Renzo’s Rant: This Webpage Is Not Yet Rated
A great movie that's coming out soon is Bruno Kirby’s This Film Is Not Yet Rated. I say that it's a great movie conditionally, as I have not yet seen it myself. However, I imagine that it's going to be a great movie, because it's a movie about movies. Well, technically, it's not a movie about movies, it's a movie about movie ratings. I will now fill the rest of my quota for the word movie, and get it out of the way in this first paragraph. Movie movie movie, movie movie movie movie movie. Movie.
There we go. Anyway, as I was saying, This Film Is Not Yet Rated explores the largely unknown, secretive world of the MPAA, which if you don't know, stands for the North American Man / Boy Love Association. No, wait, I think that's NAMBLA. I always get the two confused, because they're both always trying to fuck kids. However, NAMBLA does so in the literal sense, whereas the MPAA fucks kids in the same sense that you'd say, "Man, that crack dealer really fucked me when he sold me this lump of hardened laundry detergent." That's because the MPAA's job, as far as I'm concerned, is to take the sweet, sweet crack of a great movie and render it, through a process of bias and presumption, into a soapy substance that will, upon smoking, cause you to bleed out of your eyes and vomit a previously-unknown substance stored in the appendix that will be named "whatthefuckisthisgoo".
The Motion Picture Association of America is in charge of assigning ratings to movies in the United States. Thankfully, living in "Other", I'm not subject to their rating system. However, the rest of the world has their own ratings systems, which can range from much more strict than the MPAA (places like Vatican City and North Korea, where more films are banned than not) to much less strict (places like Denmark, where even thirty years ago a movie of a person blowing a horse would be the darling of the local film circuit). Here in Ontario, our ratings board is in the latter group, as our ratings generally fall one rank lower than the American counterpart. So a movie that in the States requires you to be 18 before going unaccompanied, would only require you to be 14 here. Even so, I still have very strong issues with ratings in general.
The forebears of the MPAA created their first ratings system way back in the golden days of Hollywoodland, a time when Eisenhower was showing the nation exactly why we should Like Ike, Rock Hudson was doing lines of blow off female hookers for the sake of the press, and many concerned citizens thought that there should be a system that allowed parents to determine whether a particular film was suitable for their children. Hence the creation of the ratings system, which was also an ultra-secret code designed to root out Hollywood communists developed by transvestite-supreme, J. Edgar Hoover himself (not actually true...the part about the code to find communists, that is. He totally was a transvestite, though, and I bet being the hardline right-winger he was, he stayed up all night calling himself a fag). Presumably the rampant use of such barbaric words as "damn" and "hell" and the sight of unshirted men was causing impressionable little kids to shout "Damn hell!" while stripping their clothes off in the theatre. Or maybe not. Since then the ratings system has undergone more reinventions than Madonna, including Steven Spielberg's successful early-80s campaign for the creation of the PG-13 rating so that he could have the adorable little Shortround spouting non-stop sexual innuendo throughout Indiana Johnson and the Temple of Poon (title and script were later revised). Anyway, there's two important aspects of the ratings system that I take exception to: rather than informative guidelines, the ratings are instead strictly-enforced rules; and submission of a film to the board, from the very start, was supposed to be voluntary.
What probably started as an idealic attempt to help people wisely choose their movies eventually turned into a distinctly more draconian system. As we all know, a movie that is rated NC-17 does not mean that it's suggested one has to be over 17. As an interesting sidenote, can you guess what the NC in NC-17 stands for? Well, not really anything anymore, because the rating developed in 1990 as No Children Under 17 was surreptitiously changed in the mid-90s to No Persons Aged 17 or Under, making it really NC-18. That's right, in most states you can purchase an automatic weapon at age 17 but can't watch Henry & June because it features a lesbian sex scene so tame, it makes your grandmother's daytime soap look like the darling of the Danish film circuit. Movie theatres are subject to fines and civil torts if they sell tickets to someone who fails to meet the minimum age requirements for a high-rated movie. Suddenly the people who wanted the ratings system in the first place, so that they could have the ability to decide if their children could watch a certain movie, were being told that their decision was irrelevant because even if they thought their kids could handle the film, they weren't the right age that the MPAA chose. Kind of like in Terminator 3 when they activate Skynet so that it can help them, and then Skynet turns around and says "Fuck you, human race! I'm gonna kill you all!" Man, that movie was shitty. James Cameron's career must be spinning in its grave.
As for the voluntary submission part, that became pointless pretty quickly when most theatres announced they would only play movies that had been reviewed and rated by the MPAA. This meant that you technically didn't have to get your movie rated, but if you didn't, you'd be screening it in your basement. So now we had a ratings board that held a choke-hold on the American film market, and whatever decree they handed down was taken as law, as though Hammurabi himself had carved it in the stones of the Ten Commandments with a hammer made out of Jesus' spine. This might not be such a bad thing if the MPAA rated movies using a human brain. I'm sure you can see where I'm going here, but I'll continue nonetheless. Using the latest scientific advances, the MPAA cobbled together a brain composed primarily of drain water runoff, super glue, and pig innards not fit for human consumption, and it sits in a glass tube in their underground bunker, sending out telepathic ratings it creates by using a standard called the Dewey Fuckwad System, which is named after its creator, Dewey Fuckwad.
