‘This Film Is Not Yet Rated’ movie review: Kirby Dick gives the MPAA an ‘X’ rating for graphic depictions of undemocratic, unethical, and inane activities
This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Kirby Dick’s documentary about the ratings board of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), provides a revealing glimpse into a censorship organization that is part-kafkaesque, part-byzantine, and 100 percent undemocratic.
Though hardly flawless, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, which could have been subtitled “The Crotch on the Cutting Room Floor,” is clever, funny, and informative. There are curious montages involving sexual acts shown on film (MPAA board members actually count the number of thrusts in sex scenes in order to come up with the appropriate rating); illuminating comparisons between NC-17 scenes depicting homosexual sex and R-rated scenes depicting heterosexual sex, making the point that MPAA members tend to be anti-gay bigots; and interviews with a mix of film personalities – plus a couple of former MPAA members – that offer an insider’s look at the twisted mindset of the people who decide what is appropriate for American audiences to see on their local movie screens.
MPAA: Movie sex less acceptable than movie violence
Most damning of all is This Film Is Not Yet Rated‘s assertion that the MPAA is little more than a tool for the big American studios to fight competition from independent and foreign filmmakers. Since Hollywood films tend to be much more overtly violent than sexual, the MPAA treats on-screen sexuality much more severely than on-screen violence. (As reviewer David Ansen points out, in Europe the rules are reversed.) Thus, heads getting blown up in close-up get an R rating (i.e., moviegoers under 18 need to be accompanied by an adult), while the semi-graphic (gay) sex in, for instance, Pedro Almodóvar’s Bad Education is slapped with an NC-17 rating (no one under 17 allowed).
The NC-17 rating – which replaced the old X, now associated (as XXX) with the sex film industry – means that the movie in question will get relatively little TV and newspaper exposure, and will be banned from hundreds of movie theaters across the United States.
Particularly effective is the way This Film Is Not Yet Rated makes former MPAA head Jack Valenti look like a corporate clown, disseminating half-truths and misinformation about the ratings board. Valenti, a former secretary to U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson, is probably best known for being the most unbearable element of nearly every Oscar telecast of the last several decades (and that’s quite a feat). He became the – extremely well-paid – head of the MPAA in 1966, when the old ratings system collapsed and was replaced by guidelines similar to the ones still in existence. (Until then, Hollywood movies had to abide by the Production Code, a set of rules and regulations in existence since the early 1920s but that were mostly ignored until mid-1934, when Christian groups were threatening to boycott motion pictures. By the 1960s, market forces – i.e., television – had pushed film censors to become more lenient.)
Other highlights of the documentary include actress Maria Bello discussing her fight for her pubic hair in a scene from The Cooler; director Kevin Smith giving a remarkably blunt rebuttal to a top MPAA member; and, best of all, a hilarious phone conversation between Kirby Dick and a couple of animated characters representing an MPAA board member and an attorney for the organization.
‘This Film Is Not Yet Rated’ problem: Meandering focus
My chief complaint about This Film Is Not Yet Rated is that I’d rather have seen more of the history of the MPAA’s censorship activities and less of Kirby Dick’s Michael Moore-inspired on-screen investigation, in which the director co-stars with two private eyes attempting to find the identities of the members of the MPAA’s Inner Sanctum. The hunt for those elusive men and women is interesting, but that should have taken a backseat to the fascinating story of the MPAA’s warped decision-making process throughout the years.
Also, Dick veers off in a couple of directions that have little to do with the matter at hand. We learn, for instance, the sexual orientation of one of the investigators. Now, how is that relevant to the MPAA undemocratic procedures? That sort of personal information would be fine as one of the “extras” on the This Film Is Not Yet Rated DVD, but it adds nothing to the documentary itself.
Along the same vein, Dick offers a whole sequence on film piracy and the MPAA’s role in attempting to destroy the studios’ Public Enemies #1. (Illegal online film “downloaders” are referred to as “terrorists” at one point.) True, that’s one more example of the MPAA’s incestuous relationship with the studios, but the amount of time devoted to the matter could have been better used discussing, say, different censorship boards around the world.
And finally, Dick doesn’t have anyone outside the MPAA praising the board’s rating activities. I’m not sure if that means that no one in the United States likes the ratings, or if Kirby simply didn’t attempt to interview people who were in favor of them.
Either way, This Film Is Not Yet Rated demonstrates that the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings – and the process by which they are reached – are in dire need of a radical makeover.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated was reviewed at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006). Dir.: Kirby Dick. Scr.: Kirby Dick, Eddie Schmidt, and Matt Patterson. Cast: David Ansen, Allison Anders, Darren Aronofsky, Maria Bello, Atom Egoyan, Stephen Farber, Kimberly Peirce, Kevin Smith, John Waters.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated movie poster image: IFC Films.