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.

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