Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. MiraJeff has recently seen Kirby Dick's THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED. We've had lots of reviews of this flick on this site, including my own, and most have been super positive, including my own. MiraJeff's review isn't negative, but he didn't love up on it as much as I did. I can totally relate to having something built up so much that even if it's really good and you like it a ton, it still never hit that high water mark you expected it to. However, I still think the flick is a little better than MiraJeff does, but I do agree that the MPAA discussion is only just begun with this film and I'd love to see a documentary that really shows how the MPAA screws over indie films and the vendettas they have against certain filmmakers. Anyway, here' MiraJeff! Enjoy!
Greetings AICN, MiraJeff here with a look at Kirby Dick's incendiary documentary, This Film Is Not Yet Rated. For those of you unfamiliar with the hypocrisy of this country's motion picture rating system, TFINYR takes an in-depth look at the mysterious organization that is the MPAA, or the house that Jack Valenti built as a response to communism in the 1950's. The film has a very specific agenda, to clarify what the ratings exactly mean, and to reveal the identities of the top-secret raters who make up the MPAA and its appeals board. Dick has chosen a fascinating topic; self-imposed, government-sanctioned censorship in what is supposedly a free country. But his film loses focus and puts too much weight in revealing the names of the formerly nameless. By providing the identities of the raters, Dick isn't actually doing anything to change the way things are. This isn't Michael Moore investigating the deplorable ranks of America’s health care system. The MPAA is just as mysterious now as it was before I saw the movie, but now I know who works there. The point is, so what? There is no point to the movie besides illuminating a company's employees, who do what they do because it's easy and they get paid fairly well. The film seems to take unusual pleasure in vilifying them, helped in no small part by Dick's curious but necessary decision to hire a private detective to spy on the raters as they enter and exit the MPAA's Hollywood fortress. These are just ordinary people who happen to work a not-so-ordinary job and the film seems to mock them for eating at fast-food joints and, oh my God, whispering during their private lunch conversations. I don't think it's that these people think they are talking about confidential information so much as they're just discussing their professional lives which are no one else's business but their own.
The film does a commendable job of explaining how the NC-17 limits marketing and advertising and significantly affects a film’s commercial success. And what’s interesting is that a movie’s chance for commercial success is severely limited because of how the FCC and theater owners regard the NC-17 rating, not because the public perceives it as a cinematic stigma. The FCC won’t allow ads for NC-17 movies to be shown on TV, and that’s why 95% of America has never and will never hear about this movie, which, no surprise, is rated NC-17 as well. Theater owners don’t want to be held financially responsible for taking a risk on a movie that only adults are allowed to see. The NC-17 rating might help a film get some controversial press, but it definitely adversely affects its box office haul, if only because of the significant audience it starts out not being allowed to have.
The re-enacted phone conversations with Joan Graves and one of the MPAA’s lawyers give Dick’s claims some context because it allows the other side to respond. The lawyer actually hangs up on Dick at one point and Graves dodges questions like Ahnuld dodged bullets. She does not make the MPAA look very good and I think one objective that Dick has accomplished is using the film as a mirror to hold up in front of the MPAA so they can see how foolish they look. I think that if half the number of people who saw Pirates 2 saw this movie, there would be a public outcry for the MPAA to change or disappear altogether, but the sad truth is that very few people overall will see TFINYR or even have the chance to see it and in the end, the MPAA and its moronic ratings system will remain the same.
Dick himself comes across a bit limp if you ask me. I would’ve liked to have seen Dick get a little more involved in the detective work, and a little more animated. He seems really laid back and subdued on camera and I just wanted to see some of the fight in him. Documentary filmmakers don't all have to be wonderfully charming, charismatic, thought-provoking guys, but as far as I'm concerned, Dick is certainly no Timothy Treadwell or even Brian Herzlinger, and his film is certainly no Murderball or Devil and Daniel Johnston either. If you’re a documentary filmmaker, I think your responsibility is to either educate or entertain, and while TFINYR does both of those things, it doesn’t do either one of them particularly great. Granted, my expectations were high coming in and the film did manage to make me think, which is more than I can say about most of this summer’s excuses for movies, but when the lights came up, I was left wanting a little bit more. As it stands now, TFINYR is an interesting, amusing look at the ridiculousness of the ratings system and it works as entertainment because of its presentation, which includes Dick's perfect casting/hiring of a lesbian private detective and her young, nubile partner, and the willingness of controversial filmmakers to provide colorful commentary that could potentially threaten the treatment of their next film by the MPAA.
The highlights of the movie are definitely these filmmaker interviews which include John Waters, Kimberly Pierce, Jamie Babbitt, Atom Egoyan, Alison Anders, Wayne Kramer, Mary Harron, Maria Bello, Darren Aronofsky, Matt Stone, and of course, Sir Kevin Smith. I’d like to give a quick shout out to Michael S. Patterson who provided the music that really gave the film its energy. Although TFINYR is a crowd-pleaser for sure, it seems resigned to coast on the controversy it has created, and the nature of the material just doesn’t pack the wallop that documentaries of late have had.
Lastly, as the person who actually types up the MPAA’s weekly decisions on Thursdays at Variety, I can personally attest to their utter ridiculousness. Can someone please outline the difference for me between nudity and brief nudity? Strong violence and pervasive violence? What exactly is a mature thematic element? And as unclear as the actual language behind the rating is, it’s ultimately pointless, because it is by definition, behind the rating. People don’t read or care about why movies are rated the way they are, they only care what the huge friggin’ letter on the screen is. And although I don’t normally do this, the letter I’d have to give this film is a B. It’s a solid movie that’s worth checking out, especially if you’ve ever been denied entrance to a movie because of your age, but overall, a missed opportunity to really expose the system and rally for ratings revisions.
That’ll do it for me, folks. I’ll be back very soon with reviews of The Quiet and Looking For Kitty which both open this Friday in select cities. I’m also working on a couple of script reviews including Charlie Wilson’s War by Aaron Sorkin, and a massive preview of this fall’s TV lineup. I’ve watched about a dozen pilots so far and I have to say, Sorkin’s Studio 60 is by far the best. ‘Til tomorrow (hopefully), this is MiraJeff signing off…