Every so often we in the UK get to grouse and whine about the BBFC's insistence on cutting this or that - either a few seconds trimmed out of the violent or scary bits in order to get a lower classification or, very occasionally, a rejection if the movie is right at the top end of unacceptability such as A Serbian Film, The Human Centipede 2 or The Bunny Game (this last still hasn't turned up here, and from what I've read and heard, I'm not surprised and I'm not overly distressed about it either). But would we better off with no ratings system at all? For all the complaints from filmmakers like Ken Loach and Stephen Woolley, who put strong language in their films and then bleat that they've been given a high certificate for strong language, and for all the complaints from parents and cinemagoers that The Dark Knight or Black Swan have been passed too leniently, it's surely a better system than an unrated free-for-all (don't forget that it was the absence of ratings on videos in the early 1980s, when children of nine or ten could walk out of video libraries with uncut tapes of The Evil Dead or The Hills Have Eyes, that ultimately led to the Video Recordings Act in the first place). Or what about a system like the MPAA?
This Film Is Not Yet Rated is a documentary attempting to expose the American film ratings board to some kind of public accountability and scrutiny: to uncover just who is it that slaps apparently random certificates on films. It's a body that operates at a level of secrecy unknown in any other sphere of American society (with the exception of the CIA): it is beholden to no-one and yet is incredibly powerful when it comes to the potential release patterns for a film - the dreaded NC-17 can kill a movie's commercial prospects, yet it's applied almost on a whim and the appeals process is so hopelessly loaded against the filmmakers that it's a worthless mockery of due process. In order to shed some light on the so-called system, filmmaker Kirby Dick employs private detectives to find out exactly who these people are.
The film also highlights the inconsistencies between the MPAA's treatment of gay sex (ugh, horrible, evil, NC-17) and straight sex (perfectly okay, nothing wrong with that, R); films from independent studios (nasty minded perverts, NC-17) and major MPAA-member studios (absolutely fine, R); graphic sex (sick filth, NC-17) and graphic violence (fun for all the family, R).Clearly, it's not there to help parents and it's not there to help filmmakers, it's there to help studios. Perhaps it would have been nice to compare and contrast with our own dear BBFC, which routinely gives out age-restrictive 15 and 18s that no-one has a problem with, rather than the Americans' nonsensical R which allows five-year-olds into films that are patently unsuitable for them, and the top category of NC-17 which is seen as the kiss of death that sends everyone into a shrieking panic when it's actually less severe than our 18.
The discussions and interviews (John Waters, Kimberley Pierce, Matt Stone, Atom Egoyan and others) are more interesting than the private investigation footage, but there are also clips from Boys Don't Cry, Eyes Wide Shut, Basic Instinct and other contentious movies that upset the MPAA but no-one else really had any issues with. It's not our business to tell the USA what to do (it certainly isn't mine), but maybe junking the MPAA entirely and replacing it with a BBFC-style organisation might give it some more credibility?
Unrated / 18: