Surely, there are good points to be made about the basic irrationality of the MPAA, as an extension of American priorities, and certainly, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, manages to make a couple of them. But no amount of self-righteous huffing and puffing, not to mention tedious sub-plotting, can disguise the fact that this is one silly little movie, and one hell of a cheat. Somewhere in between the self-satisfied trading of ratings board horror stories between Dick and the filmmakers of Orgazmo and A Dirty Shame, I started to recognize This Film Is Not Yet Rated’s fruitlessness. Completely ignorant of the ebb and flow of film history and the shifting mentalities of sexual mores, this post-Michael Moore doc just spins its wheels for ninety-something minutes before hitting a brick wall. Basically a litany of whiny talking heads featuring the cast of Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes interspersed with a cutesy private detective pursuit of the secret society of MPAA raters (a shadowy collective of American moms, dads, and the odd preacher, who sit in judgment of every major release the American public sees), Dick’s film might have made an innocuous reality TV series on IFC (which is how it might have originated). That the film has been pumped up by critics as some sort of strong medicine to a moribund, hopelessly puritanical ratings system makes it nearly unwatchable.
Dick chooses to reveal the names and license plate numbers of all of the MPAA watchers who his amiable L.A. private dick uncovers in her searches. Not only does this make for rather tedious viewing, it couldn’t possibly have any sort of political or social effect whatsoever. Revealing their identities is more of a ‘nyah nyah’ local news investigative report tactic…by using this narrative as a distraction technique, Dick completely pulls the wool over his audiences’ eyes so that they don’t notice that he hasn’t proposed a single, solitary workable alternative to the current ratings system, in effect since Jack Valenti instituted it in 1968. It’s repeated that an NC-17 is the box-office kiss of death, yet did a filmmaker like John Waters really expect his clit-happy, felch-ful A Dirty Shame to receive a (let’s face it, kid-friendly) R? He must be living in a fantasy world; which is how most of these filmmakers come across. Rather than bemoan our inextricably corset-bound American values (“It’s so much better in Europe,” they say…really well how about China? Iran?), why don’t they detail the various ways in which films can be rated based upon content as a means of revising the strict parameters of the MPAA. Certainly, there should be strict demarcations between adult films and children’s films: All pencil-stached John Waters can come up with is that kids are internet-porn obsessed these days… so what’s the dif, daddy-o?
Additionally, Dick shoots his own few good points in the foot thanks to subtle elisions and quick-cut brevity. For instance, a montage comparing gay/lesbian NC-17 sexual encounters with their heterosexual R-rated counterparts is certainly welcome and such double standards require a serious outing. Yet it’s unfair to use a film such as Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin as an example of the MPAA’s bias: the clip shown is of a shirtless Joseph Gordon Levitt topping one of his johns, and it’s compared with a straight correlation. Yet wasn’t Mysterious Skin tagged with an NC-17 for its extremely upsetting and, if not graphic, highly evocative portrait of child molestation? And even if the rating really hurt its box-office take in the long run, do theater-hopping teens really need to be exposed to it?
It’s a moral conundrum of course, and one that requires serious debate, not the type of one-sided haranguing that would get you reprimanded on day one of high school debate club. One numb-skulled interviewee actually goes so far as to try and discredit the MPAA by condoning government intervention instead. I’m sure anyone with a brain and a heart can safely agree that we should be lucky that such a thing doesn’t happen here; the MPAA, far from a perfect organization, was established partly to prevent the government from exerting its influence. Now that Dick has revealed the MPAA member’s names (which will probably result in nothing more than a collective shrug), perhaps he can propose a workable solution, so that stifled “artists” like Todd Solondz and Jamie Babbit can break into the Poughkeepsie mall’s Regal 12.