Saturday, September 02, 2006

THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED - not just another earnest but futile liberal rant

It seems that whenever I list the week's new releases in the sidebar of this blog, there's a "self-explanatory documentary" in the offing. By and large, they are all fascinating and well-made. But instead of the old-school investigative journalism we grew up with on the BBC, these films are out-and-out polemics. Not that there's anything wrong with it. It's just a trend I've been noticing. I often wonder what the point of these documentaries is. Presumably the kind of people at whom the movies are aimed are not the same as the people at whom the polemics are aimed. I'll happily shell out ten squid to see a guy rail against: ENRON;Walmart; racism; Big Oil; Big Music....that's because these movies re-inforce my political views. It's odds on I'll have a good time. Who doesn't enjoy hearing they're right?! But if you're filming a polemic, presumably part of the point is to persuade who are opposed to your cause. And there's the rub. Because how many anti-environmental, pro-Big Business people are actually going to shell out ten squid to hear some liberal hippie do them down? So what you end up with a lot of really earnest, well-argued documentaries that advance their cause not one iota. Indeed, when the film-maker is as obnoxious as Michael Moore, they may actually set the cause back. How many voters were galvanised *against* the Democrats by the grandstanding in Fahrenheit 9-11?

So, here's the genius of THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED - this week's earnest polemic. Kirby Dick has made a documentary that rails against the American film ratings board, the MPAA. The charges are that it is untransparent, unaccountable, inconsistent in its rulings, harsh to Independents, anti-Union, co-opted by Big Film and The Church, homophobic, misogynistic and more frightened of sex than violence. You can show a women being brutally slashed to bits by an attacker, but you can't show her having an orgasm in the context of a loving, committed relationship. (And don't even try to show her being given that orgasm by another woman.) The evidence is pretty damning - as it always is - and given by a mix of famous Hollywood stars and industry experts.

The real kicker, however, is that because of the very nature of the target of this polemic, the movie itself becomes part of its own story. We see how Kirby submits this actual documentary to the MPAA for a rating and appeals against its harsh NC-17 rating. We see how paranoid the ratings board members are and how unfair the process is from the inside. Absolute genius.

THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED played Sundance 2006. It went on limited release in the US and UK yesterday and opens in the Netherlands on December 7th.


  1. Sounds like it's well worth seeing. I wonder if the BBFC is accountable because its rulings are backed by law unlike the MPAA's (afaik).

  2. Mebbe so. At any rate, the BBFC is transparent, accountable, and sees itself not as a censor or as a moral watchdog but as a useful tool for all members of the cinemagoing public - not just some bizarre mythical Middle American parent. They only act when strictly necessary. A friend of mine bought the UK distribution rights to a movie and was told he'd have to cut a scene where a snake ate a hamster. He didn't coz the re-edit would've cost more than the rights so it never got released. But that's what the BBFC's all about. Adult sex is okay - animal snuff movies are not!