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The Motion Picture Association of America runs a top-secret ratings organization that, though supposedly voluntary, has been accused on several occasions of being guilty of censorship. Filmmaker Kirby Dick decides to investigate the interworkings of the enigmatical organization, and hires a private investigator to find out who these people are. Meanwhile, a brave batch of filmmakers offer up some intriguing war stories.

This Film is Not Yet Rated
Long have I been enthralled with the ins and outs of censorship, popular film censorship in particular. When I first started my obsessive-compulsive mandatory viewing of horror titles on VHS I started to notice that some of the boxes read 'unrated edition' right next to the one that read 'Rated R'. I didn't get this at first, but enough reading up in various genre publications and 'zines' gave me the information I needed—it seemed that the MPAA was rating new movies NC-17, and had rated older films X, and because these ratings were deemed unacceptable by the majority of advertisers, theatres, and rental chains these movies were, in effect being censored.

Research will tell you that countries outside of the United States will censor and flat out ban plenty of features based on violent content. For some naive reason, I'd always assumed that the assertion that there was no censorship of the arts in my home country was true, but I found through my 'research' (if you can even call it that), that the US was rather notorious around the film community as being entirely appalled by sex and nudity on screen, and in some cases realistic violence or 'rough' language.

As a student of this particular subject, I didn't actually learn that much from This Film is Not Yet Rated, but I am not necessarily the film's target audience. I am the chior the filmmakers need not preach too. This doesn't mean that the film was worthless to me however. Fortunately the movie is absurdly entertaining and moves at a rocket's pace.

The stuff I wasn't privy to was mostly the specific stories of independent filmmakers and their various attempts at achieving an acceptable rating for their films. The tales themselves are so amusing that I wanted more of them. John Waters, Kevin Smith, and Matt Stone kind of rule over the entire film based solely on their enormously charming personalities and witty senses of humour on the subject. All three have been in the business for a while now, and fought and won enough battles to look back on the process in an amusing light. Less prolific filmmakers, like American Psycho director Mary Harron and Boys Don't Cry director Kimberly Peirce share more tragic and generally depressing tales of censorship at the fingers of the MPAA. It's too bad that so many of the folks Kirby Dick spoke to were afraid to tell their stories on camera.

This Film is Not Yet Rated
A novice (and by novice I mean someone who hasn't spent depressing, lonely hours reading books on the subject) will probably be struck most by the fact that the MPAA is run by the major studios. This means two things, one, the rules of the ratings system have nothing to do with the government and are enforced by choice only, and two, independent and foreign films are at the mercy of the Big 6 in the process. According to one interviewee, the ratings system is technically unconstitutional. Above the blatant homophobia, rampant misogynism, and fear of all things sexual, it is the fact that these decisions represent the moral choices of massive corporations that bothers me, and hopefully you, the most.

Again, Dick doesn't quite delve deep enough into the connotations these facts bring about, and for the most part avoids the political slants on the subject, with the exception of the exploration of 'morals', which probably shouldn't be specifically aligned with any political party, but unfortunately often are. Instead, most of the focus is aimed at the subjects more tangible problems, such as the fact that no other organization in America is a secretive as the MPAA, with the exception of the CIA.

The secrecy is the thrusting focus of the film, and makes for some interesting drama, and for some big laughs. Any association taking themselves this seriously as saviours of parents across America is funny, but when they hold onto their secrets like Enigma Machine codes it becomes hilarious. Dick knows what angles to exploit, and the scenes with Private Investigator Becky Altringer are pretty priceless, poking even more fun at the asinine nature of the situation.

This Film is Not Yet Rated
The film takes a stance on violence being much worse for small children than sex and nudity. Though I can easily agree with that, often the participants and filmmakers run a slippery slope into condemning film violence altogether. I'm sure Maria Bello wasn't offended by the actual implant stabbing scene in Scary Movie, rather by the fact that the Wayans Bros. movie passed with an R and hers ( The Cooler) was cut for one, but her intentions could easily be confused.

Again, it's easy enough to agree that sex is healthy and violence is not, but the condemning of one over the other verges on trading one form of censorship for another, when it seems that the filmmaker's focus should be that of the wrongness of censorship in general. Parenting someone else’s children and sheltering them from violence is really no different than what the MPAA is so guilty of in the first place. I'm reading into possible intentions here, and I may be wrong about what the filmmakers are inferring, but if that's the case perhaps the film was lacking some understanding.

