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This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 01/28/06 07:01:59

"About time someone gave the MPAA a nice firm bitchslap."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Finally, someone takes aim at the MPAA rating system and calls it out for the hypocrisy, secrecy, and downright untrustworthiness that's been running rampant for years now. It's not a flawless documentary, and I do believe that director Kirby Dick takes a few too many short-cuts, but I cannot imagine the movie geek who won't want to stand up and applaud once the flick comes to a close.

Halfway through this merciless indictment of the MPAA rating system, Kirby Dick asks one of his interview subjects if he can think of another public service institution, aside from the CIA, that operates in complete secrecy. The interviewee, an educated and intelligent author, thinks about it for a few long seconds and says ... "No."

And therein lies the problem with the MPAA ratings board: it works in complete autonomy and virtual isolation. Obviously you don't want filmmakers calling these "raters" at home and begging for a PG-13 rating, but the lengths to which the MPAA will go to keep their activities under wraps, well, it's pretty damn creepy.

And Kirby Dick is getting pretty tired of all of it:

-The ways in which studio flicks are afforded a laundry list of snips required to get a PG-13 rating, while indie filmmakers are left to wonder specifically why they got an NC-17.

-How movies dealing with homosexual (or "aberrant") sexual behavior are held to a much more stringent standard than are movies with, say, a guy screwing a pie.

-The ways in which bloodless yet overt violence will net you a PG-13, while anything dealing with human sexuality (in a straight-faced manner) will net you an R, no questions asked.

-How the NC-17 has, much like the X rating before it, come to be treated like the "Scarlet Rating," as if there's simply no place in the market for films made for adults.

-The ridiculous shroud of secrecy that's afforded to the movie raters, as if they're a scientific think-tank currently working on troop placements or the blueprints for a new bomb.

All of these issues, and several others, are touched upon in This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a movie that (humorously enough) was recently awarded an NC-17 rating because it houses several scenes from films previously rated NC-17.

Interviews with filmmakers like Kevin Smith, Matt Stone, Darren Aronofsky, Allison Anders, Kimberly Pierce, Jamie Babbit, Wayne Kramer, and John Waters shed a whole lot of light onto the hypocrisy that's long been the standard of the MPAA ratings board, and these conversations rank among the documentary's finest moments. (I suspect that even more "war stories" from the filmmakers screwed over by the MPAA would have made Dick's doco even better.)

The film also includes a gradually less-impressive subplot about Dick's hiring of a private detective who digs through an MPAA board member's garbage in an effort to ascertain their identities (a divergence that makes one wonder, what's the point, really?) The complaints of Gunner Palace co-director Michael Tucker, who hand-wrings about how his war doco was rated R for language, are confusing because nobody bothers to remind the audience that the film was later given a PG-13 after an appeals process!

But when This Film Is Not Yet Rated sticks to the well-documented facts and the inescapable duplicity of former MPAA head Jack Valenti, it's as good a "whistle-blower" doco that you're likely to come across. The film brings to light numerous complaints that informed film fans have had for years, and it does so in a smoothly informative and colorfully entertaining style.

(In the news: Recent reports indicate that the MPAA went ahead and made a copy of this film for their own legal purposes. Anyone else find it painfully hilarious that the board preaching against piracy would illegally copy a movie? Cuz I sure do.)

After this film and the Oscar-nominated "Twist of Faith," Kirby Dick is fast becoming one of my very favorite documentarians. He displays a brave and passionate dedication to whatever subject he's exposing, and his films aim to incite change as much as they hope to inform an audience. "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" might not mean a whole lot to anyone outside the world of Movie Geekery, but it really should. No one group should have this sort of unchecked autonomy, and I suspect this flick might go a long way to having the MPAA earn itself a nice little audit. And that would be pretty damn cool, wouldn't it?

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