It's been said that the hardest part about making a movie comes after the cameras stop rolling, during the long and frustrating journey from the cutting room to the box office. We're given a sharp reminder of this theory during Kirby Dick's scathing documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006), straight from the mouths of those who constantly fight to keep their beloved films from getting drawn and quartered by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). With such an ambiguous name---not to mention the company's insistence that its long-standing ratings system has been maintained by parents, for parents---you'd think that the MPAA was all about playing fair.
Not so, says Kirby and his band of outsiders. Armed with claims of unfair bias against females, the gay community, independent studios and films known more for sex than violence, This Film Is Not Yet Rated goes right for the throat, digging up dirt by the truckload. Kirby even hires a private investigator to help with the legwork, which includes attempting to identify those on the secretive ratings board by any means necessary. Rooting through trash, trailing suspects from the MPAA's well-guarded headquarters; you name it, they probably tried it.
So what do they find? Are the company's guidelines completely objective, or do they cater to specific groups and ideals to play it safe? Are the ratings board members really parents of children between the ages of 5 and 17, as they've often claimed? Was the company always this strict, or has their agenda evolved over time? Answering these questions would do a tremendous disservice to first-time viewers; in short, you'll have to find out for yourself. To the film's credit, though, it unravels at a steady pace, dishing out MPAA history lessons between the stealth missions.
Dick's other main objective, of course, is to give the floor to directors who've struggled with the MPAA during their careers. Among others, we hear from Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry), Kevin Smith (Jersey Girl), Mary Harron (American Psycho), Matt Stone (Orgazmo, Team America: World Police) and John Waters (A Dirty Shame), often pairing the interviews with "offensive" clips from the films listed. In many cases, the directors cite the MPAA's snap judgments of "NC-17" for their efforts, for reasons ranging from mildly obvious to utterly vague. As some already know, this rating (formerly referred to as "X") prevents wide theatrical distribution in many markets, not to mention keeping the eventual DVD releases out of "family friendly" chains like Blockbuster and Wal-Mart.
Ironically enough, This Film Is Not Yet Rated was also branded with an "NC-17" during its limited theatrical run (guess why?), though it eventually surrendered the judgment and stuck with "Unrated" for the DVD release. This interesting footnote isn't covered in great detail, but the final stretch shows director Kirby Dick mailing a tape of the nearly-finished film to the MPAA, resulting in a well-placed uppercut that all but ends the contest. It's not a fair fight, not in the least---but when both sides are playing dirty, it's the audience that often wins.
Arriving on DVD courtesy of IFC Films, This Film Is Not Yet Rated plays just as effectively on the small screen. It's truly one of the year's most unusual and provocative releases, easily considered essential viewing for those unfamiliar with the MPAA's closely-guarded tactics. The main feature has received a decent technical presentation (with at least one minor drawback), while the included assortment of bonus material helps broaden the film's scope even further.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, This Film Is Not Yet Rated looks decent but hasn't been enhanced for widescreen displays. Despite this odd oversight, fans of the film shouldn't find much to complain about here: the color palette is natural, black levels are solid and there aren't any major digital problems to be found. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and gets the job done, boasting clear dialogue and music during the interview footage and film clips. Unfortunately, no subtitles or Closed Captioning options are included during the main feature or bonus material.
Another highlight is a collection of Deleted Scenes (5 clips, 24 minutes total), most of which are terrific and could've made the final cut. Highlights include extended interview segments with John Waters and Kevin Smith, a conversation with Gina Prince-Bythewood about her MPAA difficulties with Love & Basketball, and the revelation that the ratings board pirated This Film Is Not Yet Rated during their legal proceedings. Next thing you know, they'll be downloading mp3s.
Also included is a brief Q&A Session (9 minutes) with the director, filmed during the 2006 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. You'll have already heard some of this material during the audio commentary, but there's some new thoughts shared as well. Closing things out is the film's provocative Theatrical Trailer, located front and center on the disc's main menu.
It's one of 2006's most scathing documentaries, and that's exactly what makes This Film Is Not Yet Rated all the more entertaining. Whether you've come for the director interviews or the history lesson, most viewers will simply be satisfied to see the MPAA get a heaping spoonful of its own medicine. The DVD package by IFC Films pairs the main feature with a decent technical presentation (though the lack of anamorphic enhancement is mildly disappointing), while a solid assortment of extras holds everything together nicely. Bottom line: those looking for a great David and Goliath tale should enjoy this one from start to finish. Firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.