'This Film Is Not Yet Rated'

MoviesEntertainmentMovie IndustryChloe SevignyJohn WatersPBS (tv network)

One part PBS-style clip-reel and one part Michael Moore-style intervention, Kirby Dick's "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" is sure to agitate casual viewers who just take those little MPAA ratings as gospel and don't give a second's thought to where those ratings come from. Dick's mission is to shine the light of truth on the formerly anonymous members of the ratings board, a goal he achieves, even if the rest of the film feels a little too superficial to be genuinely revolutionary.

The foundation of "The Film Is Not Yet Rated" is very traditional. Dick traces the evolution of the ratings system from the restrictive early days of film censorship under the Hays Code to the rise of Jack Valenti and the MPAA, a movie industry lobby organization. In this part of the movie, Dick interviews filmmakers (including Kevin Smith, John Waters and Mary Harron) who have had run-ins with the ratings board, along with the heads of several indie studios, one or two academics and at least one critic. He uses the graphic sexual and violent footage to examine the distinctions between rated and unrated versions of the same films, the small MPAA-mandated changes that allowed movies into theaters. He also compares the advantages that major studios have over indies when it comes to both leniency and assistance from the MPAA.

Sure, he's confused by the standards that the raters set and whether sexuality and studio affiliation have a direct correlation to certain ratings, but he's more perplexed by the fact that the ratings process has no oversight or regulation. The raters themselves are anonymous and filmmakers have no ability to petition the original raters for redress. There's no transparency to the process. Dick responds by hiring two private investigators -- Becky Altringer and Cheryl Howell who, in the interest of quality drama, also happen to be life partners -- to identify, photograph and research the raters themselves.

Any guilt that viewers might have about this cinematic stalking is mitigated both by Dick's boyish amusement with the spook work and by the MPAA's obstinate refusal to provide any details about the raters. In addition, the information that is provided -- that the raters are all of a certain age, with children of a certain age and that none of them have ties to the entertainment industry -- often includes more lies.

As if those two, entirely separate, aspects of the film aren't enough, Dick also documents his own attempts to get his film rated, a somewhat complicated process given that he can only send the raters a very rough version of the movie. Dick's interactions with very MPAA bigwigs and his experience in front of the equally secretive appeals board are the movie's freshest details, because the filmmakers complaining about the forced edits on movies like "American Psycho," "Boys Don't Cry" and "The Cooler" don't have anything really new to say. Yes, it's ridiculous that "American Psycho" ran into trouble not for its gory, but for a little thrusting in a threesome and it's probably offensive that the MPAA felt the need to cut frames off of a Chloe Sevigny orgasm in "Boys" and sure the MPAA's defiant stance against puppet-humping in "Team America: World Police" is actually hilarious, but it's all ground that's been covered before.

Frequently, Dick is content to make a certain point -- like, for example, the idea that violence against women has become disturbingly acceptable to the raters -- and just move on to the next surface observation without going into any details. The movie is driven not by the desire to explore one or two specific aspects of the piece, but to run through the long list of his own frustrations. He also comes up a bit short when it comes to solutions to the ratings system's problems, nor does he adequately explain what outing the raters accomplishes beyond just proving the idiocy of anonymous raters. It's the first step in a more important discussion and hopefully it will find and stir up a big enough audience to get that ball rolling.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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