Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

To cut the MPAA a little slack, it's likely that any kind of ratings system would draw fire from the artistic community, since the very process of labeling a film for offensive content is bound to reveal hidden biases and a disputable set of criteria. That said, the current system is so egregiously corrupt that it can't be reasonably defended, no matter what shade of red MPAA president Jack Valenti turns when doing so. Though Kirby Dick's irreverent documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated never addresses the need for a smart ratings system, much less proposes any specific fixes, it thoroughly eviscerates the MPAA and makes a solid case that the culture has paid the price for its censorious practices. His attacks are the equivalent of shooting ducks in a barrel, but these ducks had it coming.


Made with a thrilling brio that only occasionally borders on obnoxiousness, the film attacks the MPAA from several fronts: Through interviews with filmmakers like Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry), Atom Egoyan (Where The Truth Lies), John Waters (A Dirty Shame), and others slapped with the dreaded NC-17 rating; through footage of comparable films that did or didn't receive a harsh rating for arbitrary reasons; and through an investigation into the "raters" who pass judgment on these films. Stepping out in front of the camera for the first time in his career, Dick (Sick, Chain Camera) employs a private investigator to unveil the eight-person board that determines the ratings. According to Valenti, their identities are kept secret to protect them from undue pressure, but this shadow jury typifies what Dick feels is a total lack of transparency in the process. The MPAA doesn't want to "censor" anybody, but what they do is arguably worse, because they have no set guidelines, rarely offer specific notes for what a film needs to alter, and refuse to allow filmmakers to cite precedent on appeal.

Dick's attempts to infiltrate the system, à la Roger & Me, amount to little more than rhetorical head-banging, but that's part of the point: Here's an agency controlled by the studios that arrogantly refuses to address its hypocrisies or even open its doors to scrutiny. This leaves outsiders to ponder why the MPAA, in the interest of family values, is puritanical about sex while giving violence a pass, or favors straight pleasure over gay, and male over female. The film's strongest sequence offers a side-by-side comparison of R-rated and NC-17-rated movies in which the blocking is virtually the same, except the latter features "aberrant" behavior, such as gay sex or straight sex in anything other than a missionary position. It'd be a devastating argument to take in front of the MPAA appeals board—if only they allowed it.

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