Cast: Kirby Dick, Kevin Smith, John Waters, Matt Stone, Maria Bello, Darren Aronofsky
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Director Q&A, Trailers
"There are clergy in the room. These are moral censors…"
The Motion Picture Association of America, a bitter cocktail that's blessed and haunted the film industry since its inception, comes under fire in this documentary from Oscar nominated director, Kirby Dick. For better or worse, the MPAA provides the ratings system we have and the organization's flaws can't be so damning as to require a serious examination of its methods and practices… right? Right?
Did you know the identity of almost every MPAA staff member is kept secret from the general public? Did you know the MPAA is the only organization in America not held to regulation standards and oversight by another, separate organization? What about the fact that filmmakers appealing their rating are not allowed to cite other rated films as reference for justifying their own content? Would you be surprised to learn movies inside of the studio system receive more help from the MPAA than independent releases? What if you discovered that there are no published standards or training for MPAA employees to determine a rating assigned to a movie? I've always been moderately annoyed with the ratings board, especially when it comes to limiting the marketability of some of my favorite independent features… but I never realized the extent to which my movie-going experience was being shaped and shielded by an organization that has no limit to its power and influence.
Honestly, as much I was intrigued by the material covered in "This Film Is Not Yet Rated", I wasn't as smitten with yet another documentary from the Michael Moore school of biased exposés. While the points raised are intriguing, no attempt is made to provide counter points… there's never a moment when it seems as if the presentation of the facts are balanced. In his own right, Dick is ironically depriving us of content that would be necessary for a film of this kind to be successful on every level. By narrowing his lense to the extreme, he takes on a strange resemblance to the very organization he criticizes.
More distracting though is a subplot involving a private detective hired by Dick to try and identify the actual people working at the MPAA. While the payoff to this setup is grand and a lot of fun, the plodding scenes of pursuing and obtaining this information drags the film away from the core of what keeps this documentary entertaining: the interviews. Bouncing from Kevin Smith to Matt Stone to John Waters and stopping at a dozen other scorned filmmakers and performers in between like Darren Aronofsky and Maria Bello, Dick leads us on a very specific examination of the practical ways the MPAA refuses to function in a logical manner. These pieces are often funny, revealing, and focus a brighter light onto the MPAA than Dick ever could. Even more entertaining are the quick montage bursts of clips placing NC-17 and R rated movies side by side to compare the content in each rating. More times than I care to acknowledge, the only difference seems to center on homosexual content or, more unpredictably, any display of female sexuality where close-ups of an actress's face showed too much pleasure. In these cases, the nudity was less severe… but something obviously made the MPAA uncomfortable and the gender, sexuality, and female empowerment issues seem to be the only culprit left on screen. The best moments come near the end of the documentary when Dick packs up his film and sends it to the MPAA to be reviewed. He not only causes an uproar in the ratings and appeal process, he clearly shakes the carefully masked bile lurking beneath the few, public faces of the MPAA.
The video presentation on this DVD is what you've come to expect from a low budget documentary. The interviews are warmer than the raw footage and feel wonderfully smooth in comparison. The hidden camera footage is nauseating and too shaky to be included and most of the on-the-street moments sent tiny, lightning storms across my forehead. I thought I'd have to run for some Tylenol. To be sure, this isn't a movie that will look very good on a larger screen – even the clips of notable studio films used in "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" are less sharp, less vibrant, and muddy in appearance when compared to their source presentation. Even more maddening is the lack of anamorphic widescreen. I can understand the reason behind a 4:3 presentation for a documentary, but why fake a widescreen presentation with black bars if you could just actually present your documentary in 16:9 widescreen? To further the illusion, you'll need to use your television's zoom function… which kills what little crispness the movie had to begin with.
The audio presentation is boring, but does an adequate job considering the style of film. Regularly recorded on low quality microphones, the dialogue is tingy and sounds as if it has been dragged through a metallic filter. The interview segments are a big improvement but Dick doesn't use a microphone when asking his questions… even though he keeps them audibly present in the film. To be fair, this is a trend with documentaries and this kind of problem should be anticipated by fans of the genre. More noticeable are the excitable explosions of music and sound effects that accompany the film's various montages. My volume was high for most of the movie, but I dove for the remote every time these scenes would suddenly blast me out of my home theater.
The extras features are wonderful all around and I really enjoyed taking my time with each one. The deleted scenes are the exceptional and include more comical interviews and anecdotes with other directors who appeared in the film (especially funny are the extra scenes with director Kevin Smith), stories from directors that weren't featured in the documentary (one with the director of "Love and Basketball" and another with the director of L.I.E.), and a hilarious glimpse at the hypocrisy of the MPAA that I won't spoil for you here. Almost all of these deleted scenes should have been included in the main body of the film. There's only one worth skipping (the segment concerning the relationship between technology and the MPAA) and it was reasonably cut as it's extremely dry.
Next up, the commentary track added quite a bit to the mix as Dick takes the time to lay out even more fun facts and unbelievable tidbits to keep you hooked to the screen. More impressive is the serious and thoughtful tone he gives to his comments on this supplemental track. His views suddenly seem much more rounded than they did in the film and I found myself wishing the tone of the film was more reflective of this superior commentary. I understand Dick is trying to rile moviegoers up with his film, but it seems counterproductive when it causes a viewer to question Dick's motivations. His dialogue on this track, along with his producer (Eddie Schmidt) and a staff member of Ain't It Cool News (Drew McWeeny), is refreshingly measured and a treat to listen to. McWeeny single handedly keeps things light and fast, guiding the tone of the group with his intriguing comments. There are moments when the film's private investigator speaks… but she has little to add and each time I wished that she was somewhere else during the recording.
Finally, there's a Q&A with Dick that was filmed at the SXSW Film Fest. It's worth the few minutes it takes to watch, but mostly covers material that you already learned or caught in the film or commentary. This leaves any remaining space on the disc to a couple of interesting trailers for documentaries I immediately threw into my Netflix queue.
At the end of the day, I really enjoyed "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" and I'd recommend it to anyone for its educational and entertainment value. I do wish the movie was more focused, but I applaud director Kirby Dick for tackling the MPAA so fiercely. The extras are a perfect compliment to the disc and I would again encourage everyone to dig deeper into this DVD. It doesn't look or sound great, but it's rare that a documentary does. I can't stress how important it is as a movie fan to be aware of the issues surrounding the MPAA. I just hope a fresher, more balanced director will attack the subject in the future.