Saturday, January 27, 2007
They were afraid of Virginia Woolf
The motion picture industry has announced that it is reforming its movie ratings system, which has been sharply criticized by moviemakers and by a recent hard-hitting documentary. The reforms are not perfect, and some details remain sketchy, but they are an important step toward making movie ratings more transparent and fair.
Under the new rules, which have been spearheaded by Dan Glickman, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, the top three movie raters will be named on the association's Web site, and there will be descriptive information about the other raters. The Web site will also include the rules of the rating system, now available only on request.
Raters will be retired when their children grow up. Filmmakers will be able to cite other films in their appeals, though it remains unclear how much weight these appeals to precedent will carry. The reforms are laudable, but do not go as far as they should. The identity of anyone who rates a film or rules on an appeal should be public. Good conflict-of-interest rules can prevent them from being exposed to undue influence, while identifying the raters would increase public confidence.
By Edward Copeland
I'm sure it's just coincidence that the MPAA chose to announce reforms just as Kirby Dick's documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated is hitting DVD where more people can see what a boondoggle the movie ratings system is.
When a documentary is this must fun, sometimes there is a tendency to dismiss it: If there isn't the requisite gravity and sense of importance, if it doesn't feel as if you are taking medicine, perhaps it's not worth our time. Nothing could be further from the truth about This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated. Dick's fun and exasperating (because of what he uncovers, not the film itself) documentary tries to lift the curtain which hides the MPAA's process of rating motion pictures — and what a mystifying and mortifying process it is.
He provides the history of Jack Valenti's folly, prompted by the language of 1966's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? This great look includes interviews with many filmmakers who have been victimized by the ratings board and their obsession with sex and the blind-eye they turn toward violence.
Perhaps the best part of the documentary involves private investigators that Dick hired to determine who the anonymous raters were and exposing the lies to the idea that all the raters are parents of school-age children.
The ultimate fun though comes when Dick submits this very film to the board who, of course, rates it NC-17 and then shows him trying to go through the appeals process of a board pretending that they are not rating a film that shows what frauds and hacks they are.