Here's an example. Johnny Q. Filmwatcher is a week shy of his 18th birthday. He has dropped out of school, has a job in the adult workforce, and has a 2 year old kid of his own. He brings his mother to the theatre with him, but he still can't get in to see a movie like The Dreamers because it would expose him to the sight of a vagina. And even when Johnny explains that not only has he seen a vagina before, but also been inside one on at least one occasion as proven by his child, it won't make any difference because the MPAA's review board has decided that 17-year-olds can't handle the sight of a vagina. At this point Johnny asks why 17-year-old girls are allowed to view their own vaginas whenever they please, even when they're not accompanied by an adult, without the MPAA getting involved. And the answer is, of course, because the sight of your own, real-life vagina is far less dangerous, i.e., arousing, to a 17-year-old than a picture of someone else's vagina being projected onto a screen. This is the kind of logic that the MPAA thinks on.
Next, Johnny asks if he can watch Pulp Fiction, which features the skinny black guy from Mad TV getting his head blown off, a redneck being nearly eviscerated by a katana, and a guy who looks disturbingly like Matthew McConaughey being shot in the crotch with a shotgun at point blank range. And just as you might have guessed, Johnny is allowed to see the movie because, unlike a vagina, these are all things that a 17-year-old sees in real life on a daily basis, and therefore are not going to be harmful or dangerous for him to see on-screen. And once again, the MPAA has saved an impressionable young child from the horrors of the human genitals by forcing him to watch a movie of people graphically and violently being killed. This is what I've seen every day for the last 5 years working at a theatre. It's one thing to say that a person probably should be 18 to watch a movie where someone says the word "fuck" and an old man's naked ass is shown, but it's something else entirely to say that you have to be 18, even if you and your parents agree that it's bullshit. As far as I'm concerned, since the MPAA has taken it on itself to supersede Americans' parenting abilities, it should also be responsible for all the other crap that comes with raising a child. So we should have board members coming to our houses and changing diapers, preparing school lunches, and cleaning off that slutty makeup because no daughter of mine is going to go strutting around town dressed like a common whore. In both the States and Canada, the ratings boards completely miss the target when it comes to deciding what is appropriate and not, and they bring they own personal biases to work with them.
Consider, if you will, the extreme secrecy that the MPAA employs. When a film is submitted to them, they will return a rating. They will not, however, always tell you what caused the rating. They have a vague list of items that will affect ratings, but they don't always bother to identify which particular part of your movie is causing the problem. So if you're shooting for a PG-13 and you get an R, you have to play the wonderful game of "Guess Which Scene We Have To Cut To Get A Lower Rating", which involves throwing a dart at the movie and cutting whatever scene it happens to hit. And when you get the second review, it's somehow been inexplicably bumped to an NC-17, because a different person showed up to work that day, and they thought that the line needs to be drawn at 4 on-screen boobies, not 5. And exactly who, you might ask, are the review board members that hold the success of a movie, and therefore millions of the producers' dollars, in their hands? Who the fuck knows! The MPAA refuses to disclose the identities of the ratings board members. For all we know, they could have fucking Carrot Top deciding how old you have to be to see the latest horror flick, which may or may not be a comedy starring Carrot Top himself. And that's a much scarier thought that any horror movie could ever be.
Pop quiz time! Which form of sexual content is more dangerous to children: hetero or homo? That's right, it's the deviant, evil kind that is an abomination unto the Lord! How else to explain why rainbow-adourned movies like the aforementioned Henry & June are consistently rated more harshly than their heavenly sanctioned, baby-producing counterparts? Second question - Is violence more or less appropriate for children than swearing? More, of course! That's why 3 or more uses of the word "fuck" in a non-sexual context (or just 1 in a sexual context) will automatically grant an R rating, while you can get away with sneaking dozens of gunfire deaths into a PG-13 crowd-pleaser. MPAA math looks something like this:
Guy On Guy > Girl On Girl > Guy On Girl > "Cock", "Cunt" > "Fuck" (Sexual) > "Fuck" (Non-sexual) > "Shit" > "Damn", "Hell" > Head Blown Off > Limb Blown Off > Torso Blown Off (Somehow leaving head and limbs attached) > Fisticuffs
Given the exponential rate of change, this means that a movie can have approximately 1024 blown-off torsos or 2048 bouts of fisticuffs for every gay love scene. Why? Because the MPAA decided so, that's why. It's the same reason why every single person's ability to safely view mature content instantly changes when they reach an MPAA-determined age.
So by now, I'm sure you can guess what the MPAA gave This Film Is Not Yet Rated upon review. Yup, it was rated NC-17 due to the scenes of graphic violence and sexual content, which were actually clips of real movies being shown to demonstrate how the MPAA rates movies with graphic violence and sexual content. So rather than cut out the scenes (which would in effect be cutting out the entire premise of the movie), This Film Is Not Yet Rated (the last I heard, at least) is going to be released with the warning of the same name, and probably on a very small scale because of it. And I couldn't be prouder of them for it.