This Film is Not Yet Rated

Dir: Kirby Dick

This look at the MPAA is interesting, yet self-indulgent and snobbish. Former head, Jack Valenti, oversaw the board for more than 30 years, but it remains an impenetrable bastion, unaccountable, inconsistent and shrouded in darkness. Dick sets out to uncover the identities of those who hand out the ratings, hiring a private-eye to reveal who decides what gets an R, and what gets an NC-17 - the latter being the kiss of commercial death, since TV spots, newspaper ads, etc. become severely limited. He does succeed in shining a light into this darkness but only from the outside, and with a skewed point of view. Dick omits to mention that, for example, directors often happily sign contracts requiring a certain rating, or that theater owners, through their group, NATO, are equally responsible for the current situation.

Certainly, the secrecy of the process is justifiably condemned, and it's fair to say not all films are treated equally. But on the examples here, any bias only affects indie, gay film-makers (Boys Don't Cry, But I'm a Cheerleader, John Waters, etc.); Paul Verhoeven would say otherwise, and Brokeback Mountain proves it's not cut-and-dried. The doc also sneers at violent films, forgetting their carnage is inevitably fake - any horror fan knows they are equally censored, yet that doesn't merit a peep here. Instead, there's whining about how things are better in Europe: however, the UK '18' rating is more restricting in audience than the US NC-17. While the MPAA is certainly imperfect, the nightmare alternative would be a thousand local censorship boards, each with their own rules. Still, in the long run, as DVD continues to grow, the relevance of the MPAA will undoubtedly decline, which perhaps renders this documentary somewhat archaic too.

[April 2007]

Cuts both ways
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