Once most filmgoers pass the age of 17, a film’s rating becomes irrelevant (until they have children). Many don’t realize the effect a rating has on the filmmakers and studios. Kirby Dick’s documentary ‘This Film Is Not Yet Rated’ investigates how detrimental and arbitrary these decisions really are.
If a film receives an NC-17 rating, most theatres won’t show it and most newspapers won’t advertise it. So filmmakers, when given this rating, must cut out certain material, sometimes entire scenes, to get to the more desirable R rating. Often, the filmmakers have no idea what should be cut, as they are given no direction by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). As the documentary points out, the members of the MPAA ratings board are kept anonymous and hence, are not held accountable for their decisions. To make things more frustrating, there is no training for raters and no criteria for rating.
Writer/producer Matt Stone recalls the decision to pack as much into Team America: World Police’s infamous puppet sex scene as possible so when the got the inevitable NC-17 they’d have something to cut out.
With the help of a private investigator, Kirby Dick is able to identify all members serving on the anonymous board. What will this accomplish? I don’t know, but I suppose it’s a start. Even without the P.I. the film is a damning portrait of the ratings board, featuring interviews with filmmakers, film scholars, former ratings board members and a first amendment attorney among others. I don’t know if the P.I. is even necessary to get the point across, even though she’s a lot of fun to watch in action. But when she starts digging through a rater’s trash, I wonder how low she and Dick are willing to go. What they find in the trash is mildly interesting but doesn’t further their case. The horror stories from directors like Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream), Kevin Smith (Clerks), Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) and John Waters (A Dirty Shame) whose films have been “slapped with” the dreaded NC-17 rating are far more compelling.
Possibly the most damning of what’s uncovered about the board is the fairly obvious homophobia that influences their decisions. “We don’t set values, we reflect them,” said a spokesperson from the board. Scenes of homosexuality are almost guaranteed an NC-17. This became very obvious to me when I saw Pedro Almodovar’s NC-17 rated Bad Education, whose scenes of sexuality are very tame. As far as nudity we briefly see Gael García Bernal’s butt. But said scenes of sexuality are between two men. Meanwhile films featuring brutal violence skate with an easy R rating. One wonders what the MPAA is trying to “protect” America’s children from.
The effect this film can potentially have on the future of the ratings board, if any, is yet to be seen, as it is a recent release on DVD. It should come as no surprise that it has been rated NC-17.
The DVD features commentary with director Kirby Dick, producer Eddie Schmidt and private investigator Becky Altringer. They have an interesting discussion about the life of the film since it wrapped, incidentally the same day it premiered at Sundance. There are also a handful of deleted scenes that delve into the issues of piracy and public domain.