This Film is Not Yet Rated

What makes a film more suitably rated R than P-13 or NC-17? What sorts of guidelines are there to deciding these arbitrary ratings? And exactly whom are the people allowed to make these decisions?


Kirby Dick tries to answer these questions, and more, in his scathing, yet fascinating documentary, This Film is Not Yet Rated. Through interviews with directors who had films relegated to NC-17 status, first amendment lawyers and occasionally people associated with the villainous MPAA, Dick discovers the secretive and slightly unfair proceedings that result in some movies being edited or not released to the public at all.

As can be expected, the main factors in deciding a rating are sexual content, violence and language (drug use as well, but the film doesn’t delve into this matter with real interest). These factors are weighed in varying degrees with sexual content being by far the most significant decider. One of the main, and most glaring, examples is The Cooler with Maria Bello receiving an NC-17 rating for showing a glimpse of her pubic hair, yet Sin City received an R rating despite gruesome displays of violence. It is no secret that sex is depicted in a truly unique way in America when compared with Europe (their ratings are much more strict with regards to violence). Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) discusses his viewpoint that violence should be pushed to R if shown in a fantasy setting, such as shoot’em up films without blood, since adults are able to discern what is realistic and what is not. Dick uses this as a way of showing how the MPAA has more power to control what is considered suitable for adolescents than we had previously thought. He discovers glaring inaccuracies in ratings from film to film. We see a montage of scenes that are of comparable, if not identical, quality rated differently due to homosexuality (by far the most poignant and effective images used in the film). Dick proposes the idea that the MPAA has ulterior motives to their ratings that go beyond the films themselves (i.e. treatment of independent versus mainstream studios).

When he confronts the MPAA about his own movie receiving the notorious NC-17 they are completely uncooperative and unwilling to negotiate. The fact that even the appeals procedure is supposed to remain a wholly anonymous process furthers Dick’s implicit point about the MPAA being unconstitutional in their proceedings.

The weakest moments of the film are when he is with his private investigator trying to uncover the identities of the raters and the appeals board members. There is a lot of time spent showing the investigatory process that could have been used to reinforce his case with more examples or even discuss the neglected drug issue. There is one lightning fast snippet about drug use and it is forgotten. It may be interesting to see how an actual private investigator works, but not for the purposes of this film. We are given the impression he ran out of footage or relevant evidence and needed to fill space.

Dick does very well to stay on task and ask relevant questions during his interviews that spark debate, but also invoke genuine responses. The information attained from this film will no doubt change the way you view a PG-13 or R film, but not enough to keep you from being entertained.

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