It's often very easy to not question authority, because we're often completely unaware that there's even an authority to question. Kirby Dick's documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated takes one of the film industry's most sacrosanct, secret processes – the ratings-assignment methodology of the Motion Picture Association of America – and dissects it with a steady hand and a twinkle in his eye.
Dick's working several angles here, and all of them worth exploring: First up is the contention that the MPAA is essentially tougher on independent films than those from major studios; second is the thesis that the MPAA is more afraid of – and therefore more strict about – female and homosexual sexuality than it is about male gratification; third is the suggestion that the MPAA is not an impartial body, but rather works to help the ever-dwindling number of major studios gain more and more of a stranglehold on the culture by damaging the financial and artistic prospects of independent film; and, finally, that the fact the MPAA's raters and processes are secret is a violation of the essential right to face people who are, in effect, your accusers. ...
(More after the jump. ...) Dick interviews a broad spread of people for the film – moviemakers like Kevin Smith, Kimberly Pierce, Matt Stone and John Waters; actors like Maria Bello and copyright and intellectual freedom experts like Lawrence Lessig. He also hires a private eye to, essentially, crack the case – and find out who the MPAA's raters are. The investigatory angle of the film is funny and breezy and a little goofy; Dick and his hired shamus are not especially shy about, say, scooping someone's garbage off the street to rifle it for clues. If there's one complaint about This Film is Not Yet Rated, it would be that some of the actual exposition about the MPAA, it's policies, and the effects of those policies could be articulated a little more clearly – not necessarily because they aren't communicated (they are), but they certainly could have been stated a bit more clearly to establish the platform of Dick's film a bit more soundly.
And even with that caveat, This Film is Not Yet Rated has everything a movie buff and culture-watcher could ask for in a film about the MPAA: Anecdotes related, hypocrisies revealed, secrets exposed and the residents of self-crafted ivory towers mocked fearlessly and with a raw good humor. This Film is Not Yet Rated may be a bit of a hall of mirrors -- the last act of the film involves Dick capturing the process of submitting the film for an MPAA rating and then appealing that judgment – but it still offers a fascinating view on a group and process we've never seen that somehow has unbreakable control over almost every movie we see.