Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This Film is Not Yet Rated

It’s funny how things work out sometimes. Weird little unplanned synchronicities pop up; giving the impression that Cinema 100 had a master plan while we really aren’t quite that clever. Such a thing happened recently with “This Film is Not Yet Rated.”

The documentary uses interviews and a fun bit of sleuthing to uncover secrets about the inner workings of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and how they assign movies their ratings – G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17.

The first of many filmmakers interviewed is Kimberly Peirce who had a frustrating run-in with the MPAA over her dazzling and daring first feature “Boys Don’t Cry.” She tells a fascinating tale of how her movie got slapped with a dreaded NC-17. Dreaded because it greatly hampers the ability to market and distribute the movie. Some media won’t run advertisements and some theater chains won’t play it.

While planning the current series, we invited “The Group that Opened the Box,” a local organization of teenage girls, to pick a movie. They were our 2009 filmmaker grant recipients for a documentary project of their own. They quickly chose “Boys Don’t Cry.”

Now, we get to sit back and look brilliant. Our third movie enticingly advertises our third to last movie.

“This Film is Not Yet Rated” is a perfect concoction of the three things I always hope to find in a documentary – it is educational, it is entertaining and funny, and it is maddening and makes you want to go out and change things.

I’m a movie guy and yet I’ve never really paid much attention to those silly letters at the bottom of movie posters telling me if I should bring my two daughters along or hire a babysitter. I’ve always preferred to do things like read reviews and otherwise educate myself about a movie. Now, I’m really glad I never left such movie going decisions to the MPAA.

They consist of a cabal of “typical parents” (whatever that means) with all sorts of vague and undisclosed ties to church and state. Basically, if you want to put some sex or violence into your movie, you can – as long as you have enough money to pay off the lobbyists.

Most Americans probably think there is some law stating that kids aren’t allowed to see R-rated movies without a parent. No such case. Ratings are simply an industry’s attempt at self-censorship and is all directed by money, power, and politics -- and without much internal consistency. It is all based on political whim with, for instance, gay-themed movies receiving a crippling NC-17 rating for the same content that non-gay-themed movies get away with.

Those are the educational and maddening qualities. Fortunately, the documentary also offers entertainment and laughs. Directors like John Waters (“A Dirty Shame”) and Kevin Smith (“Zack and Miri Make a Porno”) frequently pop up and always offer a humorous perspective on the hypocritical insanity.

And in his shrewdest move, director Kirby Dick hired a private investigator to try to learn the top secret names of the board members. It turns “This Film” into one of the funniest spoofs of the detective genre I’ve ever seen.

“This Film is Not Yet Rated” is unrated. Its MPAA rating was surrendered; the version submitted was rated NC-17 for some graphic sexual content. What we have now is pretty frank about sexuality and violence and the MPAA’s attitudes toward each. It is more comical than graphic though.

The movie shows at the Grand Theatres on Thursday, February 4 at 3:00 and 5:30 as part of the Cinema 100 Film Society series. Tickets are available at the door.

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