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‘Not Yet Rated’ asks compelling questions

Fascinating look at what passes the MPAA’s muster and what doesn’t
kevin smith
In this photo provided by IFC Films, director Kevin Smith is asked whether Hollywood movies and independent films are rated equally for comparable content in \"This Film is Not Yet Rated.\" (AP Photo/IFC Films)Ifc Films / Ap / IFC FILMS
/ Source: The Associated Press

The title of Kirby Dick’s documentary “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” is not entirely accurate.

The film was submitted to the ratings board of the Motion Picture Association of America and was branded exactly as could be expected, with an NC-17 rating that prohibits anyone younger than 17 from attending.

The filmmakers and distributor chose to release it without a rating, but the NC-17 classification remains an ironic badge of honor at the heart of the documentary, which dissects what many cinema fans have long considered Hollywood’s strange and arbitrary procedures for measuring objectionable material in movies.

Dick cops an absurdist tone to tell the story of an often absurd, sometimes surreal method whereby an anonymous panel supposedly representative of the “average American family” hands out G, PG, PG-13, R or NC-17 ratings, deciding who can and cannot see certain flicks.

The director — who made the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Twist of Faith,” recounting a man’s childhood sexual abuse by a priest — approaches the film with a Michael Moore-like sense of purpose — though with a considerably more unassuming attitude.

Like Moore’s movies, this certainly is not an objective documentary. Interviews in “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” predominantly are filled with bemused outrage and disbelief from edgy filmmakers and daring actors who have run afoul of the ratings board and critics who think the system’s a joke.

Matt Stone (“South Park”) relates how he and filmmaking partner Trey Parker added outrageous footage they did not even want to the puppet sex scene in “Team America: World Police,” hoping they could sneak less explicit material past the MPAA.

Maria Bello and director Wayne Kramer lament the NC-17 rating their film “The Cooler” received because of a glimpse of Bello’s pubic hair in a love scene, while “Scary Movie” earned an R rating despite the bloody opening sequence in which a woman’s breast implant is ripped out by a slasher’s knife.

“American Psycho” director Mary Harron tells how vicious ax murder and chain-saw sequences in her movie passed muster with the MPAA, but a three-way sex scene did not.

The movie incorporates explicit sex clips from many movies, footage that earned the documentary its initial NC-17 rating.

Interspersed among the interviews are clever animated sequences that irreverently chide the MPAA and its keepers, along with amusing segments featuring a private eye Dick hired to pry into the identities and duties of ratings board members.

Dick’s general conclusions echo what MPAA critics have been saying for decades since the ratings system came into being in the late 1960s: That filmmakers are given fuzzy guidance on how to cut films to receive lower ratings; that the board is lax on violence and prudish on sex and is tougher on erotic scenes between same-sex partners than those involving a man and woman; that ratings procedures are secretive and the appeals process inadequate; and that independent films are rated more harshly than those from the big studios that formed the MPAA as its chief trade group.

Dick submitted an early cut of his film for an MPAA rating, then added a postscript that gives the documentary its potent, Kafkaesque climax, in which the director tries to lift the veil of secrecy on the appeals process.

The film is not likely to win many converts to the I Hate The MPAA Club. Cinephiles who enjoy uncompromising adult films and abhor gratuitous violence already are members. The majority of Americans who stick mainly to generic blockbusters are not going to lose much sleep if their 16-year-old can’t see “Boys Don’t Cry” the way director Kimberly Peirce originally intended.

“This Film Is Not Yet Rated” includes archival footage of former MPAA boss Jack Valenti doling out his pat statement that three-fourths of parents with young children find the ratings useful.

The real value of Dick’s film is not in refuting that. It doesn’t. Rather, it makes the point that apathy, not support, makes so many people think the ratings are useful, since the MPAA is the only game in town.

And it makes a good case for some all-American free enterprise to come up with an alternative.