Monday, July 26, 2010

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Kirby Dick's 2006 documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated explores, or, rather, exposes, the Motion Picture Association of America's film rating system. We're all familiar with the system, which deals out ratings for movies that range from G up through NC-17, which forbids entry of any patron under the age of 17. The film begins with a brief history of the system, which was instituted in 1968 as a way to prevent outright censorship. It seems a noble cause; so long as movies come with a ticket warning you to the content, it was reasoned, then there was no reason to forbid the inclusion of most content. It gave way to an underhanded form of the same censorship; an NC-17 rating pulls the rug out of most films, immediately reducing the distribution potential, the marketing budget, and can ultimately mean the loss of millions upon millions of dollars. This encourages the filmmakers to edit their films down to receive an R rating. Sounds like censorship to me.

The ratings board consists of a small group of individuals, who view and rate all the media content released. I imagine this to be a very angry group of people; they have to watch a lot of very bad movies, and likely don't get to say anything to the fact. At least critics get to tear into films, and that makes them feel better. The raters are kept anonymous, to preserve them from outside pressures, and the one part of this film I didn't like was Kirby's quest to find their identities. Don't get me wrong; I don't think so powerful a group of malcontents should be kept anonymous, but the segments involving the chase seemed gimmicky. Not that they weren't fun. He hired a private detective to track them down, and she does good work.

This film will make you angry, so long as you care about freedom of expression. Whether you care about movies specifically or not shouldn't matter. It will ruffle your feathers either way. My two favourite bits: Sex is more actively suppressed than violence, which is about as backwards as anything I can imagine, and during an appeal, should a filmmaker choose to pursue one when their rating is handed down from the mountain, the filmmaker is not allowed to cite precedent. TFINYR shows the hypocrisy of Sharon Stone's vagina being allowed in the R-rated Basic Instinct, while a bit of Maria Bello's pubic hair in The Cooler earned the film an NC-17. And they had notes, so, yes, they do know it was the pubic hair that did it. As Bello points out, she is a mother, and she doesn't want some censorship board telling her how to raise her children. Which is essentially what they do.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

R.I.P., LCD Soundsystem

When I heard that LCD Soundsystem are breaking up after they finish the tour in support of recent release This is Happening, I wasn't sure how to react. I was disappointed, a little confused, sure, but I was alright with it. Leader of the pack James Murphy decided the band were bigger than he wanted, and he's pulling the plug while he can still ride airplanes unmolested. Fair enough. Sound of Silver is a great record, one of my favourites, and the more recent This is Happening is, while not quite an equal, certainly a great release. So there was at least that feeling you get when we lose a band we admire. But there wasn't any sadness, really.

I hear stories about the reactions people had when The Beatles dissolved, and I long for that. Why haven't I become so attached to a band that I have to become a shut-in for a week to deal with the emotions? From an academic standpoint, I'm understanding; The Beatles were a band, sure, but their timing was such that they were important as a part of the culture of the moment. That's why there will never be another Beatles; their frustratingly perfect sense of craft is of course a part of it, but no band will ever matter like they did because no other band will ever be so entirely of the moment. It's impossible. Whether I understood it academically or not, I felt gypped.

Thinking about it, I told myself most of the bands I come to have already had their time. Some are encroaching on borrowed time; I'm upset Blur are considering a full reunion, with an album and all that. The oft-mentioned Spoon and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, as well as Radiohead and, depending on where they head next, Coldplay, are the only bands going where I have any emotional stake. If any of those bands announced they were breaking up, I'd probably be upset for a while. But here I was, confronted with the demise of LCD Soundsystem. Despite the fact that they have fashioned an album I value above just about any offered by the aforementioned groups, I felt nothing substantial. I didn't feel connected to the group, really.

I saw LCD Soundsystem play last Saturday at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. They were the headliners for the day, and they tore the place apart. There was a great balance of material between the new and the old. The band was on-point, and James Murphy is unquestionably a fantastic vocalist. Not always a great singer, but an A-List presence on the mic. The seven minutes of "All My Friends" was the best single concert experience of my life. I was right up front, against the barricade. There were security guards showering the audience with water, and from the moment those piano chords began resounding across Union Park, time genuinely seemed to freeze.

They ended the show with "New York, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down," which, really, is the perfect way for LCD Soundsystem to end every show. It feels like stumbling home from a drunk night, like every good concert should. At the end of the song, the band went mute, and a stunningly quiet, stunningly perfect three-part harmony of "Empire State of Mind," the Alicia Keys/Jay-Z collaboration, wrapped up the show. Ostensibly a party band, LCD Soundsystem revealed themselves in less than twenty seconds of music to be twice the musicians, twice the unit, twice the band, that many held them to be. Myself included.

In that moment, I realised that LCD Soundsystem are walking out at exactly the right moment. They own their part of the world right now. The only ups from here would lead to dysfunction, would lead to resentment, would lead to an ending this magnificent band don't deserve. We won't be made to watch their slow demise, to listen to the lackluster releases. LCD Soundsystem have given their fans the best gift possible; they are preserved, for ever, in amber, as a perfect band, as something to aspire to. And I love them for it.