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Eugene Weekly : Movie Review : 10.12.06


Bucking the System

Taking on the MPAA


THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED: Directed by Kirby Dick. With Allison Anders, David Ansen, Darren Aronofsky, Jamie Babbit, Maria Bello, Atom Egoyan, Mary Harron, Wayne Kramer, Kimberly Peirce, Kevin Smith, Matt Stone, Michael Tucker, John Waters, Becky Altringer, Cheryl Howell and Lindsey Howell. IFC Films, 2006. Not rated. 97 minutes.

Dark, fascinating topics are nothing new for filmmaker Kirby Dick, whose earlier documentaries include Sick, about sadomasochist Bob Flanagan, and the Oscar-nomiated Twist of Faith, about child abuse by a priest. His newest film, This Film is Not Yet Rated, takes on a group that seems public but is actually deeply secretive and flawed: the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) film ratings board, the self-regulating body of the film industry.

Lindsey Howell and Becky Altringer stake out the MPAA.

Dick's film follows multiple narrative paths. Interviews with filmmakers, producers, lawyers, writers and former raters uncover the workings of the ratings board; Dick and three private investigators try to discover the names of the current board members; toward the end, the very making of the film becomes the story, as Dick experiences the process of getting his film rated and appealing the rating.

While the investigation of the board members is goofily effective and the appeals process eye-opening, the most fascinating parts of the film explore the creation of the MPAA; the tightly-guarded secrecy of the board's members and workings; the lack of structure, training and accountability; and the problematic ratings themselves. As many have noted over the years, the board rates more strictly for sex than violence. Dick goes one step further, showing that same-sex scenes are rated more harshly than their heterosexual equivalents.

Former MPAA president Jack Valenti, prone to such sweepingly unbelievable statements it's a wonder he can sleep at night, claims ratings "have nothing to do with box office," but a chorus of dissenting voices drowns him out. An NC-17 rating, the harshest of the lot, limits the ability to market a film — assuming a studio would even pick it up for distribution in the first place. Major DVD rental and sales outlets won't carry films with NC-17 ratings.

What becomes clear, as filmmakers from Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) and Mary Harron (American Psycho) to Kevin Smith and John Waters speak, is that this anonymous board of "average" parents is more than a way to warn filmgoers about things they might not want their kids to see. It's the gateway through which films pass to reach the general public, and it finds cartoonish, consequence-free violence preferable to orgasms. Dick's film touches on so many flaws in the studio and ratings systems that it's difficult to sum up; the sheer number of fascinating observations made by filmmakers and others, though they sometimes only skim the surface of a topic, begs a wide audience. Low-budget, low-key, affecting and sharp, This Film is Not Yet Rated takes the old, familiar complaint about the MPAA's inconsistencies and makes a detailed and compelling argument for revisiting the decades-old system.

This Film is Not Yet Rated opens Friday, Oct. 13 at the Bijou.



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