The American public is no stranger to the MPAA ratings system and its inherent flaws. Everyone has his or her own opinion about the level of censorship that goes on in Hollywood and what is appropriate for what age group and so on. But you don’t really know what it’s about until you watch Kirby Dick’s documentary “This Film is Not Yet Rated.”
Anyone who pays more than surface-level attention to the goings on in the film industry knows an NC-17 rating is a death sentence for a film. You kill off advertising possibilities, your film won’t get played in as many theaters — millions of dollars are at stake. What you might not know is that (as Dick and most would argue) NC-17 is not a rating so much as a way to force filmmakers to edit “questionable” material. In some cases it’s as specific as “if you cut this, this and this then you’ll get an R.”
Dick interviews filmmakers and their experiences with fighting the ratings system in films such as “Boys Don’t Cry,” “The Cooler,” and “American Psycho,” but his goal is to find out who the raters on this panel of ratings screeners are because America is the only country that isn’t transparent with that information. He hires a private investigator to obtain the information and the methods and results are interesting. It’s very guerrilla-style and quasi- professional looking but it works.
There are only a couple problems with Dick’s film. It wanders at times from the subject of film ratings into other censorship-relevant topics that while important deviate from his objective of learning how the MPAA operates in terms of ratings as far as what they don’t tell the public. At one point he explores discrimination in ratings toward gay and lesbian sex and themes and only briefly touches on how violence is not rated as strictly as sex. Important stuff, but it’s just not given enough treatment to be effective in the film.
The tone of the documentary is very Michael Moore without the conflict. It’s satirical and gives you a couple head-shaking moments of disbelief, but its impact is not all that impressive. You leave the film thinking “yup, what they’re doing isn’t right” and having gathered some new insights, but other than reminding us that a handful of companies control our media and that everyone is in everyone’s pockets, namely recently retired MPAA chief Jack Valenti, there seem to be no solutions, no forward movement on the subject matter. Definitely interesting and a worthwhile watch for any movie-lover.
This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006)
Directed by: Kirby Dick
Written by: Kirby Dick, Eddie Schmidt, Matt Patterson