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Kirby Dick
Writing Credits:
Kirby Dick, Eddie Schmidt, Matt Patterson

Kirby Dick's provocative film investigates the secretive and inconsistent process by which the Motion Picture Association of America rates films. Dick questions whether certain studios get preferential treatment, exposes the discrepancies in how the MPAA views sex and violence, and reveals the association's efforts to control culture.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$37.785 thousand on 2 screens.
Domestic Gross
$302.179 thousand.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.85:1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Not Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 98 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 1/23/2007

• Audio Commentary with Director Kirby Dick, Producer Eddie Schmidt, Film Critic Drew McWeeny (aka Moriarty) and Private Investigator Becky Altringer
• 5 Deleted Scenes
• Q&A With Director Kirby Dick at SXSW Festival
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 2, 2007)

Over the nearly 40 years since the MPAA’s modern movie rating system came into effect, the decisions affixed to many flicks have left viewers perplexed. For a look at the inner workings of the ratings board, we check out 2006’s This Film Is Not Yet Rated.

Rated focuses on a mix of issues related to the operations of the MPAA’s ratings systems. It covers the changes filmmakers face to avoid the dreaded “NC-17”, effects of the MPAA’s choices, inconsistencies of indies vs. studios, and the anonymity of ratings board. From there director Kirby Dick hires private investigators to go behind the scenes to dig into the hidden nature of the MPAA.

Former raters chat about the way they discussed films and came up with their ratings. We get a history of movie censorship going back to the Hays Code era and see what made that system obsolete as well as how Jack Valenti became the big cheese behind ratings. We also hear from many filmmakers as they reflect on their experiences with the system.

In addition, Rated gets into some forms of de facto censorship such as how the MPAA reacts to pressure groups and the need for approval from the military for those kinds of flicks. The film gives us a looks at the broader scope of the MPAA and eventually enters almost surreal territory when Dick submits Rated to the MPAA for a rating!

A wide mix of participants chat throughout the film. We get interviews from Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce, Hollywood vs. Hardcore author Jon Lewis, MPAA ratings system founder Jack Valenti, film critic David Ansen, First Amendment attorney Martin Garbus, The Cooler director Wayne Kramer and actor Maria Bello, box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian, Clerks/Jersey Girl director Kevin Smith, A Dirty Shame director John Waters, South Park/Team America producer Matt Stone, former ratings board chairman Richard Heffner, October Films co-founder Bingham Ray, Media Ratings author Joel Federman, former MPAA raters Jay Landers and Stephen Farber, Hollywood’s Silent Partner author Dotty Hamilton, Thinkfilm head of US theatrical Mark Urman, Gas, Food, Lodging director Allison Anders, American Psycho director Mary Harron, But I’m a Cheerleader director Jamie Babbit, Requiem for a Dream director Darren Aronofsky, UCLA Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center’s Dr. Theresa Webb, Gunner Palace co-director Michael Tucker, Operation Hollywood author David L. Robb, copyright attorney/author Lawrence Lessig, Where the Truth Lies director Atom Egoyan and actor Rachel Blanchard, appeals board member Michael McClellan, and appeals board clergy member James Wall.

During its first half or so, Rated tends to frustrate the viewer. It throws out various concepts but fails to tie them together well. For instance, we get no clear idea why Dick hires the private investigators. We watch them try to identify MPAA raters but don’t discover a good reason for this until much later in the film. Because of that, their actions seem almost childish and prankish; it feels like they’re trying to expose the names of the raters for reasons no stronger than simple vindictiveness.

As the film progresses, we better discern the method behind the madness, and the same goes for other areas. Through the flick’s first half, it presents a sketchy history and examination of the MPAA, another area that frustrates. I wanted more about those subjects, and while they eventually emerged, the movie’s jumpy, disjointed focus in its first half can make it tough to endure. I became impatient and wanted the story to move in a more coherent manner.

That does finally occur in the second half, as the various pieces mesh. They do so in a way that allows the film to gel into something satisfying, but the first half meanders so much that the coherence almost comes too late. Though the flick gives us enough interesting material to keep us involved in its first 50 minutes or so, it threatens to disenchant us and send us away from it.

