This Film Is Not Yet Rated
2006Director: Kirby Dick
Cast: Kirby Dick, Becky Altringer, Kimberly Peirce
ontrary to what the title seems to suggest, This Film Is Not Yet Rated was actually rated NC-17. It’s the dreaded death rating, the one that reroutes a movie from potential financial gain to almost-immediate commercial nullity. This is interesting to point out because, by its nature, the title of Kirby Dick’s new documentary is more a joke that writes itself than a contentious statement of fact. Further to the point, the movie comes close to provoking more controversy via its title, as opposed to any cultural repercussion its investigative acerbity might lead to, though a PR stunt this ain’t.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated treads volatile territory. Here Dick (an Academy Award nominee for 2004’s Twist of Faith) takes aim at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and its particularly nebulous practice of rating movies. By all accounts, Dick’s merits are numerous, yet, once all cards are on the table, the hints of Dick’s slow-mo sensationalism risk falling flat. Where the filmmaker is fierce, his subject is disappointingly aloof, and where he lets go, opportunities soar from all angles. Which, in other words, adds up to a good ninety minutes of solid, important, and entertaining investigative reporting with the inevitable trickle of rhetorical lecturing, though it doesn’t do the movie any harm.
The purpose of the MPAA—to offer parents guidance about movies so that they can decide what they want their children to see—sounds like a reasonably noble cause on paper. And yet, why is a gay nipple worse than a straight one? Why can children shoot guns but not have sex? There’s no denying the muddled politics integral to the buttoned-up approach the MPAA employs to classify the good from the bad; consequently, the ratings system has come to confuse, rather than educate, the mind of the average parent and moviegoer. But as But I’m a Cheerleader director Jamie Babbit asks in this movie, who, in this day and age, is the average parent? I’m obviously not here to raise questions about the cultural implications of a system such as the MPAA, but this, in short, is what we’re working with here.
Dick tackles the demystification of this seemingly absurd arbitrariness by hiring a private detective, whose role takes a while to get going, with the grand aim of exposing the identities of the eight-member board that makes up the MPAA ratings panel (an officially kept secret so as to protect them from outside “pressure”). Now, the fact that the board of directors is made up of six of the largest media conglomerates, which together control 95% of the media in the United States, makes any reference to the ratings board as remotely “independent” or “uninfluenced” seem somewhat disputable. Along the way, interviews with filmmakers (Kimberly Peirce, Mary Harron, Atom Egoyan, Kevin Smith, John Waters, Wayne Kramer, to name a few) that have tussled with the MPAA over their movies being branded with the NC-17 curse supplement Dick’s guerrilla approach.
More than ever before, the presence of “utilitarian” documentaries seems particularly pervasive, and at this rate, it’ll soon be enough to sign up with Netflix to catch up with what’s going on around the world. This is activist filmmaking, in much the same spirit as Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me or Robert Greenwald’s Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. The hope here is for Dick’s work to land on fertile ground. Unfortunately, this may be precluded by his outreach failing to match his ambitions—the wider public consequences of the system are merely glossed over in favour of supporting filmmakers’ interests, as if these were the only concerns of any actual relevance. Just how far Dick’s scathing offensive will go toward actual change is anyone’s guess, but as exposes are concerned, this one’s a winner. Even with a surrendered NC-17 rating, Dick is likely to be the last one laughing. Inquisitive and entertaining, this is solid stuff.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated is playing in limited release.
By: Sandro Matosevic
Published on: 2006-10-03