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IFC presents
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)

"I don't know what's going to be on my tombstone, but I'd like to write it, and say that the modest legacy that Jack Valenti left the movie industry was that he freed the screen from artificial barriers."
- Jack Valenti, recently retired head of the MPAA

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: February 07, 2007

Stars: Jack Valenti, Kirby Dick
Other Stars: Kimberly Peirce, Atom Egoyan, Kevin Smith, John Waters, David Ansen, Martin Garbus, Matt Stone, Maria Bello, Wayne Kramer, Darren Aronofsky, Allison Anders, Mary Harron
Director: Kirby Dick

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:37m:44s
Release Date: January 23, 2007
UPC: 796019798679
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ A-BB B

DVD Review

When the best thing that you can say about a system is that it's better than nothing, you're sort of at the bottom of the old qualitative analysis barrel, but that's about all that Jack Valenti can come up with in support of the film ratings system that he birthed and oversaw for decades, until his recent retirement. Filmmaker Kirby Dick takes a scathing look here at the Motion Picture Association of America, or MPAA, the advocacy group funded by the major film studios that purports to be an independent arbiter of what's appropriate for our children to see. Dick's damning portrayal is not of a group that's looking out for our kids, but rather of a quasi-fascist cabal cloaked in secrecy with its obvious prejudices and predilections, more a contemporary star chamber than a boost for Mom and Dad on their way to the multiplex.

Dick's most effective points are about the lies that the MPAA clings to—that its raters are parents of children between the ages of 5 and 17; that studio product and independent features get the same treatment; that really, it's all about the kids. He establishes his indie props by interviewing a great number of filmmakers who have run afoul of the MPAA and tried to wade through the thicket that will keep their films from getting an NC-17 rating—many filmmakers are in fact contractually obligated to deliver an R cut, though the standards for an NC-17 are elastic, and if you get that NC-17, most theaters won't run your film and most newspapers won't run your ads. John Waters is a stitch discussing his tangles with the ratings board over Pecker; Kimberly Peirce's experiences with Boys Don't Cry aren't as funny and are a whole lot more poignant, and her movie points up what the MPAA fears and loathes. More or less, heterosexual sex is fine, but homosexual sex isn't; in fact, female sexual pleasure of any kind is frowned upon; and as a general rule sex is far less preferable to violence. The wanton carnage, maiming, and arterial spray shots that are staples of horror films skate by with an R, whereas the mere hint of homosexuality as something other than a sickness (e.g., But I'm a Cheerleader) seems to make the raters squirm. (If my son is going to watch a movie with a scene between two men, I'd much rather that he see them kissing than mutilating one another. I'm kooky that way.)

Or that's the conclusion we're led to draw, anyway, because the MPAA itself maintains a wall of silence—they won't even release the names of their raters, lending a decidedly Kafkaesque air to their proceedings. Dick attempts to undermine this by hiring a private investigator to ferret out the names and details of the raters, and while the P.I. he employs is likeable enough—and part of Dick's point is that she's a very nice woman, and very content with her female partner—the cloak-and-dagger stuff gets old kind of quickly, as does his weakness for goofy graphics with cheesy sound effects. But it's worth sitting through the cut-rate detective comedy to get to the point where the film turns in on itself, as Dick submits his film for a rating—he gets an NC-17, of course, and then goes before the appeals panel, which is part Lewis Carroll, part Maoist party enforcement mechanism. He's not allowed to refer to any other films, nor even to know the names of those before whom he will plead his case. (His P.I. ferrets those out, too.) Certainly in a sense Dick is pulling his punches—the whole point of his movie would come undone if he got a family-friendly rating, or if the MPAA were forthcoming about their reasons.

Without question, there's some stuff that we shouldn't allow our kids to see, and if we were to make movies to cater to the youngest and most vulnerable, we'd be back in the days of the Hays Code. In some respect Dick makes his points early and often—they may not call themselves censors, but if they've got a magic number of pelvic thrusts that will earn a film an NC-17, they're functionally not so different. Dick smacks around the MPAA piñata pretty well, and it's too much to put on him personally, but at some point those of us unhappy with the current system might want to start thinking about creating a more appropriate and functional alternative. Of course the incentive for the studios to participate in such a system is nonexistent—they own all the toys, and they can pick them up and go on home.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: An adequate transfer; you occasionally will need a strong stomach for some of the shaky, handheld footage shot on high-end video.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: All more or less audible, though a good amount of hiss and pop throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Street Fight, Cowboy Del Amor, Hopeless Pictures, Heading South
5 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Kirby Dick, producer Eddie Schmidt, film critic Drew McWeeny, private investigator Becky Altringer
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Dick is joined by producer Eddie Schmidt on the commentary track, and Drew McWeeny (presumably a nom de guerre) moderates—this more or less continues the conversation started in the feature, with lots of war stories about getting rights and permissions, and securing interview subjects. Becky Altringer, the private investigator hired by Dick, is also on hand to chime in about her role in the project. It's an amiable though not galvanizing commentary. Five deleted scenes give us some further case studies of MPAA lunacy, with the makers of Love and Basketball and L.I.E., and Dick gets the organization to cop to the fact that they made a pirated copy of his movie. He covers some of this same ground in a Q&A (08m:59s) from the South By Southwest Festival in 2006, and this story appears on the commentary track as well.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

There's a dog-bites-man aspect to this documentary, for it comes as no surprise that an organization funded by the movie studios favors the studios' bland product over independent filmmaking that can be more ambitious. It's sort of disgusting that they do so under the guise of protecting America's children, however, and Kirby Dick's documentary is especially brutal about the blitheness with which they'll let kids look at lots and lots of violence. No, we shouldn't let movies babysit or raise our kids; but we shouldn't cede judgment about what's best for them to the likes of Jack Valenti or his minions, either.

 


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