Movie Review
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
by Bill Gallagher

You know your kids are pretty much grown up when the movie rating system is about as relevant as the cost of a babysitter. The battles over what movies are “appropriate” subside when, as a parent, you acknowledge that at 17 the kids are on their own.

Still, if you’re the least bit curious about how movies are rated, who rates them and why they get a G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17, you should find “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” at least mildly interesting. Put another way, if you’ve ever wondered why certain movies didn’t get an R rating while others did, this is as good a place as any to find out. And if you find the commercially poisonous NC-17 rating intriguing, you’ve definitely come to the right place.

It’s definitely a “gotcha” documentary, owing much to Michael Moore’s confrontational style. In this case, Director Kirby Dick (a name that merits an R rating but isn’t made up) sets out to expose the inner workings of the ratings board, whose members are paid to sit through hundreds of movies each year and determine which set of letters and numbers will accompany them. That in itself sounds like a mind-numbing task, but since no current board members are interviewed, we don’t get an answer to the obvious question, “So what’s that like?”

Instead, we get the complaints of filmmakers and actors who have been involved with movies that the board saw fit to saddle with that NC-17 rating. In some cases, those board decisions are pretty ridiculous. Take “The Cooler,” a wonderful movie starring William H. Macy and Maria Bello about a guy hired by casinos to stand next to someone who’s winning too much money and thus douse his hot streak. In it, there’s a scene where a glimpse of Bello’s pubic hair can be seen—if you’re looking closely and don’t blink. That alone got the film an NC-17 rating. Whereas another scene in which the snarling casino boss played by Alec Baldwin punches a woman, who may or may not be pregnant, in the stomach merits no mention. Go figure. (The filmmakers cut that glimpse, kept the punch and took home an R rating.)

If you’ve ever been amazed (or, like me, bemused) that a movie that shoves gratuitous violence in your face escapes with a PG-13 rating while another movie showing a couple of stoners smoking a joint or dares to show a woman’s bare breasts gets slapped with an R, then welcome to the weird world view of the ratings system. It was created in the late 60s so that Congress wouldn’t federalize the branding of movies based on content. Because it’s a voluntary system created by and for the movie industry there’s really very little known about the way it works...or doesn’t work. But when you watch “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” and do just the most basic research, you’ll see that double standards abound.

For example: A woman’s bare breast will get you an R rating for “brief nudity,” but just showing a man’s bare butt means a movie can maintain its PG-13 rating. That’s more than an academic distinction because PG-13 versus R means a lot more potential box office dollars for the milder rating.

For example: The “f” word can be used up to three times, it is alleged, before the ratings board slaps an R on the movie, as long as the “f” word is used as an expletive and not to describe intercourse. Use it in a sexual context and you can say goodbye to PG-13. (The wonderful, whimsical “mockumentary” “Waiting for Guffman” had to take an R because one player auditioning used the “f” word the wrong way.)

For example: Excessive violence is okay as long as no blood is shed. If it bleeds it leads to an R. Next time you rent a James Bond movie watch closely. It’s rated PG-13 despite suggestive sexual overtones and a soaring body count because no one ever bleeds. But bring a realistic epic to the screen like “Saving Private Ryan,” “Glory,” or “The Passion of the Christ” and the realism will mean an R and that even mature teens 17 or under theoretically aren’t allowed in without you by their side. (“Yeah, right,” as they would say. “Like we’re not gonna buy a ticket to some PG-rated movie and then see what we really want to see.” Shocking, isn’t it?)

I love the story, not covered in “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” that Steven Spielberg actually came up with the PG-13 rating. Supposedly “Poltergeist,” the 1982 movie he wrote but didn’t direct, initially received an R rating from the ratings board for drug use and its intensity. But on appeal it received a PG because, at the time, there was no middle ground. Then when he came out with “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” there was no way it was getting a PG and no way the studio wanted to kill business with an R. Thus was born PG-13—Parents Strongly Cautioned. (The rating wasn’t approved before “Temple of Doom” was released, and it received a PG.)

I remember the first time I saw “Temple of Doom.” I thought, “Jeez, that ratings board thinks this is okay for kids?” That was probably when I started paying attention to which films get which ratings. “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” serves a purpose in at least raising similar questions but bogs down in its efforts to get us worked up about some form of censorship being foisted on an unsuspecting public by these anonymous guardians of virtue. Do you pay any attention to the rating a movie receives? Other than parents looking for an assist in protecting their kids, who gives a rip if it’s an R or a PG-13 or even an NC-17?

The Motion Picture Association of America, the group that created, protects and maintains the ratings board, is as political an organization as you will find in America. Its leader for years, Jack Valenti, was, at best, an artful manipulator of the system he saw from the inside as one of LBJ’s henchmen and, at worst, as cynical and conniving a hack as ever roamed the corridors of Congress. But by promoting a good and noble industry- run ratings system, he not only kept Congress out of the business of dictating what can be seen, but he also managed to give skittish parents a tool for telling kids why they couldn’t see a certain movie. To wit, “Because it’s rated PG-13 and you’re only eight!” If, at this point, you’re whining, “Well, what’s a parent to do?” when it comes to watching out for what your kids want to watch at the movie theater or, more likely, on that big screen you had installed downstairs, here’s my answer: Forget this screwy, inconsistent, industry-sanctioned ratings system and assume some parental responsibility. Would it kill you to skip 18 holes of golf Saturday afternoon and actually watch a movie with your kid? How about a little bonding?

The only movie I can remember seeing with my boys when they were tykes and actually loathing was “The Care Bears Movie” (Tagline: What happens when the world stops caring?). It was showing somewhere in Milwaukie. It was rated G. It may have been painful, but to this day they know how much their dad loves them because he sat through it with them. And it created an expectation. They knew that anything they watched I would be either watching as well or at least checking up on. And now that my youngest son is 17 and doesn’t need me to get into any movie, I know that whatever objectionable subject matter may be thrown his way, he can handle it and discriminate between what’s art, what’s schlock and what’s just sick. And there’s no rating system that can do that for a kid except the parental responsibility rating system.


BrainstormNW - October 2006

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