THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED
Review by Michael Jacobson
Director: Kirby Dick
Audio: Dolby Stereo
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: January 23, 2007
“I’m going to use the ‘f’ word…I believe it’s FASCIST.”
When the late great Stanley Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut was nearing release, I remember reading that it got “slapped” (as Kevin Smith would point out) with an NC 17 rating. Not surprising, I thought at the time, given the nature of the movie and the pre-release publicity that had already surrounded it.
What WAS surprising was that Kubrick had to alter the film in order to attain an R. Kubrick probably enjoyed the most freedom of any major filmmaker in our era. His contract with Warner Bros. basically said that he could write, produce, and direct anything he wanted and the studio would release it. Apparently there was one stipulation…the films had to be rated R or better.
And so Kubrick’s final vision, finally hitting the screens after his passing, was not what he originally intended. And we may never see the version he originally intended. Why?
The answer to the controversy goes back more than 30 years, with the establishment of the Motion Picture Association of America in the late 60s. Headed by one-time lobbyist Jack Valenti, the MPAA was Hollywood’s new approach to getting rid of the straight censorship of the early years, and replace it with a voluntary board that would issue ratings based on movie content for parental information purposes.
The problem with the MPAA is that no one knows who the raters are, nor can they be contacted directly for appeal by the filmmakers. And the NC 17 rating has become a scarlet letter…movies with that stigma rarely get distributed, advertised, or seen theatrically.
It’s been a bone of contention for decades, and filmmaker Kirby Dick decided to tackle the matter head on in his documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated. This was a movie I was looking forward to, having my own beefs with the MPAA rating system, not the least of which was what happened to my favorite director’s swan song.
But Dick’s film is a mess. Convoluted, rambling, rarely cohesive…it’s a long diatribe about all of his gripes that rarely flows while jumping around so much that you forget what the point is from time to time. The heart of his movie is his hiring of a private investigator to discover the identity of the raters. All but one of them are identified by name and picture on the screen…their privacy as human beings laid bare while Dick and his team travel around in a van with the windows covered.
I wanted more about why certain movies get certain ratings and for what reasons…he doesn’t make very good cases. He argues at one point that films involving gay sex tend to get the dreaded NC 17 while similar films featuring heterosexual activity get the more accommodating R. He shows clips side by side for comparison, but it’s misleading…I’ve seen most of the movies he picks, and his little clips don’t show for example, that one scene went on for several minutes while another lasted a few seconds. He even incorrectly identifies Jason Biggs lying on top of a dessert and humping it in American Pie as making the R cut, when in fact theatrically it was changed to avoid the harsher rating.
He talks with filmmakers like Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), Kevin Smith (Clerks), John Waters (A Dirty Shame) and Matt Stone (Team America: World Police). They offer the best insights with their own personal experiences. Other interviewees ramble on and say strange things. One says the MPAA is “brainwashing people into thinking American soldiers are heroic”. Brainwashing…people…into thinking…American soldiers…are heroic. I don’t know where that came from or what relevance it had to the discussion, but it’s beyond repulsive.
Dick goes for the crude funny bone in his explanations of the ratings with animation and strange depictions. All he really needed to say was a G rating means nobody gets the girl, a PG means the hero gets the girl, an R means the villain gets the girl and an NC 17 means everybody gets the girl.
But many point to the MPAA’s rulings as outright censorship, which I understand, but don’t fully subscribe to. I once saw an interview with Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg, who said in his country, they have REAL censorship…a board that actually cuts things out of movies and a person could be arrested for putting them back in. The argument seems weaker in the age of DVD, where unrated versions hit disc all the time. In fact, it gives filmmakers two products for the price of one, something they love in the age of re-releasing titles several times over as special, more special and most special editions.
The secrecy of the MPAA is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the organization, because artists don’t know who’s passing judgment on their work and why. But rooting through their garbage cans? Reading out their license plate numbers on screen? Giving out personal information on these individuals as far as marital status and kids? Even that is a failed attempt…sure, some had kids that were out of the parental guidance parameter, but many fit right in.
And no viable alternative is offered. Parents have a right to be informed about what their kids watch, and I’ve always liked Roger Ebert’s idea of changing NC 17 back to X to designate straight out pornography, and putting an A rating between R and X to indicate no children allowed, but that the movie wasn’t porn.
No, Dick’s approach seems to be infiltrate, embarrass, and ridicule. Not only does that not promote effective change, it also doesn’t make for very entertaining cinema.
What I would have given for a serious, more thoughtful examination of the MPAA and what could be done to make it better for filmmakers and moviegoers in the future. Instead, all we get is a misguided, blustery crusade that knows it wants to accomplish something but can’t even focus on what.
BONUS TRIVIA: Dick submitted his movie to the MPAA and got an NC 17...was it because it was a slap at the ratings board and its policies? Or was it because his movie shows tons of scenes from other films that were excised to AVOID an NC 17?
It was shot on tape and transferred without anamorphic enhancement, not to mention low budget, so what did you expect?
Nothing but talking heads from start to finish, so no demands here.
Some of the features are entertaining…I enjoyed Kirby Dick’s Q & A, for example, and some of the five deleted scenes are actually better than the movie itself. A commentary with Dick and his crew rounds it off.
Frustrating and uninspired, This Film is Not Yet Rated is less a thoughtful commentary and more a temper tantrum.