Monday, November 22, 2010

This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006) Directed by Kirby Dick

Reviewed by Dionysuspsyche

I love rating movies. I love giving reviews and adding or subtracting stars to movies I did or didn't like. I'll admit, I'm not always unbiased. Sometimes my feelings on movies are arbitrary or strange or downright conflicted. My husband may hate a movie that he feels is “stupid,” yet I can't quit cracking up. He'll repeat a line, and I'll just shake my head. Sometimes I like bad movies because I can make fun of it the whole time. Or good movies in part because Rotten Tomatoes gave them a great review, and as a result we saw it. Over the years, we won't see a movie unless a certain number of people liked it. Yet, what about the movies no one sees? How would one decide what pieces of movies were or weren't appropriate for certain audiences?

This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006) documentary is a critique of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). This movie has been on my Must See list since it came out, and I'll admit I was jazzed when today I finally sat down and watched it. Who are the MPAA raters? They are a secret group that rates films for audiences. Every day parents we are told. What are the rules for this? Well, there are guidelines mostly, except for the foul language rule, which we are told has to do mainly with the f word, but also how words like shit, ass, etc. are used. The movie blends multiple aspects that prove to make it a documentary where you don't get bored. It brings out big name director/writers that everybody knows, directors/writers who made movies you probably don't know, and how the MPAA might be biased on rating movies since 1969.

Matt Stone talks about how when he and Trey Parker made their first major movie Orgazmo, a movie about a Mormon who becomes a porn star, they were given an NC-17 rating with NO comments on what they needed to change in order to achieve a different rating. However, after their success with South Park, they were called and given a check list of what would turn the film into a more acceptable film for a wider audience.

Stone's testimony is probably the best used example. While watching the movie, I had some skepticism. Of course an independent filmmaker might find that their movie receives a higher rating like R or NC 17 as opposed to a run of the mill rom-com churned out from the latest factory. We know that a lot of filmmakers who start out have unique and exciting ideas get their film in the door only to become a sell out who's run out of ideas years later. By that point of course, they have mainstream Hollywood backing them.

Matt Stone is best known for his co-creation and writing contributions to the hit television series South Park

Once up and comers tended to back up this idea too. It is unfair that being new to the process, you are not given more attention and help from the filmmaking industry. This Film is Not Yet Rated also let us know that the MPAA is paid BY the industry to create ratings to assist parents in deciding the appropriateness of movies. Their appeals court is incorporated by movie theatre head honchos.
Kevin Smith with his creations Jay and Silent Bob

Independent movies can tend to explore areas that the general public is not necessarily going to go see—whether it be rating, topic, or just because it's too weird. Of course main stream audiences will probably be made more squeamish by a film depicting homosexuality than one showing heterosexual acts. But giving different ratings based on sexual position? On pubes vs. none? On a more prominent filmmaker who depicts violence and rape than love with grinding? Well, now that doesn't seem quite fair.
What we learn in the movie is that the MPAA is a board that is secret so that their raters will not be under “pressure” from the public. Kirby Dick hires a private investigator to reveal the identities of these people which turns into an exciting chase scene that doesn't quite rival the Richard Nixon story, but is not without its thrills. As the movie presses on, you find yourself more critical of the movies you watch and why they are rated the way they are. How what we don't and didn't know does make us doubt their ability to accurately rate movies without any systematic rating, just feelings and impressions.

My favorite part of the movie is where the debate of violence vs. sex comes up. Obviously, they both make the industry a lot of money. They draw out viewers. They get blood pumping—they both do. Another documentary filmmaker is interviewed about his war/military film and its viewing and subsequent rating by the MPAA. Regardless of what we feel individually regarding violence and sexuality, it does make us think about what is deemed appropriate for which age groups and what isn't. Who are these people judging movies? How can appealing to this board for a different rating affect one's movie? Will cutting the movie make it better? More widely viewable for audiences? Is it a distinction of creativity or is it crass and vulgar? Is it because it wasn't a money maker? Or was it just someone's opinion who was outvoted?

One area left alone by the documentary had to do with horror movies. They may have glossed over it when they were discussing the amount of blood and how that affects the rating, but I wanted to know why certain horror movies net a PG-13 and what equals R. If anyone does a follow up to this documentary, please cover that. I'd still love to know. Of course, plenty of people could sleep a month after The Ring came out, but I knew a bunch of us that couldn't.

It is an underdog story in many ways, and you can't help but feel like telling Kirby Dick, “You're doing a good job. Don't let the man get you down.” Maybe that means I've seen Empire Records too many times. However, Dick is not an “in your face-this is all wrong” type of documentary maker. What he does do is a great job of laying out his evidence for viewers, and we see that his plight is for a better, more conclusive, and more structured rating system, his heart and his investigating may do American audiences more good than bad in the long run.

Kirby Dick

After the movie, I found myself feeling more discriminate about my film watching. It makes me wonder whether or not these films would be better with more or less censorship. There are a lot of crude and crass things in the world. What one might find offensive about a movie could be its lack of intelligence, its degradation of human life, or its unnecessary sexuality. Maybe something that I view as a tasteless piece of crap someone else might see as a hilarious, unobtrusive treasure. Maybe something I view as beautiful lovemaking someone else might see as obscene. I did walk away with a lot of questions, but I found them turned less at the MPAA and more at the general public. I do think the MPAA should come up with a more quantitative way of categorizing movies, and a less qualitative way of saying, “I don't like that...NC-17.”

1 comment:

  1. I definitely plan to see this now, thanks.

    I've heard alot of podcasts about censorship. One of the best, and strangely least heard-of, examples of fighting an N7-17 rating was Kevin Smith's giving an oration to the board, knocking his 'Zack and Miri Make a Porno' down to a hard R rating.

    "...f word, but also how words like shit, ass, etc." - Amazingly the radio industry and public TV still follow (roughly) George Carlin's 7 words, banishing them all.