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In a rare and refreshing reversal of roles, filmmakers put the powerful Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA for short) under the microscope for inspection in Academy Award-nominated director Kirby Dick's incisive look at stateside cinema's most notorious non-censoring censors. Compelled by the staggering amount of power that the MPAA ratings board wields, the filmmaker seeks out the true identities of the anonymous elite who control what films make it to the multiplex. He even goes so far as to hire a private investigator to stake out MPAA headquarters and expose Hollywood's best-kept secret. Along the way, Dick speaks with numerous filmmakers whose careers have been affected by the seemingly random and sexual-content obsessed judgments of the MPAA, including John Waters, Mary Harron, Darren Aronofsky, Kevin Smith, Matt Stone, and Atom Egoyan. Written by
Interesting and insightful, but more for film fans than casual watchers
Alright, let's just say it right from the start: the MPAA sucks. They make good films turn into films that are hacked up just to fit their 'moral' agenda, and they are the bane of the existence of Hollywood filmmakers. Being from Canada, I have the benefit of a much fairer system, but one that is affected by the MPAA nonetheless. So when a film like This Film is Not Yet Rated comes out, I definitely become interested. And interesting is what this film is.
The documentary is about the NC-17 rating primarily, and the people and groups fighting against it. When it is not showing interviews and clips about the horror stories in trying to get director's films cut to a suitable R or PG-13 rating, it is about director and star Kirby Dick's hired private investigators trying to get the names of the members of the MPAA ratings board.
Watching the film is a bit of an on and off experience.
On because the interviews with directors like Kevin Smith, Atom Egoyan, Jamie Babbit, Matt Stone, and Wayne Kramer are absolutely fascinating to listen to. They talk about the troubles they had with the MPAA, show the "obscene" footage from their films, and even offer some ideas as to how the MPAA can change for the better, rather than completely tear the company up to pieces. All of these clips are excellently edited together, and in some instances, offer some pretty amusing anecdotes. Seeing the offending clips from the films was also interesting, as just simply talking about them would defeat the purpose of the documentary itself (which thankfully, originally got an NC-17 for having the clips in the film).
These interviews also offer a lot of moments talking about the rules of the MPAA itself. Listening to how ridiculous some get can be hilarious, but it is also enlightening. For someone who is into film and only knows the basics of the MPAA, it offers a lot of information on the final process a movie has to go through before it makes it to the theatre. The clips offered a lot more information than I imagined, and they elevate the film greatly.
Another element I liked was showing the hypocrisies of the MPAA, and interview footage of former head Jack Valenti himself. It made the film feel a whole lot more complete, and gave it more of an authentic circular viewpoint. If they had simply just included the viewpoints of the filmmakers, journalists, authors, doctors and lawyers (like I half expected them to show), than they would not have nearly had as much credibility as they end up having. Of course, these moments are practically the funniest in the film, but they still offer plenty of intriguing insights. I think some comparisons to other country's film rating systems probably could have only enlivened this credibility even more.
Where I think the film fails and becomes off is in the almost obsessive search to find out the identity of the MPAA's raters. I understand that it is pivotal to the entirety of the film, but it just drags the film down into depravity and ridiculousness. It shows these moments in an amusing light, but they really are not that funny. They offer a bit too much information in some sequences (like blurring out license plate numbers, but having the private investigator say the numbers anyway), and the payoff just does not feel entirely proper. It does not have the intensity or the postmodern awareness that the interview clips do. They just feel kind of boring, and in some parts, unnecessary. Dick was already exposing the fraudulence and downright deceitful nature of the MPAA. Did he really need to go so far as to expose everything imaginable?
I am unsure of why it the exposing got to me so much, but it just did not feel totally right in a lot of cases. I liked how much dedication Dick and his crew had for the material, but it feels more like two different films than it does one cohesive whole. The information does not become overwhelming in any scene, but it does feel like overkill in some parts. The film is just over ninety minutes long, but it feels like it could have been trimmed. And most of that trimming could have probably come from scenes involving the private investigators. They just are nowhere near as interesting as the insight and horror stories offered in the interviews and film clips.
This Film is Not Yet Rated is an interesting documentary, and it offers a lot of insight that I seriously doubted it would. It is definitely a recommended watch for anyone who is interested in the film-making process, but for anyone else, it may just be something to casually watch part of and then turn off. I will hand it to Dick though. The final product is something I never thought the MPAA would have passed with any rating.
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