Monday, November 7, 2011

"Rate This, You Fascists!" The Joys Of Investigating The MPAA In This Film Is Not Yet Rated

The Good: Well researched, Thorough, Interesting observations, Clever premise, Worthwhile argument
The Bad: Ultimately pointless for the effort, Repetitive DVD features
The Basics: In a decent documentary, Kirby Dick outs the members of the MPAA as part of a larger quest to explore how and why films receive ratings in the U.S.

Given the ridiculous number of films I watch and review as a professional reviewer and fan of cinema as an art form, it's very rare that I actually read reviews written by other people. I'm a strong believer in the unhindered viewing, which is ironic because if all of you stopped reading my reviews, I could not afford to see anything else ever. So, thank you for not sharing in my tragic fault. I did, however, read a review last year of This Film Is Not Yet Rated and I recall reading the glowing review praising Kirby Dick's latest cinematic endeavor. The reviewer admitted a biased toward Dick and I was intrigued because I had never heard of the director/documentarian. Still, the subject of the film being reviewed made This Film Is Not Yet Rated pretty much essential for me to watch.

Having learned of many tales of directors having films cut due to content deemed too explicit by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), Kirby Dick attempts to learn as much about the organization as possible. This task is made near impossible as the members of the MPAA are kept secret. In response to the secrecy that veils the organization, Dick hires a private detective and hunts down the board of parents who decide what films in the United States are rated. Dick soon finds that the task is not impossible, the MPAA is not made up of people who strictly meet the stated guidelines of the organization and that his film, like many of the filmmakers he interviewed, is headed for a battle . . . with the MPAA.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated is a movie with an excellent premise, great supporting information and a worthy objective that simply does not stick the landing. That is to say that the movie has an excellent idea and even a decent execution of its vision, but it does not bring the point home in a way that seals the deal. It leaves the viewer wishing for a little more. It has the feeling of not quite living up to its potential.

The divergence between the concept and the failed execution comes when the quest to uncover the identities of those in the MPAA is actually achieved. Dick reveals the identities of the 2005 MPAA reviewing board, a class that had supposedly changed by the time the film was released in 2006. The work was admirable, but the result was pointless. The current members of the secret board are secret.

But the exercise is not folly. Dick discovers that the group whose mission statement claims the reviewing board is made up of parents with children in a certain age group with limited terms for their tenure on the board is anything but. In determining the identities of those involved, Dick discovers that the MPAA is not being honest about its panel; members serve longer than their terms, are not parents and/or do not have children within the specified age groups. In exposing the group for its flaws or its fraud, Dick effectively raises the debate from a group of directors complaining about their work being censored to a legitimate critique of the secret organization gutting their content.

Dick's most persuasive arguments against the MPAA come in the form of the interviews with directors whose work have been edited in order to conform with the wishes of the MPAA. Directors like Kevin Smith, Darren Aronofsky, and Kimberly Peirce discuss their films and how they were hit with NC-17 ratings by the MPAA and compelled to alter their films to make them marketable. The film does an excellent job exploring how the NC-17 is a death knell for films and how directors are often ordered by the studio to make sure the film falls within a certain rating.

Dick and the directors he interviews quickly postulate and empirically prove several concepts dealing with how films are rated, including: the MPAA is more likely to restrict content based more on nudity/sex as opposed to violence, the MPAA is more prejudiced against homosexual acts than heterosexual ones, and the lack of ability to appeal a film and cite cinematic precedent allows the MPAA to maintain power and control over the filmmakers and their films.

Dick also deftly diffused the MPAA argument that they do not censor films by exploring the business ramifications of movies that have received an NC-17 rating. Outside the quest to discover the identities of the members of the ratings board of the MPAA, this is a remarkably informative documentary.

Dick is an unobtrusive documentarian, maintaining a dialogue and presence more akin to Michael Moore's presence in Fahrenheit 9/11 (reviewed here!) than, say, Moore's presence in Roger And Me. As odd as it may seem, until the very end, Dick does not make the movie about himself, his views or his agenda, instead making a classic argument against censorship and for individual responsibility.

His argument is rather effective and I have to say that he manages to keep the film entertaining and informative. The interviews are decent and the only weakness in the opening of the film where directors are telling their stories of fights with the MPAA is that there could have been more of them for my tastes.

On the DVD, the film looks good and the commentary track is as insightful and enjoyable as the actual feature. Before this film, I had not seen a point to a commentary track on a documentary, but on This Film Is Not Yet Rated, it works. The only problem is that virtually all of the other DVD bonus features mirror the commentary track, so if one listens to all of the commentary and watches all of the features, some of the behind-the-scenes stories are told three times (or more).

It's not enough to prevent me from recommending the film, but it is enough to plunge the DVD presentation down into more average territory. Still, it's a worthwhile movie to watch and certainly an important one for those who are concerned about the erosion of our civil liberties and the notion of artistic freedom.

For other documentaries, please check out my reviews of:
The Fog Of War
Who Killed The Electric Car?
Shut Up And Sing


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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