Two guys going at it: Zap! NC-17! But two gender-opposites fornicating in a stairwell? Rated R. Director Kirby Dick’s strongest argument in “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” comes from an eye-opening montage of clips offering a side-by-side sex comparison. There’s little difference between them. Oh, except some are gay and others are babymakers.
Dick’s convinced that the Motion Picture Association of America doesn’t leave biases outside of the secretive screening sanctuary in California. At the helm of Dick’s film, and under severe artistic scrutiny, is the MPAA – a group of strangers deciding who should watch what.
A hilarious, cartoonish breakdown of the film-rating system tells moviemakers looking for a PG-13 rating to choose their “fuck” carefully (as they’re only allowed one, and it can’t be that kind of “fuck”). Also, any film with realistic sex other than missionary, and including “aberrational behavior,” gets slammed with an NC-17.
Perhaps some of the board members – some of whom are uncovered by Dick and his undercover comrades – deem gay sex aberrational? That would explain their scrutiny of a lesbian character tastefully masturbating in “But I’m a Cheerleader.” Yet, as director Jamie Babbit retorts, “American Pie” passed with an R-rating even though its main character pounded a pie (and flashed his bare butt).
Though the MPAA board members are reported to be average parents, Babbit wants to know: “Who is an average parent?” She doubts a single lesbian mother makes up the board. As the film unfolds, Dick and his ballsy – as if – lesbian PI discover that these “Brady Bunch” parents aren’t so average after all. Many are upper class California folks with children well over 18.
Through interviews with filmmakers like John Waters (“A Dirty Shame”) and Kimberly Pierce (“Boys Don’t Cry”), the 90-minute film exposes the MPAA’s process. They leave filmmakers in the dark as they nit-pick with no set guidelines, few specific notes about what the film should change and their refusal to allow filmmakers to cite precedent on appeal. Who gets hit the hardest? Indie filmmakers. After all, major studios basically pay these folks’ salaries.
Pierce’s film wasn’t give a green light because the MPAA rated it NC-17, mostly due to the lead transgender character wiping semen off his mouth, an anal rape scene and an “overlong” orgasm. “So I shoot Brandon in the head and I do all these things to him and that’s fundamentally OK?” she questions.
Additional cut interviews with Waters, Michael Cuesta (“L.I.E.”) and Matt Stone (“South Park”) on the DVD’s deleted scenes provide often-amusing takes on the MPAA, like their issue with the Waters’ title “Pecker” and his defense using two previous approved films: “Shaft” and “Free Willy.” Dick offers insightful answers on the film during a commentary and a 9-minute question and answer session. He explains to South By Southwest Festival attendees that when he asked an MPAA representative why they restrict gay sex more than straight, the woman said, “We don’t set the values. We reflect them.” So, as Dick argues, as long as the MPAA reflects a racist or anti-Semitic society, then their system is successful?
Dick’s thought-provoking, muckraking documentary carries validity with, in addition to MPAA beefs, counter arguments from archival interviews of former MPPA President (and prude) Jack Valenti. But it lacks opinions from giant media conglomerates that would’ve fortified the film as a more well-rounded peak at the MPAA. The threaded undercover adventure, which exposes names of the anonymous raters, breaks up the insightful interviews – providing suspense and humor – as they dig for the truth. A truth brimming with hypocrisy and bias.
Some might even call it “aberrational behavior.”
“This Film Is Not Yet Rated”
Available now on DVD