This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Kirby Dick, Eddie Schmidt, and Matt Patterson, 2006

In the US, films are rated by a consortium of big studios known as the Motion Picture Association of America, or MPAA. Though in theory the ratings are voluntary and merely a guide for parents, in practice a film that does not seek a rating, or one that receives the adults-only NC-17 rating, will not be shown by large movie theater chains, and when it comes out on DVD, chain stores such as Blockbuster and Wal-Mart won't carry it. An NC-17 therefore dooms a film to a minuscule box office. This documentary is about how the MPAA ratings system operates.

Because the way the MPAA ratings system operates was actually a secret prior to the making of this film, This Film Is Not Yet Rated does not just present information but actually shows the chief filmmaker and some hired private eyes tracking MPAA raters' cars and digging through their trash and stuff. Even so, the film is not very cinematic: the spy stuff is not exactly James Bond, or even Sneakers. The rest of the film is talking heads and snappy graphics; there are some clips of NC-17 films to illustrate where the MPAA raters draw the line, but they're almost subliminally short. This project probably should have been a web site.

I also would have liked to have seen more organization. The focus of the movie skips all over the place. There's a little bit about the history of film censorship in the US. There's some stuff about inequities in the ratings system. (Studio films are cut more slack than independent ones. Raters tolerate tons of violence but freak out about sex. More tellingly, scenes that make murder look like harmless fun get PG-13 ratings while those that show the actual grisly consequences receive much harsher ones; and scenes that make sex look gross or degrading are judged leniently while those that honestly depict loving, pleasurable encounters get NC-17s pretty much automatically.) There's a brief discussion of the role corporate capitalism plays in the ratings system, and lots and lots of screen time devoted to unmasking the anonymous people on the ratings committee, who generally fail to meet the MPAA's published guidelines, and on the board of appeals, who are nearly all executives at studios and theater chains. And there's a little bit of talk about the effects the MPAA rating system has had on American society. (The fact that big stores and movie theaters act as though all their customers are children, refusing to carry material for adults, infantilizes the entire culture. And if all movies should be thought of as potential imprinting material for juveniles, as the MPAA seems to think, then we're desensitizing them to assault and murder — y'know, the sort of programming you get at boot camp. Furthermore, the ratings system encourages us to pretend we live in a world in which for some reason 16-year-olds need their innocent eyes shielded from even the suggestion of sex, let alone the sight of the human body, when we all know that we actually live in a world in which those 16-year-olds are going down on each other on the way back from their PG-13 movie. Hey, does any of this stuff — people unable to think and act as adults, stuck in a military mindset, and clinging to fantasy worlds that have no relationship to the facts — sound familiar?)

Unfortunately, I've probably put more sustained analysis into the parentheses above than This Film Is Not Yet Rated offers. It's mainly an exercise in stretching its rather humdrum PI work out to feature length, with interviews scattered around in a rather haphazard manner.

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