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They’re not standing around the watercooler, but Cheryl Sadler, Mark Meszoros, Mark Podolski and Nicole Franz are talking about what they’ve been watching, listening to and playing during their free time.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

This film board has been rated questionable

I saw two movies this week that got me thinking about those film ratings given by the Motion Picture Association of America.

One was the 2006 documentary “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” an examination of said ratings system and a movie that had inexplicably gone unseen by me for far too long. Although the ratings system had never fascinated me, the inner workings of the movie industry generally do. And any documentary that promises to illuminate you on a subject is worth checking out.

Filmmaker Kirby Dick makes a very compelling case that the MPAA’s rating system is, among other things, inconsistent and much more fair to studio films than independents. Indie filmmakers talk on camera about receiving the dreaded NC-17 rating — which replaced the X rating some time ago and virtually guarantees their film won’t be seen by the masses — without much guidance from the ratings board on what they could cut to bump the rating to an R. The studios, on the other hand, tend to get helpful notes from the board — trim here, tuck here, lose this, and you’re good to go.

The most compelling case for that inconsistency comes from Matt Stone, one half of the duo behind “South Park.” When he and partner in comic crime Trey Parker were making their 1997 indie comedy “Orgazmo,” which boasted, arguably, strong sexual content, they were slapped with an NC-17 and told little about how to change that. Years later, the duo made the raunchy puppet comedy “Team America: World Police.” This time, after getting what was probably a well-deserved NC-17, they were given detailed notes on what steps to take to get an R. And OH BY THE WAY, the film was produced by Paramount Pictures.

Stone talked about how initially he, Parker and Co. shot extra footage — extra-raunchy footage — that they never intended to use in the final version, just to give the board something it could recommend for cutting.

The guess here is that was the same approach taken by the makers of the other movie I saw this week, “Bruno,” which hits theaters Friday. Sacha Baron Cohen’s follow-up to “Borat” originally was given an NC-17, and yet the R-rated version is still full of industrial-strength raunchy material. Made by Universal Pictures, “Bruno,” too, probably just needed to offer the MPAA something that could be left on the cutting room floor. (After seeing the movie, which I’ll review in Friday’s News-Herald, I can’t imagine what DIDN’T make it in.)

In “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” Kirby makes a strong argument that the board is unnecessarily anonymous — he hires private investigators to unearth their identies — and, worse, that it is much more lenient when it comes to male sexuality than female sexuality. That’s appalling.

Unlike some of the filmmakers, I believe we do need a ratings system. I’m sure it’s helpful to parents. And truthfully, I don’t care whether a film gets a PG rating when G might have done. But that R/NC-17 turn is tricky. More filmmakers should be given the benefit of the doubt, that they are trying to make art, not striving for salaciousness. (OK, maybe not Stone and Parker, as much as I love “South Park.”

This blog post has been rated PG-13 ... by me.

— Mark Meszoros


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