Daily Archives: January 20, 2007
Filmmaker Kirby Dick is a ballsy man. First, he crafts a rousing journalistic expose on the un-impartial and arcane practices of the Motion Picture Association of America ratings board. Then, and this is genius, he submits his own muckraking documentary to that same board for a rating. Dick’s potent film is ambitious and tries to do too much, touching every topic related to the MPAA it can think of; it practically steamrolls over the ideas of piracy and the fact that a national ratings board eliminates the all-too-likelihood of arbitrary local ratings systems. But Dick squares the MPAA in his sights and his aim is deadly. This is an organization that says it is voluntary and has no editorial control over how movies are made. But how voluntary is it when the NC-17 rating is treated as a commercial kiss of death, where newspapers won’t run ads, video stores won?t carry the film, and advertising is strictly limited?
Dick makes brilliant note of the different hypocrisies of the ratings systems. Sex is graded far more harshly than wanton violence, and what’s even worse is homosexual sex. Dick juxtaposes film clips side-by-side, one with heterosexual sex where the film received an R-rating, and the other with homosexual sex where the film received an NC-17 rating. The scenes are nearly identical except for the gender of the people involved. Also, sexual thrusting also seems to get the MPAA’s goat. An animated sequence detailing what is and isn’t allowed in a film per rating is hilarious (you did know you got one F-bomb for a PG-13 as long as it is not in reference to sex, right?). There’s a lot of filmmakers in here to share their MPAA horror stories of what was and wasn’t accountable for taste and some of it is baffling; Hilary Swank wiping her mouth after going down, off camera, on a girl is the difference between R and NC-17. The MPAA also has a disturbing habit of grading harshly when it comes to films that show women receiving pleasure through sexual intercourse.
The MPAA is also the only ratings board where its members are kept in secret in an effort, they say, to thwart coercion. Dick hires a private eye, who happens to be a lesbian no less, and together they hunt down the raters and reveal to the public for the first time who these arbitrators of taste really are. MPAA mastermind Jack Valenti said the raters would be comprised of normal parents; well Dick’s film exposes that many on the board have adult children, and some don’t have any kids at all. Plus there are two members of the clergy on this board in an “advisory” function. The film isn’t mean-spirited but is very angry but it’s an anger that Dick makes sure you understand and relate to. The most astonishing aspect of this documentary is that the MPAA actually listened and is loosening certain rules, allowing filmmakers to cite precedence when arguing for or against their ruling (“Hey, you can stab a guy in an ear with a penis in Scary Movie but we can?t have two women kiss?”). This is a must-see for film fanatics and those curious how the industry ceded power to a small group of middle-aged homeowners.
Nate?s Grade: B+