I think two main problems stand as the main concerns connected to Rated. First, I’m not wild about the film’s tone. It tends to be rather smug and condescending, and although it criticizes the current rating system, it does little to suggest a better way. Actually, as the flick progresses, it becomes clear that much of the filmmakers’ complaints relate to the secretive nature of the MPAA’s plan. With the raters’ names kept private and no clear guidelines as to what leads to particular grades, the MPAA keeps things loosey-goosey and refuses to allow their thoughts to be nailed down in a concise way. The absence of public clarity does create problems, so the way Rated targets these issues makes sense.

It’s just too bad that the movie takes so long to get there, and it’s also a shame that its creators don’t do much to propose a superior system. If you listen to the DVD’s commentary, you’ll find more concise thoughts about possible improvements to the MPAA’s system, some of which just came into effect. In a move with timing that must make those behind Rated happy, the MPAA announced some modest reforms on the day before the DVD’s release. They deny that Rated impacted on their actions, but that seems hard to believe.

In any case, the viewer shouldn’t need to listen to the audio commentary to get better explanations of the filmmakers’ goals and thoughts. Rated never pretends to be a detached, objective view of the MPAA’s processes. Indeed, Dick firmly thrusts himself into the proceedings, so this isn’t a dispassionate take on its topics. Dick should make his ideas more present in the final flick.

The lack of editorial balance also creates problems during Rated. Outside of archival footage of Valenti, we hear from virtually no one who acts to represent the MPAA side of things. I don’t know how much blame can be placed on the filmmakers, as I’m sure they tried to get MPAA representatives to appear on camera but those folks wouldn’t participate. During the commentary, they mention repeated unsuccessful attempts to land interviews with Valenti, and I’d bet they tried to chat with others as well. Their refusal to appear doesn’t come as a shock.

That said, it seems like there should have been someone out there who leans at least slightly toward the pro-MPAA argument. Couldn’t they find representatives of parental groups or religious organizations or somebody credible who could indicate some support for the ratings system? Really, there has to be someone out there willing to go on the record to stand up against all the MPAA haters.

Even with its smug tone and lack of editorial balance, Rated makes a good case for itself. I always enter documentaries with a sense of skepticism, especially when they come with such obvious ideological slant. Dick, et al., clearly want to slam the MPAA’s side, and that means the potential for manipulated images and facts increases.

For instance, take a very damning sequence that makes the case the MPAA gives gay-themed flicks “NC-17” ratings for sequences that would be “R” in heterosexual movies. This shows virtually identical sex scenes side-by-side and argues that only the gender of the participants makes them different. That may be true, but don’t forget that Rated takes the sequences out of context. We can’t know for certain that the gay-oriented films don’t differ in other ways that contributed to their “NC-17” status.

Even with all its flaws, however, Rated serves its purpose. There’s little question that the MPAA’s ratings system suffers from a slew of flaws, and the flick points these out well. Through the film, it never becomes entirely clear why the MPAA is so secretive and defensive about their operation. This refusal to offer information makes them look dirtier and more like a secret society with something to hide. Rated is an erratic flick, but it eventually congeals into a winning product that delivers its desired messages.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C+/ Bonus B-

This Film Is Not Yet Rated appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For a 2007 release, a lack of anamorphic enhancement comes as a major surprise and a disappointment. On the other hand, I don’t know how good this kind of program would have looked anyway, as the mix of videotaped interviews and archival clips didn’t seem likely to present stellar visuals.

Sharpness varied. Some movie clips appeared soft, especially in wide shots. Interview bits also lacked consistency, as they ranged from reasonably tight to moderately muddy. The visuals were acceptable but rarely better than that. Largely because of the lack of anamorphic enhancement, some jagged edges and shimmering occurred, though these didn’t seem major. Light edge enhancement also popped up at times. Source flaws occurred, mostly due to the older archival materials, though a few movie clips showed them as well. Some specks and marks appeared, but these never became too intrusive.

Colors varied dependent on the sources and generally looked decent, though they tended towards some heaviness. The tones were a bit thicker than I’d like and came across as a little dense, though usually reasonably accurate. Blacks also varied and went from fairly deep to somewhat flat and inky, but they were usually decent, and low-light shots followed suit. Those were acceptably visible but not tremendously concise. Overall, the image of Rated did little to come across as stellar, but it remained watchable.

Similar thoughts greeted the Dolby Stereo 2.0 audio of This Film Is Not Yet Rated. The talky program concentrated heavily on the forward speakers. Speech dominated the program and stayed in the center. A lot of music also appeared throughout the show, and those elements demonstrated pretty positive stereo imaging. Effects duplicated the original material reasonably well, though without quite the same breadth as the source movies, as these stayed somewhat in the background most of the time. The surrounds simply echoed the forward channels for the most part, and they didn’t present anything more than general support.

Audio quality appeared fine for this material. Speech seemed concise and distinctive, with only a smidgen of edginess at times. Music sounded reasonably full and dynamic. Effects mostly kept a little to the rear, but they were acceptably detailed and lively. Ultimately, the audio was fine for this sort of piece but not anything better than that.

In addition to the lack of anamorphic enhancement, Rated comes totally devoid of any form of subtitles or text. It even lacks closed-captioning. That’s a really tacky and cheap move, in my opinion.

As we shift to the extras, we start with an audio commentary from director Kirby Dick, producer Eddie Schmidt, film critic Drew McWeeny (aka Moriarty) and private investigator Becky Altringer. It appears that the commentary comes from two sessions. One seems to include the three men, while it sounds like the other features Dick, Schmidt and Altringer. These get edited into a smooth package. The discussion looks at the opening titles and other visual bits such as animation, getting the cooperation of the interview participants and working with them, aspects of the MPAA and its members, elements of the private investigation side of things, themes, issues and thoughts about the MPAA, funding and related challenges, financing, editing, and thoughts on how to improve the system.

While a fair amount of good information related to the film’s creation emerges, at times the track feels a little too much like an anti-MPAA rant. Yes, anyone who watches Rated can tell the filmmakers aren’t wild about that organization, but I don’t need to hear this again and again in the commentary. Because of this, the track becomes acceptably insightful but not as solid as I’d like.

Five Deleted Scenes fill a total of 24 minutes, 24 seconds. We get “The Funnymen of Censorship” (9:17), “Michael Cuesta on LIE” (2:23), “Too Much Love and Basketball” (2:40), “Telephone Call for Mr. Dick” (2:32) and “The MPAA vs. New Technologies” (7:32). “Funnymen” includes more from Kevin Smith, John Waters, and Matt Stone, while “Cuesta” is exactly what the title promises: the director discusses his movie LIE and tells us of his MPAA problems. “Too Much” features Love & Basketball director Gina Prince-Bythewood and editor Terilyn Shropshire as they cover similar territory related to their flick. “Dick” looks at the MPAA’s hypocrisy when they pirate Rated, and “Technologies” presents Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Fred Von Lohmann as he looks at various potentially problematic notions supported by the MPAA.

Of all these, “Funnymen” is the most entertaining, though it doesn’t really tell us anything new. The same goes for “Cuesta”, as it concentrates on the MPAA’s alleged disdain for gay sex scenes. “Too Much” probably should have made the final movie since it expands that theme to include racial concerns; we get the impression the MPAA reacts more harshly toward black sex than they do white sex. “Dick” lets us see how the MPAA lied to the director and essentially broke the law. Finally, “Technologies” presents an insightful glimpse of how new stuff challenges the MPAA and also Disney’s heavy defense of copyright laws.

Next we discover a Q&A with Director Kirby Dick at 2006 SXSW Film Festival. During this eight-minute and 59-second segment, Dick discusses the version of the film submitted to the MPAA, the way they pirated the flick, the impact of technology on the ratings board, challenges related to the creation of Rated, and more thoughts on the MPAA. If you’ve listened to the commentary, you won’t find anything particularly new here. Dick mostly covers the same territory, so don’t expect much fresh material. It’s a decent overview of some of those issues, though.

In addition to the trailer for Rated, the DVD opens with a few previews. We find ads for Street Fight, Cowboy del Amor, Hopeless Pictures and Heading South.

This Film Is Not Rated ran into a mix of problems, especially during its first half. These threatened to distance me from the material, but the flick comes together much better in its final 50 minutes. Those moments make it memorable and give it a strong impact. The DVD presents mediocre picture and audio along with some generally interesting extras. Erratic it may be, Rated offers a lively view of the ratings system and it deserves your attention.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.625 Stars Number of Votes: 8
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main