > This Film Is Not Yet Rated

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THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED  (2006)

Featuring John Waters, Matt Stone, Kimberly Peirce, Kevin Smith, Darren Aranofsky, Mary Harron, Wayne Kramer, Maria Bello, Allison Anders, David Ansen, Atom Egoyan, Becky Altringer, Jay Landers, Jack Valenti and Kirby Dick.

Written by Eddie Schmidt, Matt Patterson and Kirby Dick.

Directed by Kirby Dick.

Distributed by IFC Uncut.  98 minutes.  Not Rated.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Ratings board that shadow society that decides whether a film should be rated G, PG, PG-13, R or NC-17 (do they still do X, too?) has done their perplexing thing for going on four decades now.  For as long as the ratings board has been around, there have been questions about how they possibly come up with their decisions on many films where a movie might seem way too violent for its low rating or not nearly disturbing enough for its high one.  Remember the flack about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom having a PG rating, which led to the creation of PG-13?  Also, have you watched Midnight Cowboy lately?  How could that have ever been saddled with an X rating?

There are a few constants which seem to have shown themselves over the years.  Apparently to the MPAA: sex is bad, gay sex is really bad, language can be detrimental to our kids, violence not so much so. 

Documentarian Kirby Dick has decided to delve into the contradictions, confusions and sometimes sheer hypocrisy of the motion picture ratings board. The MPAA insists on levels of secrecy which would do the Bush administration proud, refusing to explain who makes the decisions about a movie's suitability for audiences, and often why these decisions are made. 

These are particularly hazy in the realm of the difference between R and NC-17.  It appears that horrendously graphic violence is okay, but rather non-explicit sex is off the table.  In particular, according to several of the filmmakers here, the female orgasm seems to be ratings poison.  Despite the protestations of the MPAA that the ratings will not change a movie's box office, this is obviously not the case.  NC-17 films are limited in their advertising choices.  Many movie chains will not show them.  Major retailers like Blockbuster and Walmart will not stock NC-17 films (though Blockbuster seems to be willing to carry unrated films.)

A series of smart and funny directors impart their headaches with the ratings board.  Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) explains that the board was okay with a scene of a character being shot in the head, but insisted on cutting a gesture where a character wipes her mouth after having oral sex.  Atom Egoyan (Where the Truth Lies) tells of a ratings board head giving him some editing tips.  Mary Harron (American Psycho) recalls that the board told her that it objected to the entire tone of her film. 

Actress Maria Bello gives an impassioned speech about how horrible it was that she could see a scene in one of the R-rated Scary Movie films where a killer stabs a woman and pulls out her breast implant but a two-second shot of her pubic hair had to be cut for The Cooler to avoid an NC-17.  While I'm all for Maria Bello's pubic hair and I totally agree with her point, I have to acknowledge that that small cut probably didn't change the movie that much.

Still, you have to respect and feel for the artists who are trying to make mature, artistic choices in their work only to be told that they are not allowed to by some nameless, faceless bureaucracy.  This is particularly touching because the filmmakers are passionate about getting their point across, but most realize that they are doing it at a potential serious risk to their business and their art.  "Is this suicide, doing this?" asks director John Waters.  "I don't know.  Because there's only one of them.  I've got to go back to them next time."

Dick comes up with a lot of useful info about the MPAA which will explain (or confirm) the questions of film lovers across the United States.  For example, he is able to get information that the major studios have relationships with the MPAA which get them looser and more detailed treatment from the association.  He shows that flying in the face of all that America is supposed to be about filmmakers are not allowed to talk to their accusers or even know who they are.  Arguments about precedent or deviation are ignored.

Employees of the MPAA are told and intimidated not to share any information about the inner workings of the place.  Two former workers, who did actually agree to go on camera, acknowledge that they could sometimes be bullied into choices or have the choices overruled.  Dick also resurrects the forgotten fact that former long-time MPAA chief Jack Valenti came to the job straight out of a career in federal government, which explains a lot about both his actions and his association. 

Another huge chunk of the film has Dick hiring a private investigator to help him infiltrate the MPAA and get as much info as he can about the association and their workers.  It is here, unfortunately, that Dick and his co-horts cross a line. 

We watch Dick and private investigators tailing people that they suspect may be on the ratings boards, staking out their homes, collecting personal, private information about the people, all revealed on camera.  You see Dick and the PIs going through the one ratings board member's garbage at her home, not at work.  The fact that just by dumb luck they actually find a couple of work papers doesn't make it seem any less invasive and unfair. 

After all, really, what did these people do to deserve this kind of treatment?  Take a job where they have to through no choice or fault of their own be overly discreet?  I fully agree that the board in general often doesn't do a good job.  However, since no one is actually getting into the building and we have no way of knowing if these specific workers are part of the problem or part of the solution, how is it fair to them to have their names, homes and license numbers broadcast?  Do they really need to have people surreptitiously filming them from across a diner?  Have their garbage figuratively and literally strewn around for the world at large to see?  Yes, go after Jack Valenti, MPAA attorney Greg Goeckner, Joan Graves and any other person who is in an actual position of power and who could possibly make a change if held to the fire.  Leave the pawns alone.

There are also some supposed-to-be shocking revelations which don't exactly shake the foundations of the MPAA.  Of course it is a little disappointing but not all that surprising that the Catholic and Episcopalian Churches have a representative who play a part in their decisions.  I'm actually a little more disturbed that if they do have to be there, why aren't their Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or even Atheist counterparts also invited? 

Dick also proves that most of the workers, if they are parents at all, have children well over the 5-17 year parameters which Mr. Valenti has always promoted as the main attribute of the "ordinary people" who get the jobs.  Again, kind of stinks, but not all that surprising.  You have to assume that at least a lot of these people have had the jobs for a while now.  What are they going to do, turn the panel into a parental Menudo firing everyone as their children leave high school?  Besides, frankly, as an adult, I don't want my entertainment decisions made by people who have small children.  The long history of censorship is littered with the rules of parents who found it easier to try to deny things to everyone than to take the time and effort to control and teach their own kids.

The movie rights itself, though, in the late going when Dick who always intended for the film to be released with no rating actually turns in the documentary to the MPAA for a rating.  It is no huge surprise that the association unanimously voted to give the film an NC-17 tag.  However, it is entertaining and somewhat satisfying to see the monolith of the agency trying to circle the wagons in a frenzy of spin control when Dick appeals the judgment and tries to hold them responsible for their decision, or at the very least make them explain it.

We never really get that explanation, nor can we believe that Dick ever really expected to get it.  This Film Is Not Yet Rated is still important just because it finally has shined a light on a shadowy-but-influential corner of show business.  (1/07)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 2007   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 27, 2007.

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Copyright 2007   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 27, 2007.

 

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