Fresh off a deserved Academy Award nomination for the documentary
TWIST OF FAITH, filmmaker Kirby Dick turned his attentions to the behemoth
that rules over the movie industry, the
Motion Picture Association of America
(MPAA) and its Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA).

Set up by the major studios in the late 1960s as a self-policing board deal
with "social pressures" over concerns about the "new topics and issues being
explored" in the movies. In short, because the late 1960s saw the disintegration
of the studio system and the rise of independent cinema. Movie makers from
around the world were also tackling subject matter that was deemed "unfit"
for everyone to see -- although most had to do with sex or sexuality. As the
founding of the organization coincided with the sexual revolution, one has
to see a corollary. In 1968, Jack Valenti was tapped to head the newly formed
association and under his regime, the MPAA created a system that supposedly
served as a guide for parents. But there have been many controversial decisions
made by the group -- which operates under a code of secrecy that the CIA or
Opus Dei would envy. For close to 40 years, no one ever knew the names of
any of the people who rated the films or who oversaw the appeals process.
Supposedly, this was to protect the individuals from undue influence and from
pressure groups.

Kirby Dick decided to take on the MPAA in
which was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2006. Dick
subsequently submitted the movie for classification which much have been
something of a mind game for the raters -- since he had hired a team of
private investigators (lesbians, even!) to identify who the raters were. In the               
course of this amusing and informative documentary, he intercuts interviews
with industry professionals and critics (such as director Kimberly Peirce, former
executive Bingham Ray, and
Newsweek's David Ansen, to name but a few)
with the detective work.

Dick's film show how tastes and times have changed. Allison Anders
mentions a long love scene in
COMING HOME (1978) in which Jane Fonda's
character enjoys sexual pleasure. In contrast, Peirce discusses how a
similar scene in
BOYS DON'T CRY had to be trimmed. There are interviews
with Wayne Kramer and Maria Bello of
THE COOLER, a film initially slapped
with an NC-17 rating because one could glimpse Ms. Bello's pubic hair in
one scene. Showing the hypocrisy involved, Dick points out that the now
infamous interrogation scene of
BASIC INSTINCT received an R rating.

It's amusing to see some of the hair-splitting that goes on to
determine a rating. Pelvic thrusts are counted. The use of the F-word
determines whether a film gets a PG-13 (if it's used as an adjective)
or an R (if it's used to mean sexual intercourse).

In the absolute height of irony,
earned an NC-17. Dick went through an appeals process, partly to identify
those who make the decisions, partly as a matter of course. That is
the most unfortunate thing -- since the film's advertising and distribution
will be limited. This is one documentary that anyone who cares about
motion pictures should see. Fortunately,
Netflix and the IFC Channel are
behind it, so it should be widely available after its theatrical run.

     Rating:             B
     MPAA Rating:    NC-17 for some graphic sexual content
     Running time:   97 mins.

             Viewed at Magno Review One
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.