This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Since 1968, the MPAA (The Motion Picture Association of America), the official industry trade organization, has instituted a film rating system (like it or not) thanks almost exclusively–if you believe him–to the efforts of Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA at the time.
Kirby Dick has chosen this rating system as the subject of his film This Film Is Not Yet Rated. If you’re like me, and don’t recall all those posters in you local theater– bear with me– here they are: G General Audiences All ages admitted; PG Parental Guidance suggested Some material may not be suitable for children; PG–13 (this rating was added later) Parents strongly cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13; R Restricted No one under 17 admitted without parent or adult guardian; (and the dreaded) NC-17 (formerly X) No one 17 and under admitted.
This Film is Not Yet Rated Review
There’s no point in trying to sort out the difference between the ratings, though the MPAA does print outlines (online), especially between the last three: PG13, R, and NC-17. Here is where Kirby Dick concentrates his film.
A number of directors (mostly independents) air their complaints. I wish Dick could have persuaded more heavy hitters to be interviewed. Perhaps there is a reason they weren’t. Though Dick lists names of about everyone in the business, implying they all do battle with the rating system.
At the core of the complaint is the method of rating. A “secret” board of, as Valenti states, “normal American parents” review every film submitted. You don’t have to submit your film, but a rating of “this film is unrated” may be equally as deadly as an NC-17.
So what’s so bad about that, you ask? Let the public see what they want. No one stops these producers from releasing their films. Not so fast. The uproar lies behind what the studios (in advertising and distribution) do. According to Dick, an NC-17 film will die a quick death, untouched by the studios and most theaters. There goes profit and viewership.
And worse, the secret board will even cite reasons for their ratings, allowing the directors to cut scenes and reapply for a new rating, hopefully an “R” and a release to general audiences, and even more hopefully, profits. These seem like reasons to abhor this whole system. Maybe. What sounds good on the surface isn’t so simple after all, even after Dick tries his best to discredit the whole ratings game.
Those interviewed in the film decry the arbitrary nature of the ratings, claiming the board focuses far too heavily on sex and drugs while allowing violence more leeway. And if you see this film, be prepared for examples of board approved NC17 material (and possibly NC17 material in most of our own ratings).
We hear from some film critics, authors, and a “theater analyst”; kind of a mixed bag of “experts” (at least you don’t have to watch their sex scenes over and over). In that respect, we hear a somewhat reasonable approach to the subject.
But Dick the leads us into a bizarre turn of events with his attempt at exposing the identities of the review board by hiring a private investigator; like throwing in a little reality TV to keep us watching.
Valenti and the new director, Dan Glickman (who we never see or hear from) set up the secrecy to “protect the board from undue influence”, so says Valenti in his mission statement. But this is exactly what gripes Dick and those he interviews. They demand to know their accusers. I think, if I were a “rater” as Dick calls them, I would want secrecy to be protected from makers of documentaries.
The film ends with all the board members exposed: photos and particulars– so much for MPAA protection. I actually felt sympathy for them. Like a jury being ID’s on TV, done in by a sleazy journalist.
Valenti come across, through old TV appearances, as an insufferable tyrant. Perhaps he was, but he left no doubt about his mission–to provide parents with some kind of guide to films.
But this film argues that since an NC-17 rating ruins chances of distribution, it is all just censorship with no recourse (in fact there is an appeals provision, with industry people as the jury–who rarely overturn decisions).
Where does the film leave us? I’m not sure. We have all the board members exposed (is it legal to for the PI’s to ID people from license plates?) and a lot of crying over the puritan nature of the board–especially when it was discovered one member was a Protestant minister and another a spokesman for Catholics.
The irony, for me, in the film is while all those interviewed bristle at the censorship, they still unwittingly admit there are limits. In fact, one tactic by directors is to intentionally include excessively offensive material (almost always sexual in content) which they never intend to use in hopes of getting away with cutting less material.
And they do cut. Unless you go unrated, like this film.
I agree the system is subjective. Raters count certain words, count “thrusts”, look for exposed parts of the body, look for drugs, and on and on. (Who would want this job, anyway?). And I suppose this is some kind of coercive form of censorship, by way of economics.
But back to the irony- the complaining directors sometimes give examples of something THEY think is offensive. So there is a limit. EVERYONE has a limit to what they will view, especially sitting next to their children (and it may not have to do with sex).
So maybe the real question Kirby Dick is asking has to do with any censorship. Who does it and should it be done at all. And DOES ALL THIS REALLY MATTER.
The MPAA are no fools. They represent a box office business in the US of about 9 billion dollars and internationally, of about 24 billion dollars. That’s only box office. There may not be a clear reason for many ratings. But Kirby Dick has not, in this film, given us any compelling reason to dismantle it.