The best quote from the entire picture comes from Requiem for a Dream and Fountain director Darren Aronofsky, who says that the sanitized, bloodless violence of most PG-13 movies is obviously more damaging to young, impressionable minds than that of realistic, hard R violence (or at least a great deal of it).

The big turn off for some folks here will be the film's undeniably flippant and sometimes snobbish sense of humour and purpose. When the film cracks a joke it often looks down its nose at its dissenters. This is some very volatile fuel for someone who may not like the film's message, and is one of the reasons the MPAA's puritan approach still works, the other side looks like a bunch of intellectual masturbators pointing their fingers at the maleducated masses as guffawing at their simple nature. I'm not saying this is what I see in the filmmakers, but they will defiantly skirt the line with some people.

This Film is Not Yet Rated
Without going on for another ten paragraphs, I'll reiterate the fact that this is an entertaining film, and one the uninitiated need to see. Film fans need to understand what goes on behind the scenes. But there are just too many grand ideas floating around here for one motion picture documentary. This Film is Not Yet Rated is more of a trailer for a series of better, more in depth films, or better yet, a pilot for an IFC station series. This is a must see, but requires too much further study to be a complete success.

Video


Um, the movie was made this year, and got a theatrical release, but the DVD is non-anamorphic. Really? I figured it was some kind of an error until I checked the box art, and sure enough, non-anamorphic. I understand it's a low budget documentary, but really, why not anamorphic? Besides this, the transfer is fine, entirely average. There's a lot of raw footage that looks unsurprisingly raw, muted, and noisy, whereas the animated footage is unsurprisingly clean, colourful, and bright. The footage culled from other films varies, though this may be due to the fact that it was deleted from original prints and possibly not treated with the greatest respect.

This Film is Not Yet Rated

Audio


Our non-anamorphic video is complimented by a Dolby Surround soundtrack. Honestly a 5.1 mix is unneeded, as this is, again, a low budget documentary. The dialogue is clear most of the time, and when unclear is subtitled. There are no obvious distortions throughout, and even the stereo channels get a little busy when the music kicks in. The music, by the way, varies from perfect to awful, though I'm pretty sure this ‘bad’ music is used ironically.

Extras


All those people who misread the filmmaker's slightly snobby senses of humour and intentions should be silenced when listening to the audio commentary. The commentary features director Kirby Dick, producer Eddie Schmidt, the film's private investigator Becky Altringer, and AICN's Drew McWeeny. There is never a shortage of stuff to talk about, and the commentary is an important companion piece, especially considering the absence of a making of documentary. McWeeny makes some great observations, and really keeps things moving, and Altringer gives a nice insight into the private investigation vocation, but it is, of course Dick's commentary in the end.

I was offered an email interview with Schmidt and Dick, and because the initial disc sent was lost in the mail I only had a day to watch the film and list my questions. Most of my questions are unfortunately answered on the DVD, between the commentary and the SXSW Film Fest Q&A. I haven't heard back on the questions I sent yet, but anyone curious about them might want to just watch this DVD. I wish there were more Qs in the Q&A, but these will do.

This Film is Not Yet Rated
The deleted scenes are rare in that I'd like to see them put back into the feature. There are two filmmaker's stories, L.I.E. director Michael Cuesta, and Love & Basketball director Gina Prince-Bythewood. Cuesta has always been outspoken about his film's MPAA treatment, which was rated NC-17 simply because of its paedophilia and homosexual themes. Prince-Bythewood's story was new to me, and the director brings up the interesting question of possible racial profiling on the board, purposeful or not.

Another striking deleted scene is one where it is revealed that This Film is Not Yet Rated was illegally copied by people at the MPAA. In light of the MPAA recent obsession with piracy (Valenti actually compares it to terrorism), this is a very rich irony, and it's too bad that it couldn't make the final cut (according to the commentary there simply wasn't time). The rest of the scenes are made up of little tales of the ratings system as told by the likes John Waters and Kevin Smith—funny stuff.

The disc is completed by the original theatrical trailer.

This Film is Not Yet Rated

Overall


This Film is Not Yet Rated needs to be seen by the ignorant, and though it ends with even more questions than answers, and will rub some viewers the wrong way with its occasionally condescending humour, it'll probably teach a thing or two to the educated as well. I look forward to more, but am afraid it won't be coming. The DVD has some great extras, but a weak, non-anamorphic presentation, and a blah 2.0 soundtrack.


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