Fans of the technical side of films – how they go from the editing room to the big or small screen and the hands they fall into on the way – will savor the latest documentary from director Kirby Dick (“Derrida”), “This Film Is Not Yet Rated.” As much as cinema-philes will gravitate to the subject in general, the people who should take a look at this film are any fans of the Bill of Rights and opponents of unconstitutional practices anywhere in America. The strange and secretive censorship association that is the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America ) and its ratings system are the subject of “This Film” and Dick leaves no one unscathed.
Who knew the familiar G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 ratings we are all so accustomed to have such an insidious background and widespread implications. Dick makes convincing arguments that the ratings system and board are unethical and hold tremendous power and influence over the financial and marketing potential of a film without so much as a quantifiable list of criteria with which to judge them.
The information is fascinating, Dick reveals inconsistencies and discrepancies galore from a history of statements made by the current MPAA and by its highly visible former leader Jack Valenti. However, by choosing to make himself a character and target the raters – essentially just working stiffs – who clearly had no part in organizing the MPAA or its system, Dick’s credible argument gets mired in an coercive and unnecessary side-story.
Unfortunately, here in lies the film’s biggest downfall. Dick, in his attempt to turn the lights on a troubling issue – one which most movie-goers are oblivious to – resorts to foul tactics and indecency in order to expose foul tactics and indecency. Critics of Michael Moore’s movies are quick to point out his manipulative devices and Dick boldly follows suit and then some. Dick hires a private investigator to stake out the MPAA offices – spying on the raters with binoculars, video surveillance and even rummaging through one individual’s trash to find clues to the anonymous identities. In the end, Dick reveals all the names and particulars of the ratings board and the appeal board members in remarkable detail.
Dick’s casual and caustic interviews with John Waters and Kevin Smith along with many other film makers, actors and film experts – including two former ratings board members who talk on camera – build a fantastic case. The film could have taken the high-road by not focusing the attention on the raters – whose biggest offense is participating in someone else’s egregious system – but instead on the big picture. Their job may be contemptible yes, but hardly worthy of humiliation and personal attack.
Dick’s film works best when it goes after the right people…Valenti and those responsible for the creation and continuation of this faulty system. “This Film is Not Yet Rated,” while flawed, is a compelling case against the MPAA and deserves consideration. Next time, Dick should let the information do the damage and get out of his own way.