This Film Is Not Yet Rated is an interesting if ultimately unsatisfying look at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Made for no other reason, it seems, so that director Kirby Dick could make this movie and submit it to the ratings board, I felt that many issues were highlighted but nothing was really accomplished. In fact, it seemed like all this movie did was show us the system of ratings in place at the MPAA, but it didn't go much beyond that. Coming from a someone like Kirby Dick (who also directed the film Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist; among other documentaries), this movie has an agenda, I just don't think that it fulfilled it.
We begin This Film Is Not Yet Rated by hearing from directors like Kevin Smith (Jersey Girl) and Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don't Cry), who had movies that they made leveled with NC-17 ratings. Now, based on what the MPAA says, it is essentially up to the filmmaker to figure out what they need to do to get the movie an R rating. NC-17 is apparently death in the marketplace. The MPAA doesn't tell independent filmmakers what to cut, they just give them the rating (they can then recut the film and resubmit it for a more favorable nod). However, it seems like the MPAA will work with studios (telling them what to cut) and that there is some incestuous relationship because the MPAA gets studio money. In fact, it seems that members of various studios are working in various positions for the MPAA. All of this is done under a veil of secrecy, with nobody knowing who any of the raters are because the MPAA doesn't want them to be influenced (yet, they are influenced by the studios).
So Kirby Dick gets two private investigators (who just happen to lesbians), to find out who the raters are. We also get a history of censorship in Hollywood, some risqué clips from movies that we haven't seen before, and of course some interesting insights from the filmmakers who have been victims of this process. While I found this all to be very entertaining and interesting, I never felt that I got the point of this movie.
How do studios, the MPAA, or anybody benefit from applying restrictive ratings to filmmakers movies?
Is there something happening behind the scenes? Are studios having movies buried or altered so that the indies can't compete with them? When one considers how many independent films (and by this I mean from places like Lionsgate, Focus, THINKFilm, etc.) regularly get nominated for Academy Awards, it doesn't seem like ratings one way or another really effect these movies. Lets be honest, soccer moms, by and large, aren't going to see films like Boys Don't Cry. Orgazmo isn't the kind of movie that's going to bring in $50 million dollars at the box office. So I guess I just found the filmmakers to not really have a case. Also, do the studios pay for the ratings their film's get? This is never discovered but had that been the focus of this documentary that could have been really interesting. Of course, by doing that Kirby Dick risks never working in Hollywood again, and I am sure that while that sounds fine in theory, it probably isn't all too hot in practice.
I am not saying that we shouldn't preserve an artists work. I just think that we have to understand that a lot of the movies censorship has affected are films that weren't meant for the mainstream anyway. Does this mean that they shouldn't have a chance to get there? Of course not. There is just material that isn't going to play in the marketplace. It is a messed up system but aren't punk rock films always fighting against that? Isn't that what indy films originally were? DIY statements that found their audience through the sheer willpower of their creators? So when Kevin Smith complains about not running TV ads, I think he needs to understand if you're going to go the "punk" route, you need to realize that punkers never watched TV. They kicked them in.
We have to understand what we're talking about. This Film Is Not Yet Rated starts off with a lot of steam, but then doesn't really end up getting to the station. It seems to delve into some issues (I found the idea of the MPAA trying to "deny" women pleasure to be very interesting), I just seems like Dick started shooting, got what he got and then made his film with the available assets. As a result, this project only seems about halfway done.