Saturday, 11 August 2007
THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED
This Film Is Not Yet Rating (2006) dir. Kirby Dick
In the tradition of Michael Moore filmmaker Kirby Dick seeks to uncover the veil of secrecy behind the enigmatic MPAA Ratings Board. The film is funny and tongue in cheek, telling the big picture of conservative censorship in the United States. The film is highly watchable, but based on the evidence “uncovered” the film actually makes a very weak case against the MPAA.
According to the IMDB Kirby Dick is a documentary filmmaker who’s made several documentary films. I haven’t heard of any of them, but considering the titles, “Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist” or “Showgirls: Glitz & Angst” I assume he’s had some problems in the past with the MPAA. If you don’t know, the Motion Picture Association of America administers the ratings board that assigns G, PG, PG13, R or the dreaded NC17 on all films that are released in the marketplace. Each notch up the scale means, on average, less potential revenue for the film. Therefore no one wants an R or an NC17 rating.
But as the film explains the MPAA, formerly headed by political lobbyist Jack Valenti, is a private organization that claims to be beholden to no one except the average American film viewer. As a result, they are notoriously secretive. Their ratings officers, or appeals board members are not known and have never been divulged to the public. “Who are these people who are judging our films and assigning what sometimes seems like arbitrary and inconsistent ratings?” Dick cites sex and drugs to be the main target, but gratuitous violence is given a larger buffer room. After going through the history and background of the organization and the process, Dick hires private investigator Becky Altringer to uncover the names of the ratings board members. This becomes the throughline for the film which Dick cuts back to time and again. Becky’s personality and odd relationship with her teenage protégé are some of the most interesting parts of the film. Though her sexual orientation (she’s a lesbian) has nothing to do with the MPAA or anything about the film, her description of how she came out of the closet is poignant and also curiously funny.
Dick uses clips from all the major films that were forced to make cuts to avoid the NC17 rating – “Basic Instinct”, “Boys Don’t Cry”, “Where the Truth Lies” etc. Part of Dick’s argument is that the MPAA is judging what is decent and should be viewed by the American public. Here is Dick’s fundamental mistake. This is my skeptical mind talking… the MPAA isn’t meant to judge what people can and can’t see. Anyone can see an NC17 film – even kids. The rating says, “kids under 17 must be accompanied by an adult”. The director of “Gunner Palace”, was upset his film received an R rating. He gripes that since his film is about real life violence and that everybody should be able to see it. Does he not realize that everyone can see it? What the director is mad at, is that his film will make less money because it’s rated R. Besides does he really think that a 14 year old kid should watch a film that shows brutal war violence by himself? Or would? Surely he would want his parents in the room, to help explain the context and significance of the images he’s watching.
Dick completely misdirects his anger and frustration. He and all the other filmmakers are mad because movie theatres in Middle America won’t screen NC17 films. Or Blockbuster, or Walmart won’t sell NC17 DVDs. This is the crux of the film – money, politics and American values – not the MPAA.
The big reveal of the ratings board and the appeals board member doesn’t reveal anything significant at all. Dick focuses on the ‘shocking fact’ that the two clergy members are part of the appeals board, but glosses over the fact that the other 13 members of the board are all VPs or executive of major distributors – whose best interest is to have their films screened as widely as possible.
Then I thought about Becky’s speech in the car, where she describes so dispassionately how she came out of the closet. At first it struck me as odd, because it didn’t have anything to do with the MPAA, but then I realized that it has everything to do with heart of the problem. Becky says she was at first scared to accept her homosexuality, but the feelings she had for her partner made her feel so good, then says, ‘what can be wrong with something that makes me feel so good’? This is what the American conservative majority doesn’t want to accept.
Saying all of that, the film is actually quite enjoyable and I recommend it, but keep an open mind and judge for yourself. Enjoy.
Buy it here: This Film Is Not Yet Rated
John Waters hits the nail on the head here: