Sunday, September 17, 2006


Some Adult Content

"And when some Canadian comes charging at you with his hockey stick or whatever, just remember what the MPAA says: Graphic, deplorable violence is okay, as long as there are no naughty words!"- Shiela Broflosky, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut

While watching This Film Is Not Yet Rated, I wondered if, just maybe, I should get out of the screenwriting trade and do something more pure. Like, say, being a professional hitman.

All right, that's hyperbole, obviously. But it's deserved. This Film Is Not Yet Rated might not be the most frightening film this year (that honor will likely go to Jesus Camp, which I saw the trailer for before the film), but it's certainly eye-opening, and with just the right amount of humor to soften the pain.

Kirby Dick, the director, basically goes on a mission to find out what the hell the MPAA is, and how it operates. He interviews filmmakers such as Matt Stone, John Waters, and Darren Aaronofsky, among others, who have all been threatened with the dreaded NC-17. The film goes into, in detail, just how awful the NC-17 is-- if your film gets it, it will not be promoted, its trailer will not be shown in theaters, and it will likely only air in art house or indie theaters. The reason films get rated NC-17 are extremely disconcerting, yet entirely predictable: sex. Gay sex, anal sex, sex with beaver shots, sex shown below the waist (as showcased in a hilarious "count the pelvic thrusts" sequence)... The most disturbing part, as showcased in a side-by-side sequence, is how films that show gay sexual content will usually be rated NC-17, yet films that show the exact same content in a straight context will be rated R (perhaps the most telling indicator of this is a female character masturbating through her bedclothes in But I'm A Cheerleader while Kevin Spacey's character whacks off in the shower, completely nude, in American Beauty).

The film's major accomplishment, however, is the fact that it manages to out the MPAA. As mentioned repeatedly throughout the film, the MPAA is the only rating boards in America, and probably the only film rating board in the world, where all the raters are anonymous. Joan Graves, head of the MPAA, says repeatedly that it's to "avoid influence", but as Dick finds out, there are members of the clergy present at these things, so that's right out. Dick manages to do what no one has done: by hiring a pair of (lesbian) PIs, he manages to out all nine MPAA raters. The revelations are shocking: while the MPAA touts that its raters have children between the ages of 5 and 17, few of them actually have children who could still be considered in that range (hell, one has no children at all).

I will admit that there were points of Kirby's I disagreed with. While I do believe that it is a bit sickening that graphic violence gets off easier than sexual content, I wouldn't believe that it adversely affects American youth. Still, I do agree with the idea that the MPAA shouldn't be making these decisions without a child behaviorist on its panel.

The part of the film, however, that truly proves that Dick has balls (sorry) is when he submits his own film to the MPAA. Yes, the film that not only rakes the MPAA over the coals, but which contains all the footage that was cut from other films for being NC-17. Needless to say, he gets an NC-17, but it's when he brings it to appeal that the truly scary shit comes forth. Dick is wheeled into a room with ten voters (all of whom are later outed as industry representatives), as well as two members of the clergy, and told that he is not allowed to bring up past MPAA decisions. That's right; the MPAA is allowed to blatantly contradict itself, and no one can call bullshit.

This is a movie everyone going into the business needs to see. Sadly, it was only playing in my theater for one week, so you'd better be quick. Still, it's best to understand the people who will likely be screwing you due to some sort of undefined, unfiltered idea of what is "appropriate".

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