DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED (director/writer: Kirby Dick; screenwriters: Eddie Schmidt/Matt Patterson; cinematographers: Shana Hagan/Kirsten Johnson/Amy Vincent; editor: Matthew Clarke; music: Michael S. Patterson; Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Eddie Schmidt; IFC Films; 2006)

 
"Takes a comical look at the ratings board and its nefarious activities in giving a film a rating."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Kirby Dick’s (“Sick”/“Derrida”/“Twist of Faith”) engaging, in-your-face, informative, exposé documentary about the secrets of G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17 (formerly called X) ratings handed out by the Motion Picture Association of America takes a comical look at the ratings board and its nefarious activities in giving a film a rating.  We soon learn that the MPAA refuses to release names of the influential members of the ratings board (except for the chairperson of the ratings board, Joan Graves), their qualifications for the job and the process by which their judgments are reached. To see if they can learn the raters names, Kirby hires a a pair of women private investigators to stake out MPAA headquarters and they manage to get the license plate numbers of the raters when they leave their secure compound for lunch. They also find some rating sheets when rummaging through the garbage.

The filmmaker also has a blast roasting the smarmy Jack Valenti, the lying weasel of a Washington insider (staffer in Lyndon B. Johnson’s White House) who reigned as president of the MPAA from 1966 to 2004 and was succeeded in 2005 by another Washington insider named Dan Glickman. The conservative Valenti did the bidding of the studios and built in place a censorship system that any fascist government could admire. The raters had no qualifications, but were supposedly ordinary parents (whatever that means) who come up with arbitrary decisions why films get a restricted rating. It's pointed out that sex bothers them more than violence, where showing pubic hair would get an R rating but lopping off a number of heads may still get a PG-13 rating. A number of filmmakers are on hand to bitch about this unfair system and they include John Waters, Kimberly Pierce, Matt Stone, Wayne Kramer, Allison Anders, Kevin Smith, Darren Aronofsky, Mary Harron, Jamie Babbit and Atom Egoyan. 

I'm in complete sympathy with the filmmakers and their complaints, and also found the anonymity granted to the panel of raters appallingly undemocratic for a free society. With that said, I found this film lacking in too many areas to be overwhelmed by what it covered--mostly info concerned with artistic freedom that should be readily known by those who care about film. This approach taken by Kirby though it's somewhat amusing and on the money, nevertheless is a superficial approach for a topic that demands much deeper analysis, a more serious tone and he should have responded better to genuine parental concerns about how they can judge safe films for their children to see. 

When Kirby submits his film to the MPAA raters he receives a NC-17 for the same reasons that got the featured movies in the film the same rating. It ends when Kirby goes through the same appeals system that the other directors did, only he reveals the names of all the appeal board members (all industry insiders) who were supposed to remain anonymous and that there were two members of the clergy (a Catholic priest and an Episcopalian minister, the same denominations are always present) who were silent observers without a vote. But to those who care about the quality of film, Kirby at least has shown how this rating process is flawed and that this system only makes a false moral assessment based on ignorance. The people Kirby doesn't attack are the masses, his audience to a certain extent, who choose to remain ignorant and support such a fascist system.

REVIEWED ON 4/1/2007        GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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