This Film is Not Yet Rated

Prompted by a tip from a JayFlix colleague, I checked this DVD out of the city library. What an enlightening documentary! Exceedingly forthright in some of the early film clips, with interesting graphics and funny illustrations, this is NOT for the faint of heart, but you won't regret having seen it when the final credits roll.

We explore the history of the Motion Picture Association of America, the MPAA which provides ratings for American moviegoers. You know: G, PG, PG-13, R, and PG-17 (the old X). This system was created in two steps by Hollywood as a preemptive strike against rumored censorship. In 1930 they appointed former Postmaster General Will Hays as the "Say-so of the Highest Magnitude." His ratings were used until 1968, when our more current ones were adopted under the watchful eye of Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA (now retired).

For some time, I have cast a jaundiced eye toward the MPAA ratings because they are inconsistent and seem inclined to favor big studio films. Imagine my surprise when it is explained that the MPAA is funded by six large organizations which own large movie studios! This is why a big- budget film can depict the slaughter of people by the score, bullets fly, knives slash and bombs explode, but it's still rated PG-13 for a broad audience.

Documentary filmmaker and director Kirby Dick ("The Invisible War") requests access to the MPAA ratings board, only to be refused entry. As he investigates he discovers the entire process to be cloaked in secrecy, with employees hidden behind an impenetrable security screen. He hires a private detective and we venture out with them to survey the fenced and guarded grounds, obtain license plate numbers, and painstakingly identify the people who decide for America what is wholesome and what is not.

Interviews with independent film makers illustrate their struggle against the highly biased Association. We see: John Waters ("A Dirty Shame"), Matt Stone ("South Park"), Kimberly Peirce ("Boys Don't Cry"), Kevin Smith ("Clerks") and others. They discuss the absurdities with which they must cope and the struggles they have as they attempt to launch their films.

The MPAA insists the secrecy is to eliminate "pressure" for the ratings board. Our filmmaker asks how other professions cope with pressure, e.g., surgeons, fire fighters, elected officials, and dozens of other professions. We draw our own conclusions.
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Even the trailer has wry humor:
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