>I just finished watching Kirby Dick’s 2006 documentary, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, which is available for streaming through Netflix. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
It has become apparent to me that my assessment of social documentaries rests at least partially in their ability to really tick me off about something. Dick’s movie is truly successful in that right. His target: the Motion Picture Association of America, and indirectly, the “big six” film studios in Hollywood, and of course their parent conglomerates (many of which I already hated, for other reasons).
For those who don’t knows, the MPAA is the organization responsible for the rating system in place for movies. If a movie is rated, either G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17, it has been viewed and assessed by the MPAA. And it’s basically a cabal.
First of all, the MPAA does not release the names of the members of the ratings board. This is, ostensibly, in an attempt to prevent the members from undue political and economic pressures. However, the senior members of this ratings board meet regularly with the heads of the major motion picture companies. So really the MPAA doesn’t want their members feeling any pressure except the pressure of the people who write the checks. And regardless of the perceived risk
This becomes all too clear when Matt Stone discusses the differences in his experiences making Orgasmo, which he and Trey Parker funded entirely independently, and the South Park movie, which was produced by Paramount Pictures. Both films initially received an NC-17 rating (this is the kiss of death for a film which hopes to be seen in a major theater). When asked how the films could be fixed to receive an R-rating, the MPAA provided zero guidance for Orgasmo, but gave specific notes for the Studio-backed film.
Furthermore, there is no set of standards which the MPAA follows in making their decisions, and this leads clearly to personal biases. Dick clearly demonstrates the Association’s tolerance for violence over sexuality and for heterosexuality over homosexuality.
A major part of the film involves Dick’s hiring of a private investigator to discover the names of the members of the MPAA. It turns out that what information the MPAA does release about its ratings board (that it is a crossection of America, that it comprised of sensible but disinterested parents of young children) are false.
Some of the greatest moments come late in the film, when Dick sends an early version of the film to the MPAA for a ratings assessment. Of course, the film receives a rating of NC-17. The opening credits to This Film is Not Yet Rated comprises a montage of many of the scenes that the interviewed filmmakers (including Darren Aronofsky, Kevin Smith, and John Waters) had to cut to earn their movies a “distributable” rating. Dick appeals the rating, and gives us a description (filming is not allowed) of the appeals process, which is even more heavily cloaked in secrecy than the original process.
Those members of the MPAA appeals board that Dick succeeds in identifying are all board members for either motion picture companies or large theater chains.
This is just disgraceful. I am sympathetic to the necessity for some form of rating system. This is important with regards to children, and even adults should have a means of filtering their exposure to ‘questionable’ material. (My wife would be mighty upset if she went to see a light comedy that ended up being a horror film.) However, the MPAA rating system is nigh-on useless. An ‘R’ rating tells you almost nothing about the film itself. Is it ‘R’ like The Hangover, or is it ‘R’ like Saw?
Furthermore, I find it extremely troubling that their are laws in place restricting entry to these movies based on a system that is entirely undemocratic, to say nothing of it being a capitalistic monopoly. I might be reluctant to take my son to an independent film that is rated NC-17, but the fact that I am prohibited from doing so smacks of censorship. State sanctioned, corporate controlled.