Friday, September 08, 2006

We don't disclose that information!

"Most Important Film of the Year" is a misnomer that's thrown around enough that it's almost lost its meaning, but in reference to the Kirby Dick's documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, it applies one hundred per cent - at least from the point of view of filmmakers and people who love and care about movies.

Everyone knows the MPAA's Movie Ratings System is much stricter with sex than it is with violence, but it's interesting to see what particular kind of sex is most offensive to them - homosexual sex, male genetilia, and prolonged female orgasms are three things that almost guarantee an NC-17 rating. Generally speaking, filmic sex that is serious and emotionally frank is more offensive than if it's handled in a jokey way involving apple pies. Dick, the director of Twist of Faith and Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, bewildered by the MPAA's long-standing lenience towards violence and low tolorance of sexuality in the cinema and having heard the desperate cries of numerous filmmakers who'd been shafted by the system, set out to find out the truth about this mysterious group. What he found out was a lot of things that I had absolutely no clue about. For starters:

The MPAA Ratings Board is a completely secret society.
Like the CIA, the only other organization in the country which does this, members of the MPAA never reveal their identities. All their movies are watched in a building in Los Angeles which is locked up tight as a drum to shield its members from the "pressure" of "outside influence." However, there are a select few who do know the names of board members, and those are the heads of film studios. Hmmm.

To find out more about these mysterious, puppet master-like deciders of movies' fates, Dick hires private investigator Becky Altringer to snoop them out. Altringer is a friendly, enthusiastic, middle-aged lesbian who gleefully takes down licence plate numbers with the help of her teenage daughter. She follows the elusive raters out of their building as they go for their lunch breaks, using miniature cameras concealed within scarves, and rooting through their garbage cans at night searching for clues. The woman is relentless and a total pro, and has the enthusiasm of a kid playing 'spy.' And what she ends up uncovering (and Dick ends up exposing in the film) is pretty damned amazing.

Dick also interviews a slew of scorned filmmakers who all had their movie slapped with an NC-17, unsurprisingly, for sexual content, including Kevin Smith, Darren Aronofsky, Atom Egoyan, Kimberly Pierce, and Matt Stone. There's many an anecdote of a movie that got slapped with an NC-17 rating for one pelvic thrust too many. Maria Bello recalls being enraged when Wayne Kramer's The Cooler recieved an NC-17 for a glimpse of her pubic hair during a love scene with William H. Macy. Prior to hearing this news, she had just gone to see Scary Movie, which features a breast implant removed with a butcher knife, a girl plastered to the ceiling in a geyser of jism, and Shawn Wayans being stabbed through the brain with somebody else's penis. John Waters, who gives the funniest and most charming interview of the whole set, muses that due to the internet, teenaged kids today have probably seen twice as much hardcore pornography as their parents, because, well, it's there. "What, do you think they're really doing homework up there?!", Waters chuckles. It's true, really. Trying to protect these kids from images of sex is like trying to protect squirrels from too many nuts. So slapping movies that only adults would be able to see anyway with an NC-17, destroying its chances of being seen by anyone, makes even less sense.

Fortunatley, unlike a Michael Moore documentary, which really just preaches to the converted and really does little good for its cause, this movie might actually become very valuable baby step towards getting something done about the MPAA. From what I hear, it's in pretty limited release right now, but when the DVD comes out I strongly encourage everyone who cares about cinema to go and see it. This stuff is just too important not to know about.


Blogger Bemis said...

Great review - I can't wait to see this. I don't really agree about Michael Moore, but I'm glad to hear you dug this.

4:45 PM  

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