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Many years ago, Jack Nicholson was quoted in a Vanity Fair article stating, "Kiss a tit, get an X rating. Hack it off with a machete, get a PG." What is it that makes Americans so puritanical about sex, yet so lax towards violence? That's one of the main considerations of "This Film is Not Yet Rated", the new documentary from Kirby Dick that follows the standards and practices of the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings system. The film presents the theory that the levels of violence in our films (and, by contrast, the abolishment of pleasurable sex simulations) have slowly brainwashed our country for the past forty years. As a result, we have become infected with a war-like sensibility. And we have degraded the sex act not as a normal human function, but as something forbidden. Ironically, this tends to be the exact opposite point of view as the European countries.

The ratings board is supposedly composed of an anonymous group of regular parents, who all have children under the age of 17. They speak for all of us and largely determine what we can or can't see. Think they don't matter? If a film is NC-17, it is refused advertisement in the majority of newspapers and TV stations across the country, and most theatres will not release them. The same goes for those films that bypass the ratings board altogether and do not receive a rating. This practice stigmatizes film that might have enormous artistic merit, because the ratings reflect something salactious and pornographic.

The film sheds lights on many aspects of this issue. It also works as detective story, as the director hires two private investigators to discover the identity of the ratings board members. Why are they so secretive? Is there any high profile group (other than the CIA) that exists so deeply within the shadows? What this investigation turns up is startling. A large majority of these board members do not fall within the specified guidelines of the MPAA (ages of children, tenure of service, etc).

The double standard is obvious -- you can show obscene amounts of violence (and, ironically, get away with massive amounts of violence against women, including scenes of rape and abuse), but if you portray a pleasurable sexual act, you will be censored. The more you sense that the female in the scene enjoys these simulated acts, the more likely that film is to be penalized.

There is also a double standard in terms of what they allow the big studios to get away with as opposed to the independents. There is a lot of money and powerful influence floating in the air -- all led by a man who has weilded enormous amounts of power for many decades: Jack Valenti. You get a sense of Valenti's true motivations and who truly finances them, but you feel that more examination of his role is needed.

That's not the only fault of this documentary film. Its tone is curiously light. Kirby Dick seems to want to let loose and have fun with his material, but it seems only to distract from the serious issues at play. This should be a seering account of thinly veiled censorship. Because of the tone, you are likely to ask yourself "So what?" to several of the picture's points. The arguments would have carried more weight if the film had taken itself more seriously.

Also, it doesn't seem to be as comprehensive as it should have been. Many films that are pertinent to the subject are not mentioned. And in spite of a full 90 minute offense against the current system, no one shares any recommendations for a better one.

Still, the examples that are highlighted in the film are illuminating. "The Cooler" was marked for an NC-17 for a brief glimpse of pubic hair, yet "Scary Movie 2" features an encyclopedia of more graphic visuals with a lesser rating. "Boys Don't Cry" was also earmarked for a harsher rating; not for a shot of Hilary Swank's brains splattering against the wall behind her, but for a scene that focused on Chloe Sivegny's face as she's experiencing an orgasm. "American Psycho" had to be recut for a brief portrayal of three-way sex, but not for graphic chainsaw and ax murders.

Some directors increase the violence in their films just for the ratings board screenings. When they complain, they cut it back to exactly the way they wanted it to begin with and get away with the rating they desire. A fun, trivial bit in the film shows some of the uncut footage from "Team America", where Trey Parker and Matt Stone expanded the puppet sex scene to a full four-minute display of obscene hilarity.

By far, the high point of the film occurs when the director submits his film to the board for a rating. This climactic section of the film gives you an inside look into another hypocrisy -- the appeal board process. And who are the mystery men and women who run this board? Perhaps not surprisingly, they consist of movie studio and theatre executives, as well as clergy members from the Catholic and Episcopalian church. What is surprising is that these members are also anonymous, and the defendant cannot reference other films in his defense.

Overall, this IFC production is worth a look for the inside view into this "Star Chamber"-like entity. But the issues that really matter aren't given as much consideration as they should: Is the activity of the ratings board equivalent to censorship? And why are we mor epermissive of violence than sex? Frankly, for more persuasive answers to the second question, I would recommend viewing "Bowling for Columbine", a picture (unlike this one) that wasn't afriad to tackle its subject on broader terms in an effort to reach a larger truth. B-

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