There’s a cruel irony beneath nearly every investigative documentary: you’ll learn something, but have another reason to feel uneasy about state of the world. In this case, it’s how a secret body of parents is controlling the American film industry. With This Film Is Not Yet Rated, director Kirby Dick exposes the censoring of American films and the Motion Picture Association of America’s monopoly of a rating system.
Here’s the gist: The MPAA runs a tight CIA-esque ship of parent reviewers, hired by Joan Graves, head of the Classification and Rating administration (and a registered Republican, of course), to rate a film’s content so that parents can know if a film is appropriate for their child. We’re all familiar with their ratings from movie trailers: G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC17 (No one 17 and under admitted). An NC17 rating is a director’s nightmare as it means that you’ll have limited means to market and distribute the film.
Dick’s big beef is that the MPAA doesn’t publish or follow any rating guidelines, reviewers’ identities are kept secret, and they receive no formal training. And, he argues that the MPAA has two biases: toward big studio films over indie studios (sad fact: Universal, WB, FOX, Paramount, Disney, Sony control more than 95% of U.S. film business), and towards violence over sex (raters especially irk at gay sex and female masturbation and orgasms).
The film includes interviews with directors (Kimberly Peirce, Boys Don’t Cry; Mary Harron, American Psycho; Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan and others) who speak candidly of their experiences with the rating system, but the key narrative is Dick’s hiring of a private investigator to stake out the MPAA and mockingly expose the identities of the raters.
Since Dick puts himself at the centre of the movie, The Guardian’s Philip French argues that his “deliberately mocking, confrontational style” verges towards a Michael Moore agenda-driven aesthetic: “virtually all the witnesses Dick gathers together are in various ways hostile to the MPAA.” However, it’s quite obvious that the system is wack and stale with puritanism—we’re (mostly) all on the same team here. And, as the AV Club’s Scott Tobias says, “his attacks are the equivalent of shooting ducks in a barrel, but these ducks had it coming.” Dick may be preaching to the choir, but I listened, enjoyed, and got some facts along the way. The Globe and Mail also gave the film praise: “[it] gets under your skin as another thought-provoking wake-up call about the power of studios and the corporations that back them,” says Jennie Punter.
My only gripe is that Dick doesn’t really provide any suggestions to resolve the problem, which is frustrating since he makes such an effort to solidify his argument. Either way, I learned some and laughed at the paparazzi-style unmasking of the raters. And overall, his argument is successful; and he does so without really veering into hot button political issues as many docs do (only one Iraq War reference, thanks Dick).
All in all, an 84% on Tomatometer, a B+ from the AV Club, and only 75% from Metacritic. Yet, I still recommend it and welcome your reviews.
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