Kirby Dick does a documentary on the bizarre American ratings system and how the certifying board operates with immunity and no accountability for its directions.
Dick begins by examining the MPAA's set-up as an anonymous group that is exclusively funded by the major Hollywood studios. Fundamentally established to prevent children's eyes from seeing anything society would consider unsuitable, the MPAA has blossomed into a powerful force, with the difference between an R and an NC-17 rating possibly leading to millions of dollars forfeited at the box office. Actors and directors such as John Waters, Maria Bello, Mary Harron, and Kevin Smith offer their forthright opinions on these decisions, and Dick highlights many of the clips that have fallen foul of the censors. The director also compares and contrasts similar scenes from indie pictures and films produced by major studios, with the latter seemingly allowed far more leniency when it comes to avoiding the dreaded NC-17. In a wonderful twist that adds a strong narrative structure to the film, Dick hires a private detective to hunt down the MPAA's members, thereby lifting the curtain on who these shadowy figures actually are.
But the real cherry on the top of Dick's movie is his submission of THIS FILM HAS NOT YET BEEN RATED to the MPAA, which helps highlight the appeals process, and reveals the involvement of the Catholic Church and major cinema chains across the country. Entertaining and informative, Dick's movie is everything a documentary should be. Revelations come thick and fast throughout, and the director skillfully creates a palpable feeling of injustice that will leave many viewers feeling the MPAA is in urgent need of a drastic overhaul.
The bit I found weirdest though was the death knell that is NC-17... In America, if something is rated NC-17 it is deemed to have bombed at the box office, yet here in the UK, where we are more proscriptive with certificates (15 means 15, 18 means 18)... there is no problem is a film is 18. In fact, the only film where an accompanying adult will take a child is 12. In Kenya, a man took his 8 year child to see Apocalypto and the kid was traumatised in the first few minutes when they slaughter the pig. Seeing the Dark Knight with parents who brought young kids in thinking this would be a popcorn comic flick, you could hear their crying through the darkness. It's a disturbing film. Why American so hellbent on rated R and the illusion of choice it offers. Why is NC-17 so terrible? On the BBFC website, it offers guidance on why exactly films have been given their certificates, and with 12A certificates, this is necessary because it will lay out reasons like 'mild sexual references' or 'peril throughout' which gives the parent the knowledge of what to expect, especially when they are more aware of what their kids can deal with.
All in all, this is a thought-provoking film and as it came out in 2006, I would be interested to see what impact, if any, it had on the MPAA and their lack of accountability, and the murky dark presence of religious lobbyists in the background of art and cinema and culture and creativeness.
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