The MPAA was a lobbying organization that first implemented its voluntary ratings system in 1968 under the auspices of Jack Valenti, a Washington insider and LBJ confidant determined to defend Hollywood from the possibility of government regulation. Valenti argued it was better for film studios to police themselves so as to avoid having political prudes come down with a modernized Hays Code. So filmmakers must present their films to the MPAA's classifications panel (whose identities are never disclosed and are only described on the MPAA's website as "a board of parents") and then, if they don't have enough industry clout or the ability/desire to cut and resubmit their film for another pass, have to live with whatever rating is passed down. As This Film points out time and again, given that NC-17 films are shown by almost no theaters and often not carried by video rental chains, it's a system where de facto censorship is carried out by a secret nongovernmental body that seems to have a real problem with sex.
This Film director Kirby Dick brings a fizzy style to this story, using snazzy graphics and saucy clips of naughty films to add some punch to the litany of filmmakers who rail against the inscrutable ways of the MPAA bluenoses. He continually cuts in scenes of explicit sex because more often than not, it is these moments that trip films up during the ratings review. Mary Harron expresses bewilderment as she talks about how the reason American Psycho was initially slapped with an NC-17 was not from what she expected (brutal, over-the-top serial killer violence) but instead a scene in which Christian Bale's character has sex with two women. Any number of grisly disembowelings or gunshot wounds goes down just fine, but as directors Kimberley Pierce (Boys Don't Cry) and Jamie Babbit (But I'm a Cheerleader) testify, a film that depicts any sort of sex considered in some way aberrant (almost anything with gay characters, or something as simple as showing a female orgasm) gets slapped down. In one informative sequence, Dick shows scenes considered NC-17 next to those which came through which made it through as R -- a lesbian teen demurely masturbating with clothes on in Babbit's film was considered the former while Kevin Spacey openly pleasuring himself in the shower in American Beauty was the latter.
Given the strangely conservative ways of the secretive MPAA raters, Dick turns half his film into a gimmicky mystery story by hiring a pair of private investigators to stake out the organization's bunker-like complex in Encino (15503 Ventura Blvd., for anyone who cares to do the same) and tail the raters when they leave. The idea is that since the MPAA is in essence a censorship board with massive influence on art and commerce, it's nonsensical that the identities of the ratings board be kept secret. The approach is light gonzo filmmaking and an entertaining diversion, as they go through rater's trash, eavesdrop on their conversations in restaurants, and take down license numbers like cops on stakeout.
What's problematic here is that while this device is a fun way of jabbing a finger in Valenti's eye (especially when Dick later submit the film for review and records the bureaucratic absurdities of the appeals process), it also detracts from the film's more serious charges. It's all well and fun to go hunting around after the raters, and while Dick has probably performed a public service by finally identifying many of them, too many charges -- sexism, homophobia, free-speech-tampering, corrupt corporate favoritism, hypocritical preferring sex over violence -- are made by the directors (and former raters) brave enough to show up but then left dangling as Dick plays detective.
The DVD includes deleted scenes, a Q&A with Dick, and a commentary track.
Now rate these binoculars.
Run time: 98 mins
In Theaters: Friday 1st September 2006
Box Office Worldwide: $302.2 thousand
Distributed by: IFC Films
Production compaines: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Independent Film Channel (IFC), NetFlix
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 98 Rotten: 19
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Kirby Dick
Producer: Alison Palmer Bourke, Eddie Schmidt, Megan Parlen, Evan Shapiro, Jessica Wolfson
Starring: Kimberly Peirce as Herself - Director of 'Boys Don't Cry', Jon Lewis as Himself - Author of 'Hollywood v. Hardcore', David Ansen as Himself - Film Critic at 'Newsweek', Martin Garbus as Himself - First Amendment Attorney and Filmmakers Representative at Appeals, Wayne Kramer as Himself - Director of 'The Cooler', Paul Dergarabedian as Himself - Box Office Analyst, Kevin Smith as Himself - Director of 'Clerks' and 'Jersey Girl', John Waters as Himself - Director of 'A Dirty Shame', Matt Stone as Himself - Producer of 'South Park' and 'Team America', Richard Heffner as Himself - Former Rating Board Chairman, Bingham Ray as Himself - Co-Founder of October Films, Joel Federman as Himself - Author of 'Media Ratings', Kirby Dick as Himself - Filmmaker and Interviewer, Jay Rosenzweig as Himself - Private Investigator (as Jay), Paul Huebl as Himself - Private Investigator (as Paul), Clark Baker as Himself - Private Investigator (as Clark), Becky Altringer as Herself - Private Investigator, Cheryl Howell as Herself - Private Investigator, Cookie Schwartz as Herself - Private Investigator (as Cookie), Lindsey Howell as Herself - Junior Private Investigator, Jay Landers as Himself - Former MPAA Rater, Stephen Farber as Himself - Former MPAA Rater, Dottie Hamilton as Herself - Author of 'Hollywood's Silent Partner (as Dottie Hamilton Phd), Maria Bello as Herself - Actress in 'The Cooler', Mark Urman as Himself - Head of U.S. Theatrical Thinkfilm, Allison Anders as Herself - Director of 'Gas - Food - Lodging', Mary Harron as Herself - Director of 'American Psycho', Jamie Babbit as Herself - Director of 'But I'm a Cheerleader', Joan Graves as Herself - Rating Board Chairperson (voice), Joann Yatabe as Herself - Senior Rating Board Member, Darren Aronofsky as Himself - Director of 'Requiem for a Dream', Theresa Webb as Herself - Southern California Prevention Research Center at UCLA (as Dr. Theresa Webb), Michael Tucker as Himself - Co-Director of 'Gunner Palace', David L. Robb as Himself - Author of 'Operation Hollywood', Lawrence Lessig as Himself - Copyright Attorney and Author, Anthony 'Tony' Hey as Himself - Senior Rater, Barry Freeman as Himself - MPAA Rater, Arleen Bates as Herself - MPAA Rater, Matt Ioakimedes as Himself - MPAA Rater, Jane Worden as Herself - MPAA Rater, Scott Young as Himself - Senior Rater, Howard Fridkin as Himself - MPAA Rater, Atom Egoyan as Himself - Director of 'Where the Truth lies', Rachel Blanchard as Herself - Actress in 'Where the Truth Lies', Michael McClellan as Himself - Appeals Board Member, James Wall as Himself - Appeals Board Clergy Member since 1968, Eddie Schmidt as Himself - Interviewer (voice), Kirsten Johnson as Herself - Interviewer (voice), Javorn Drummond as Himself - From Fayetteville N. Carolina (archive footage), Will H. Hays as Himself (archive footage), Eric Johnston as Himself - MPAA President for 1945-1963 (archive footage), J. Parnell Thomas as Himself - Chairman of House Un-American Activities Committee (archive footage), Jack Valenti as Himself - Founder of MPAA Rating System (archive footage), Tom Brokaw as Himself - 1978 TV Newscaster (archive footage) (uncredited), Walter Cronkite as Himself - 1968 TV Newscaster (archive footage) (uncredited), Ann Curry as Herself - 1999 TV Newscaster (archive footage) (uncredited), Dan Rather as Himself (archive footage) (uncredited), Richard Nixon as Himself - Member of House Un-American Activities Committee (archive footage)
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