Tuesday, December 9, 2008

DVD Revue: This Film Is Not Yet Rated

It's a common question about any movie: "What's it rated?" We can all spit back the answer without too much trouble, but how often do we think about what it means? Why is a movie rated, for example, PG-13 instead of R? This Film Is Not Yet Rated explores these questions--and finds very few answers.

My friend TC over at Subject:Cinema recommended this one, and I have to say I enjoyed it very much. It's a fascinating look at the MPAA, which everyone has heard OF, but very few people seem to know anything ABOUT. Which is due largely in part to the air of secrecy surrounding the ratings board. They're supposed to be a group of parents with children between 5 and 17, and represent the "average American parent." Aside from the problems defining what "average" is, they did some digging and managed to uncover the identities of all of the ratings board members. Of the eight, only one had young children. Everyone else had adult children (and one member might not have even been a parent).

The movie raises some very interesting issues about censorship. Even before watching this film, I noticed that some of the MPAA's decisions seemed arbitrary. The first PG-13 movie I ever saw was Titanic, which I still think should have been rated R. The funny thing is, the movie points out that the MPAA is much more strict with sex than violence. Of course, they're also more lenient with the big studios than the smaller ones, so that probably has something to do with it too.

More fun facts: Unofficially, gay sex scenes are "worse" than straight (more likely to receive a hard rating); women's pleasure is "worse" than men's; and they don't always tell you why your movie received the rating it did. Sometimes they'll say "If you cut the scene with XYZ we'll consider an easier rating" but it's basically completely arbitrary. Everything is arbitrary. And there's no accountability.

They talked to different directors about the MPAA, and Kevin Smith had a very interesting comment. He said that if he were to create his own rating system, and decide what shouldn't be seen, the first on his list would be rape. When I heard that, I thought, "Wow. Kevin Smith is being thoughtful and insightful. And good for him." I have a new respect for Kevin Smith (and, by the way, I saw Jersey Girl and I thought it was pretty good).

Personally, I think there needs to be some kind of system to let people know what people might object to in the movie. At the same time, I think America can do a lot better than the MPAA. If I were to design a rating system, I would probably make sure that everyone involved knows why the movie got the rating it did. I'd also take the attitude that they have in Europe, where violence is more of a no-no than sex. I don't know that I would necessarily keep the NC-17 rating. It's up to parents, not the government, to determine what their kids under 17 can and cannot watch.

My redesigned system would keep the same ratings, except for NC-17, because they're easy to remember and everyone understands them already. But I would also have more detailed information about why the movie got the rating it did. I'd do something like a points system to be very specific (off-the-top-of-my-head examples: saying "shit" is one point; showing boobies is five; decapitation is twenty). Then you add up all the points to find the overall rating (anything less than 20 points is a G rating, etc). All run by a ratings board and an appeals board who are known to the public. Oh, one more fun fact from the movie: the MPAA is even more secretive about the appeals board than the ratings board.

This Film may not be rated, but it is a must-see for anyone who's ever wondered what the MPAA does.

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