Wednesday, October 24, 2007

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Wow. If you like movies, you simply have to see this documentary that exposes the hypocrisy and double-standards rampant within the MPAA film ratings board in Hollywood. The documentary is alternately list as either "Not Rated" or "NC-17," a confusion which stems from the filmmakers' submission of an early version of the movie to the film ratings board in order to document the process. The final product--including the damning reveal of the secret "appeals board" at the end--is unrated and no doubt has earned the eternal enmity of MPAA petty tyrant Jack Valenti (now deceased).

The filmmakers expose Valenti's outright lies and equivocation with theatrical style. The fact that studio films are treated far more favorably than independent projects is absurd. The fact that, during an actual ratings appeal, filmmakers are strictly prohibited from referencing existing films with similar scenes. In effect, filmmakers are stripped of the only possible evidence they can use in their defense. Unbelievable.

Extensive interviews with such directors as Kevin Smith, John Waters and Kimberly Peirce focusing on their sometimes bizarre run-ins with the MPAA, but none is funnier than that of Matt Stone, one of the co-creators of South Park. He talks about the infamous puppet sex scene in the movie Team America: World Police, and how they knew the MPAA would demand massive cuts to it. In order to protect the extended joke, they filmed a significant number of additional acts between the puppets--some of which are hilarious in their spectacular depravity. When the MPAA "slapped it with an NC-17," Stone and Trey Parker simply cut the extraneous shots and this "concession" mollified the MPAA and earned the film an R rating. The MPAA also objected to the original South Park movie title: All Hell Breaks Loose which is pretty descriptive of the movie. The MPAA objected to the word "hell" in the title, nevermind that many, many films throughout history have used that word to no ill effect. The alternate title, "Bigger, Longer, Uncut" passed without trouble--until a week later when someone at the MPAA finally got the double entendre, but by then it was too late.

Quite possibly the most disturbing trend in the broken ratings system is the fact that violence--often extremely graphic, gory and brutal violence--rarely meets with objection from the board. But any hint of nudity, often regardless of the context, will instantly push the film up into the next highest category. Maria Bello is interviewed, and quite rightly irate about the fact that a brief shot of her pubic hair in a scene with William H. Macy initially earned the acclaimed film The Cooler an NC-17 rating. Considering that incidental nudity was not all that uncommon in PG movies from the 70s, and that hyper-realistic violence practically saturates cinema screens these days, and it's not hard to see where our priorities have gone askew.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated is a keeper. It loses its way a bit in the middle, but recovers nicely at the end. And be sure to check out the deleted scenes, which exposes the MPAA for actually pirating this very movie, in violation of the MPAA's own stated rules. Highly recommended.

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