Rating system gets rated

Reeling it in

Posted: Thursday, November 09, 2006


  "This Film is Not Yet Rated" Independent film 1 hour, 37 minutes

"This Film is Not Yet Rated"

Independent film

1 hour, 37 minutes

This weekend, while the rest of you were struggling to decide between attending a screening of the Pixar-lite “Flushed Away” about rats and their adventures in the sewer system, and the winner of the Beat-A-Dead-Horse award, “The Santa Clause 3,” I was visiting an ex-student at Montana State University.

While here, I was treated to an amazing and important new documentary.

“This Film is Not Yet Rated” is a scathing new film which attacks the entrenched cinematic censorship organization, the Motion Picture Arts Association. In essence, the film looks at the process a movie goes through to get a rating, the appeals options that film has upon receiving a rating, and the consequences, both social and financial, the film incurs upon losing that appeal (the most common outcome.)

Director Kirby Dick structures the film by simultaneously exploring the history of the ratings system, interviewing filmmakers who have had dealings with the ratings board in the past and employing a private detective to spy on the organization itself.

What emerges is a pattern of hypocrisy and intolerance from a secret organization with virtually no oversight.

Here’s how the process works. You write, fund, film and edit your movie. You submit that finished product to the MPAA ratings board, where a group of anonymous viewers will watch and argue the merits of your film before bestowing upon it a rating based upon elements they find objectionable.

After you receive a rating you can either recut the movie to excise objectionable material and resubmit or appeal the rating to an equally shadowy appeals board.

Some of you may be thinking, “What’s the big deal?” In a perfect world, you would be right to dismiss this as a tempest in teapot. After all, there is no law that forces a film to accept the rating of the MPAA. A filmmaker always has the option to release a movie as “unrated.”

When it began in the 1960s, the ratings system was intended as a method to protect the artist from the censorship of the federal government which had, to that point, been dictating standards on the film industry.

The ratings system was supposed to be a method of internal regulation that would allow the filmmaker to create the film he or she wanted to create and would alert the public as to the content within.

Today, the ratings board styles itself as a crusading protector of parents rights, giving them a powerful weapon to aid in the protection of their children.

If only it worked that way.

Honorable as the intention of the MPAA may have been, the ratings system has become less a guide than a club, used to beat films that are out of the mainstream into submission.

The reason it matters — the reason a rating isn’t just a helpful guide is because it has become attached to that most corrupting of substances — money.

A film that receives a rating of NC-17 cannot be distributed by traditional means. No television advertising, limited trailer screening and little print media means a film with such a rating has almost no chance at being seen.

Most of the big theater chains will not show NC-17 movies, and neither Blockbuster nor Wal-Mart will carry DVDs.

In a nutshell, if your movie gets an NC-17, you might as well have not made it at all.

“This Film is Not Yet Rated” is a hilarious exploration of the process. Dick manages to attend to the important issues at hand, while simultaneously submitting his own film to the board, receiving, of course, the rating he expected all along.

Make no mistake, though, this film does include graphic sexual content, the purpose of such is not gratuitous, nor is the film a liberal screen hoping to break down all social barriers in pursuit of one giant 60s-style love-o-rama.

Instead it looks at the consequences and context of the objectionable content, pointing out the obvious double standard as films that portray extreme material in a goofy manner, i.e., “Scary Movie,” receive much lighter treatment than do movies that deal with real, painful or powerful subjects, such as “Boys Don’t Cry.”

The issue has irritated me for years, but to see the dichotomy so brilliantly displayed was a revelation.

The same can be said for films with graphic violence.

In both cases, it appears the less consequence an action has (shooting with no blood, or sex with no emotion) the less likely it is to incur the MPAA’s wrath.

What does this teach our kids? It’s an important issue and an insidious problem as there is really no alternative to the MPAA’s rating system.

“This Film is Not Yet Rated” should be required viewing for anyone interested in the film industry but, until things change, probably won’t be coming to a theater near you. Grade: A+

“This Film is not Yet Rated” was initially NC-17, but is now actually unrated. It includes graphic sexual content, language and violence, all with the viewer’s best interest in mind.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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