Monday, December 10, 2007

Now Playing: This Film Is Not Yet Rated

After watching this documentary two things are abundantly clear to me. The first is that MPAA former honcho Jack Valenti was an absolutely brilliant politician and the second is that Kirby Dick is my new hero.

Dick set out to make a documentary on the MPAA which is considered a very shadowy organization, an obvious irony very much at the forefront of this documentary. Every film maker has to submit their films to this organization for a rating and never knows how the process is going to turn out.

No one knows who the raters are.

No one knows who is on the appeals board if someone doesn’t like the rating their film is tagged with.

The only thing any one knows, really, is that an individual’s film is screened for a select few people who fill out a form and arbitrarily decide what rating a film deserves.

Dick decided to find out who exactly was behind this process and the results are as illuminating as they are infuriating.

The first step Dick makes is to hire a private investigator to track down the raters. Thus begins a month-long odyssey where they manage to uncover the identities of most of the raters, the form the raters use while watching a film, and other scandalous items. But why, you might ask, is everything so scandalous? Doesn’t the MPAA work for us, the viewing public, to help parents decide what to let their kids watch?

The answer is yes and no.

The “yes” to that question goes back to the MPAA’s stated purpose of being a self-governing watch dog that helps Hollywood police itself with no intrusion from Washington. In a fun twist, that’s also the answer to the “no.”

The MPAA takes a movie, watches it, decides what rating to give it, then sends it back to the film maker with the rating stamped on it. If someone doesn’t like their rating, they can file an appeal with the appeals board and hope for the best. That much is obvious.

What isn’t as obvious until Dick starts digging is how blatantly the MPAA approves of bad language violence over sex and nudity. If there is full frontal nudity of either gender at all, that film has about a 99% chance of getting slapped with an NC-17. If those same people are blown to smithereens by a cruise missile while the villain throws out f-bombs, then welcome to either a PG-13 or an R.

Through interviews with dozens of film makers and industry insiders, Dick exposes one MPAA hypocrisy after another all while his PI continues digging. The interviews cover Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), Kevin Smith (Clerks), John Waters (Hairspray), Matt Stone (South Park), and others famous for knocking heads with the MPAA. When they get enough evidence together, Dick assembles a cut of the film and then proves he has bigger cajones than any one else I know.

He submits it to the MPAA for a rating then captures what happens.

Not surprisingly, his film is slapped with an NC-17 and an extra on the disc has him talking about this moment at the South By Southwest film festival in Austin. Make sure you watch this extra because that one story alone is absolutely hilarious. After getting the rating, Dick files an appeal and goes through that process showing every step of the way. But as jaw dropping as his film is, the finale is where his point is most brilliantly made on who exactly the MPAA truly serves.

If you have any interest whatsoever in the film business, then This Film is Not Yet Rated is essential viewing. It may be NC-17, but Netflix has it available and you can find it through additional channels. Watch this film and let the debate rage on.

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