April 25, 2013
This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated
This documentary details the travails that filmmakers have to go through to get an R rating on their edgy movies. It's not the world's most captivating documentary, but it makes the case that the MPAA is outdated and just all-around awful. The membership of the ratings board is kept secret, a bizarre injustice that filmmaker Kirby Dick goes about rectifying by hiring a private investigator to track down their identities, which she does with dogged glee. Half of the fun of the movie is seeing the PI follow these hapless raters around, snapping their license plates and going through their garbage.
Most grating is that any kind of below-the-belt frontal nudity is going to get filmmakers an NC-17 rating, which means that it won't be seen in the theaters (except for the occasional art house or film festival). The result is a whitewashed American oeuvre of film work that abounds in shots of topless young women and not much else. I'd much rather see PG and PG-13 movies that are more tightly restricted in terms of language and nudity. It's important to preserve a realm of filmmaking that is innocent and truly child-appropriate. But the PG and PG-13 ratings are the appropriate place for this kind of care and conservatism. The R rating should be the place for freedom and honesty. After all, no parent who is truly concerned about exposing their kids to inappropriate material is going to take their child to an R-rated movie.
Also grating is the mere fact that such a small group of people are allowed to control the ratings system and thus the content of American filmmaking. The raters don't seem particularly sophisticated or fair, defending their choices (when finally confronted) with sentiments like "All I know is that I wouldn't feel comfortable watching that with my daughter." Uff—then don't go to R-rated movies with your daughter. The movie makes the case that the raters are really just shills for the studios, who want to maximize the profitability of films by cutting out any disturbing bits. The raters know what is expected of them and are simply doing their jobs. The solution isn't better raters but a completely different philosophical orientation within the MPAA, which probably isn't happening any time soon.