..,.Gary Dretzka
..,.Leonard Klady
...David Poland
...Doug Pratt
...Ray Pride
...S.T. VanAirsdale

 

JANUARY 25, 2006

For Movie Folks Who Considered Burning Down The Ratings Board When The Adjustment Was Enuf

I love Kirby Dick's work. He is extremely bright, absolutely daring, and never seems to miss the point.

However, I can't say that I am a huge fan of his new film, This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated. Why? Because even though it speaks to a subject I think is very important - the failures of the rating system and, specificall,y the NC-17 - the tough, smart research just isn't in the film. Instead, he resorts here to easy, cheap shots and falls into a first person role, which strikes me as a clever way to deal with the fact that he just didn't get the real story here.

Again, let me state from whence I come. I have had fights/discussions with MPAA heads for a decade now about the NC-17 anytime I have the opportunity. I didn't think the X worked and I don't think the NC-17 works. I also think that the PG-13/R nexus is an even bigger problem these days, as negotiations over the R have caused more self-censorship than the rare NC-17 controversy.

The film is fun, and clever, and smart and does an excellent job of giving the choir what they are hoping to see. But really, I expect more than this from Kirby Dick. There are many factual misstatements in the movie. And worse, there is an unmediated tendency to gross exaggeration and wild assumptions about the motivation of the ratings board that go unchallenged. John Waters, ironically enough, becomes the voice of reason in the film, unhappy with rulings but understanding that the CARA board does seem to reflect "the average American" more often than not.

There is also a tendency to accurately reflect facts and circumstances and then to have one voice suggesting change would be better without really exploring the issue. Case in point is the argument that the film world would be better off without a ratings board, free to argue its case state by state, movie by movie. This is, of course, absurd. Filmmakers cannot afford endless litigation and studios cannot afford to battle censor boards - and possible lose in some states - inhibiting the release of a movie as widely as possible. Does anyone really want one version of a movie playing in Baltimore and another version in Dallas and yet another version in Los Angeles?

Likewise, what would happen if filmmakers and financiers knew who was on the rating board? Havoc. Which is why, in spite of how the movie misleads us, the arbitration process in most of the industry's unions is done by anonymous committees. There are many problems with the ratings system... anonymity is not one of them... except, perhap,s in that there should be some specific profile guidelines established by CARA to answer specific questions about whether members must be parents, whether these is an appropriate retirement age for a family-oriented board, and a limit on the time of these appointments.

Personally, I felt that following around CARA raters so their names and faces could be published in this documentary was petulant and a bit childish. Who does this really help? These guys aren't Scooter Libby. They are middle-aged people who seem to have more time on their hands than ambition. And of course, when Mr. Dick shows some of them in unflattering ways, the audience is meant to dislike them, when in fact we know almost nothing about them, who they are, or what kind of people they are. The documentary seems to take the position that we, the public, or at least them, the filmmakers, are due this information as though this is a court of law. It is not a court of law. It is an arbitration board set up by an industry interested in perpetuating its own interests.

The second big issue in the film is the treatment of indies versus the treatment of studio movies. But the support is not strong.... even though I think actually does occur. But still, one must take the reality of the situation in mind. Perhaps it was absurd to limit a sex scene involving both the Fake Martin and the Fake Lewis characters in Where The Truth Lies, released by IFC. But how many studio movies come to CARA with a man coming up behind another man who is having sex with a woman and trying to penetrate the man from behind? I think it is fair to expect that the same problems will occur in the studio version of the same situation.

Even side-by-side comparisons of scenes were not really playing fair as the scenes that were rated NC-17 showed, in most cases, the least "offensive" parts of the sex scenes while the R rated "studio" scenes were the hardest moments of those films. The comparison of the flash by Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct versus the pubic hair issue in The Cooler was certainly an exception to that rule.

But then you have a case like Eyes Wide Shut, in which Mr. Dick missed the significance of the rating editing of the movie completely. The CG characters who covered sex acts in the orgy sequence were not covering more breasts. They were covering oral sex and penetrations. But the reason they should not have been given a rating problem was that all the participants were wearing masks and much of the sex was fake penetration. This was at the core of the movie. It was not about sex. It was about the false dream of exotic sex. And with the edits put in, the movie becomes even less comprehensible.

And that is, I think, a big part of where the line should be drawn. It is story driven or is it arbitrary? If it is arbitrary and explicit, I am less inclined to complain about an NC-17. But as the movie does smartly point out, there is an enormous amount of arbitrary violence in these films and the R rating is pretty much the norm.

The point, to me, is for CARA to come up with a solution to the failed NC-17. The failure was driven by the equivalent of pornography, which CARA rarely rates, but cannot currently rate any more harshly than an NC-17. That is the excuse for media and other publicity outlets that won't allow NC-17. And the MPAA has, in my opinion, a responsibility to come up with an Adult rating that can work commercially. I don't think the solution is for CARA to decide what movies are good and which ones are bad and to rate them based on that judgment. (The whole conversation is ironic as the first R-rated studio movie with a discernable male/male anal sex scene competes for Oscar gold and box office success.)

This Film Is Not Yet Rated reminded me more than a little of Vikram Jayanti's The Golden Globes: Hollywood's Dirty Little Secret, in which the excellent documentarian was reduced for the only time in his career to make himself a part of the story. Why? Because the HFPA was not playing along and he just didn't have the access to do a proper doc on the subject. His efforts to get answers were funny. But he didn't ring the bell. And here, K.D. gets a private investigator to work to get a list of the list of the "secret" rating committee. Yee haw! But what does giving us those names do for us? How is this investigation relevant? It's not a personal issue. It's an institutional issue. Personally, I was turned off the invasion of these people's privacy as well. It's a little like throwing a rock at your newspaper delivery man because the Op-Ed piece in yesterday's paper pissed you off.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dick lets the MPAA off the big hook on this whole issue. I believe that studios don't want to deal with the NC-17 business because it does limit potential viewers and it does cause problems in Home Entertainment marketing. Wal-Mart will not carry NC-17 titles and Blockbuster looks askew at them. That is where the core of censorship is. And as the film accurately states, the MPAA is the studios... literally. Why do the studios embrace CARA with, most of the time, happiness? Even indies use tough ratings a promotion and most of the time are fine with the results.

It's pretty tough to make the case that Boys Don't Cry was hurt by CARA considering the reception the film got by the Academy and the public. Since we all know that kids over 14 can often skirt the ratings rules, do we know a lot of people who would want their 15-year-old watching the Team America puppet sex scene including golden showers?

Another area that the film hits right, but doesn't completely follow, is the fear of the female orgasm. There is little reason for But I Am A Cheerleader to get an NC-17, and equally so, a film unnamed here, Coming Soon, which featured a girl coming to orgasm in a comedic scene involving a jet in a hot tub, which was even less graphic. Still, hard to argue that Showgirls didn't deserve what it got.

This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated brings up all the questions, mocks in the broadest way, and doesn't really answer the question, except for people to say, "Burn down the system." Well, the Classification And Ratings Association does do a service to viewers and to the studios and indies. It does keep alternative censorship at bay. And at every level, the ratings are more liberal than ever. But there are real problems and they need to be addressed. I wish Kirby had done more of that. Less clowning, more real issues.

Well, maybe next year...

January 23, 2006
January 22, 2006
January 21, 2006
January 20, 2006

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