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This Film Is Not Yet Rated
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Rob Gonsalves

"Dick vs. dicks."
4 stars

Like David Cronenberg, Kirby Dick is a mild-mannered, professorial sort who happens to make outrageous movies. Dick, though, makes documentaries such as 1997's lacerating 'Sick' and 2004's Oscar-nominated 'Twist of Faith.' Ironically, as far as I can see, none of his films have, in fact, been rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated follows Dick as he attempts to make sense of the MPAA, which since 1968 has warded off the spectre of governmental interference with movies by acting as a sort of in-house censor board. They don't consider themselves censors, of course, because they only suggest what should be changed or deleted to get a more lenient rating though indie filmmakers are left with vague references to "general tone," while major-studio pictures get the benefit of detailed notes.

Dick interviews Matt Stone, who can speak with authority from both sides of the fence. The indie Orgazmo, which he worked on with South Park cohort Trey Parker, was slapped with an NC-17 despite the fact that Parker turned the lack of female nudity into a running gag. Why? Its general tone. Parker and Stone didn't have the money to keep re-submitting Orgazmo to the board and appealing the rating, so it got the kiss-of-death NC-17, opened on 94 screens, and died (even though, by that time, South Park was a phenomenon and a wider audience would've been there for the flick). By the time Stone and Parker came around with the South Park movie (financed by Paramount), suddenly the MPAA was vastly more forthcoming with suggested changes. Since Paramount wanted an R rating, the money was there for repeated re-submissions and appeals.

TFINYR touches on the many hypocrisies of the MPAA system. Violence is okay, especially in a military context (has there ever been a harder R than Saving Private Ryan?); sex makes all kinds of trouble. Like TV censors scandalized by Elvis' gyrations in the '50s, the MPAA seems obsessed with the number of pelvic thrusts in a sex scene leading to the notorious digital obscuring of the orgy in Eyes Wide Shut. Anything focusing on female pleasure is right out: Dick shows a split-screen comparison of Steven Weber being fellated in Single White Female (rated R) and Chloe Sevigny happily receiving cunnilingus in Boys Don't Cry (NC-17, particularly when Hilary Swank wipes some vaginal juice off her chin).

Dick doesn't stop there, though. The MPAA's policies are blinkered enough and deep in the pockets of the movie corporations but there's no public accountability because, aside from MPAA bigwig Jack Valenti (who retired in 2005 and died in 2007), everyone's identity is a big secret. So Dick, with the help of two lesbian detectives, sets out to uncover the raters. Exactly who decided that Maria Bello's pubic hair needed to be cut out of The Cooler? Nobody knew until now.

It's significant that the women who flush out the raters are gay, because part of Dick's point is that the MPAA comes down harder on "aberrant sexual behavior" i.e., queer sex. (Kevin Spacey as a married guy wanking in the shower in American Beauty: a-OK. Natasha Lyonne rubbing herself fully clothed as a lesbian in But I'm a Cheerleader: not OK.) One of the detectives, Becky Altringer, talks about how it took her a long time to come to terms with her sexuality in a culture that denies it. The MPAA certainly denies it, and its treatment of gay filmmakers Kimberly Peirce, Jamie Babbitt, John Waters, Gregg Araki has been consistently prudish.

The film preaches to the converted a bit. Movie fans who've long decried the MPAA will find little to argue with; Dick doesn't talk to any parents who may have found ratings helpful, or many filmmakers who took on the board and won. Michael Tucker, whose Iraq War documentary Gunner Palace was first slapped with an R for its salty language before getting a PG-13 on appeal, is the film's only success story; oddly, no mention is made of Michael Moore, who complained about Fahrenheit 9/11's R rating. Maybe because the latter was critical of the reasons our troops were over there and the former wasn't?

Mock-ingenuously, Dick submits This Film Is Not Yet Rated to the MPAA (he never intended to accept their rating anyway). We see him going through the process of appeal, mostly for the sake of more material for his film; he's told he's not allowed to know the identities of the people on the appeals board, so he sics Becky on them, and he comes back with a roster of mucky-mucks in the film and exhibition industries.

What the film doesn't offer is much hope or much balance. Unlike Michael Moore in Sicko, Dick can't really point to superior systems in other countries, which are often far more stringent. Britain's ratings system has a bit more wriggle room, but many films are still outright banned there (remember the Video Nasties hubbub?). Larry Clark's Ken Park is still, as of this writing, banned in Australia. Borat is banned in China, Russia, Thailand, and Singapore, among others. George Romero's Dawn of the Dead is banned in Germany. And so on. Very few films are actually banned in America any more, in terms of being illegal to view or screen. And even then, it's because of a legal issue (the anti-Scientology The Profit, the asylum expose Titicut Follies, Todd Haynes' Superstar for using Carpenters songs without permission), not issues of morality. Cries of "censorship!" regarding the MPAA would ring truer if not for the examples of actual, government-ordered suppression of films in most of the rest of the world. (Even Canada banned Catherine Breillat's 2001 film Fat Girl for two years.)

So it's a shitty, dumb, hypocritical, homophobic, prudish system we've got in the U.S. of A., but it seems we're stuck with it; it's the only one we've got, and at least we can see what we want to see eventually.

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originally posted: 07/04/07 11:19:48
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/05/11 DK Full of interesting material, but doesn't provide many answers 3 stars
1/25/10 Chad Dillon Cooper Interesting documentary about how Hollywood Hostess twinkies are made. 5 stars
7/05/07 damalc pretty good 4 stars
3/16/07 Donna A. It was flawed. But it hit on some major points. People need to see this movie. 4 stars
3/11/07 Ryan_A Not QUITE the indictment intended, but still proves its point. Consistently interesting. 4 stars
2/05/07 William Goss Impressively insightful doc tackling the flawed and frustrating MPAA. A must for film fans. 4 stars
1/26/07 Charles Tatum Interesting and infuriating 4 stars
9/23/06 David Pollastrini I liked the poster! 4 stars
9/17/06 Mase Bravo, A must see for any American filmgoer!! Highly entertaining as well. 5 stars
9/02/06 Zack The Greatest ownage of censorship inthe American motion picture history ever! 5 stars
5/29/06 Blackbrain Hilarious and informative. Must see for anyone who cares about American movies. 5 stars
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  DVD: 23-Jan-2007



Directed by
  Kirby Dick

Written by

  Kirby Dick
  Kevin Smith
  Allison Anders
  Kimberly Pierce
  Mary Harron
  Matt Stone

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