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dir Kirby Dick|
scr Kirby Dick, Eddie Schmidt, Matt Patterson
with Jack Valenti, John Waters, Matt Stone, Kimberly Peirce, Kevin Smith, Maria Bello, Wayne Kramer, Atom Egoyan, Jamie Babbit, Mary Harron, Allison Anders, Darren Aronofsky
release US/UK 1.Sep.06
06/US IFC 1h37
Stakeout at the MPAA: Lindsey Howell, Kirby Dick and Becky Altringer
Documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick does the unthinkable, taking on the Motion Picture Association of America, the secretive film rating (and arguably censoring) board. It's an entertaining and strikingly important film, even if it slightly loses focus.
The main point is that the MPAA is completely arbitrary, using undefined "parental" guidelines to apply ratings that hugely affect a film's marketability. After campaigns by the religious right, the NC-17 rating is a kiss of death; films with this rating can't place ads in major newspapers or be screened in major cinemas. So in effect there is no restrictive rating at all. And no way for mature films to be seen by a broad, adult audience.
The most important aspect Dick exposes is the system's massive disparities: independent films are treated much more harshly than studio movies, sex in any form is more restricted than the most gruesome violence, a woman's sexuality is censored far beyond a man's, and even subtle gay themes are more contentious than explicit straight sex. Dick talks to numerous filmmakers with extremely specific examples of these things (SEE BELOW), and it's shocking to see how out of touch the MPAA is with the society they claim to represent.
Secrecy and accountability are other serious issues, as the MPAA refuses to divulge raters' names, to explain their decisions or to record minutes of the appeal process. When Dick hires a team of private investigators to get their names (which they do), he gets slightly distracted, spending too much time on their spying techniques and even their private lives. More significant are the few raters and appeals board members who bravely talk on-camera.
While this film will primarily appeal to film geeks, its importance shouldn't be underestimated by anyone who watches movies. This is a sharp, lively documentary, brilliantly edited with telling historical sequences, censored film scenes and extensive interviews. And as his trump card, Dick submits this film for certification and then appeals the NC-17 (for "some graphic sexual content") to show us exactly how dodgy the process is.
In the end, there are several pleas for a rating board that's more accountable and transparent, and less beholden to special interest groups. The fact is that 95 percent of America's film business and 90 percent of all US media are controlled by the six companies that fund the MPAA: Disney, General Electric (Universal), News Corp (Fox), Sony, Time Warner and Viacom (Paramount). They control almost everything we see, but as journalist David Ansen says, they're not protecting children, they're turning us all into children.
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comments from the filmmakers... John Waters (A Dirty Shame): Says his non-explicit film got an NC-17 (for overall tone) despite the fact that children have seen everything already on the internet. America believes that violence is fine, but even talking about sex is a problem.
Matt Stone (Orgazmo/South Park/Team America): Talks about the vast difference between doing an independent film (the MPAA refused to give any notes at all) and a studio film (full notes and suggestions of cuts), as well as the absurdity of the puppet sex scene in Team America, for which he shot extremely outrageous footage knowing it would be cut, just so he could keep the scene in the film.
Kevin Smith (Jersey Girl): Got an R because his film centred on a conversation by a sexually active female, not a man. "Pretending that this is harmful is pathetic," he says. Believes that women in peril should be more strongly rated.
Maria Bello (The Cooler): Her nude scene earned an NC-17 even though it was an integral, brief, romantic moment. Then the same year, Scary Movie gets an R even though a woman's breast implant is cut out on screen? She says that America has desexualised sex, unlike European filmmakers who have real people with real bodies in their films.
Atom Egoyan (Where the Truth Lies): Was told the cuts had "nothing to do with the homosexual content", but it was obvious that they did. He appealed and was refused the right to re-appeal, so released the film unrated.
Jamie Babbit (But I'm a Cheerleader): Her film was made for teens, a comedy about being sent to a homosexual rehab centre with no nudity at all. But it got an NC-17 at the same time as the far more explicit American Pie, which got an R. "So who exactly is the average American parent?" she asks.
Allison Anders (Gas, Food, Lodging): Says there's a denial of female pleasure and male nudity, which is getting worse. Back in 1978, the explicit sex scene in Coming Home would never get through now, because it's so long and so focussed on Jane Fonda's pleasure.
Mary Harron (American Psycho): The MPAA objected to the entire tone; the gruesome chainsaw and axe scenes were fine, but the sex was a problem. She says it's because art movies blur the line between porn and entertainment, and the MPAA has an irrational fear that unleashed sex will dissolve the social bond more than violence--especially gay sex.
Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream): Believes violence with blood and consequences should be more leniently rated than non-explicit but irresponsible violence.
Michael Tucker (Gunner Palace): Says it's ridiculous to give a documentary an R, when this is non-gratuitous, unscripted, everyday language used by soldiers. Recruiters can visit schools, but the kids aren't allowed to see what it's really like out there. What about images of war, such as the Holocaust or Hiroshima, which feature naked war victims? Are they PG? R?
...and Jack Valenti (founder of the ratings system): Claims violence can earn an NC-17. But the fact is that four times as many films get it for sex. And explicit, gruesome violence without blood can get PG, while non-explicit, fully clothed sex can get an NC-17.
© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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