This Film is Not Yet Rated

Everybody who watches a lot of movies always how the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) rates movies.  There doesn't seem to be that much consistency; violence is okay, while sex and nudity is the ultimate taboo.  Filmmaker Kirby Dick (Twist of Faith, Derrida) wondered the same thing, and the result is the informative and highly entertaining This Film is Not Yet Rated.  Dick splits between two main topics.  He interviews filmmakers about their experiences with controversial ratings and shows some clips from their films, and second, hires a private investigator to try to discover more information about the ratings board and their secretive processes.

The reason This Film is Not Yet Rated works so well is that the entire situation is so ridiculous.  There seems to be very little consistency in how films are rated.  In recent years, multiple utterances of the word "shit" can be found in PG-13 rated movies, and every once in a while, a "fuck" will appear.  The R rating is completely ridiculous, with Billy Elliot garnering the same rating as American Pie.  When Dick looked into the process, he realized that it was not transparent.  The MPAA had a panel of "ordinary parents" who rated films.  Filmmakers could edit their films and resubmit, but the MPAA would not point out individual examples.  That, after all, is censorship.  If a filmmaker wanted to appeal, he/she would appear before a board but have little power to argue the case for the film.  Worst of all, the identities of board members were not disclosed to the public.  Supposedly, this was to ensure that they would not face undue pressure to change ratings.  This is odd, as one talking head points out - school board members, city councilmen, Senators, and the President surely face more pressure.  And their identities are all public.

Dick hires private investigator Becky Altringer to stake out the MPAA.  Together, they collect license plates, follow cars, secretly tape people, and dig through trash.  It is just hilarious.  The aim is to discover who these people are, and Dick gets to play secret agent at the same time.  It is a simple and highly effective (if not a bit snarky) manner of conveying his message - to be fair, the entire system should be open.  The MPAA should be held accountable for their ratings, and the best way to do this is to reveal who they are.  Filmmakers should be able to argue their case (currently, in appeals they cannot bring up examples of past ratings for comparison) and know who they are arguing against.  Non-disclosure has led to weird mind games by people like Matt Stone (South Park:  Bigger, Longer, and Uncut) and Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill Vol. 2) who know that their film is likely to get an NC-17.  They add even more violence and gore (or in Stone's case, puppet sex) that is never intended to make the final cut, then cut out those parts when the MPAA comes back with the rating.  This way, the MPAA is more likely to feel placated, and give them the R (for the version the filmmakers wanted in the first place).

On a more serious note, Dick interviews a number of directors who at one point, butted heads with the MPAA.  Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don't Cry), Kevin Smith (Jersey Girl), Wayne Kramer (The Cooler), Stone, Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream), Mary Harron (American Psycho), John Waters (A Dirty Shame), and Jaime Babbit (But I'm a Cheerleader) all give their thoughts on the process.  They are passionate about their work (some of which has garnered immense critical acclaim not to mention Academy Awards and nominations) and frustrated at how the system stymies them sometimes arbitrarily.  Their main concern is that there is no consistent manner of rating films, especially for sexuality, and that many newspapers and theaters have rules against showing NC-17 rated films.  The way around this, which Dick doesn't mention, is to just release a film without a rating.  This works, but is still limiting.  With the relative success of recent films like Young Adam and The Dreamers, the stigma surrounding the NC-17 rating is falling; since those movies proved that people could go watch "adult" films and the world would still survived.  But there is still a long way to go in fixing a broken system.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 37 minutes, Not Rated, but was originally rated NC-17 for some graphic sexual content.

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