Wednesday, March 14, 2007

This review is not yet rated

When you have to look through garbage to find out who censors films in your democracy, it's time to stop watching and start worrying.

What Kirby Dick uncovers in This Film Is Not Yet Rated is that America's censorial board has more secrecy and hoop-jumping than Opus Dei and the NBA combined. The American cutting-room floor is one giant mystery, so in an entirely justifiable act of stalking, he tracks down the members of the Motion Picture Association of America ("protecting the public from art for 50 years" - or something like that) and tries to expose their motives, means and prejudices.

Dick starts out by hiring some private dicks to follow the MPAA's members out to lunch and to their houses, intercutting this with natty graphic and video clips which illustrate the biases of the MPAA (straight sex good, gay sex bad, et al) and the twisted limbs of its membership.

If you question the legitimacy of the stalking (you have to call a stalk a stalk here), just consider that the MPAA doesn't give out its members' names, makes them sign non-disclosure contracts and refuses to let any of them talk to Dick. Their lawyer (admittedly in a vocal reconstruction) comes off like Cerberus, tho' lord knows what he's guarding...

These are the people deciding what you can see. You are not trusted to choose what you should and shouldn't watch. Worst of all, any kind of public scrutiny or accountability is entirely absent: how fair does that sound?

Dick manages to establish some of the 'rules' which underlie the MPAA's decisions in very realistic ways. By split-screening scenes of gay sex and straight sex, he illustrates the level of detail and action which is acceptable, and it unfailingly turns out that a man and a woman together can do practically anything filthy you can imagine (stop imagining), but gay people, well it's just not what American wants to see now, is it?

Violence also gets an easier ride than sex. Bloods, brains, bullets - all fine. A little kink in your life? Nope. I guess if you're trying to desensitise an entire nation to a bloody war it's now fighting, this is probably the best way.

It also emerges that there are certain qualifications for membership of the MPAA, principally that one has to have children under the age of 17. Of course, almost none of them do. What they do have are dozens of ties to the movie industry, stroking the hand that feeds it.

The film rather folds in on itself when Dick sends the first half to be rated, but being moderns we can cope with this sort of concept. This does in fact work quite well, since we get to the process he has established exists in the first half in action, even if it's not as thrilling as seeing him pore through trash to find MPAA members' addresses.

Unlike the MPAA, This Film Is Not Yet Rated is a public service.

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