The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Who is Arleen Bates, and why should you care?

Because she has more influence over what you see and don't see at the films than just about everyone else in Hollywood (with the exception of Anthony Hey, Scott Young, Joann Yatabe, Matt Ioakimedes, Barry Freeman, Joan Worden, Howard Fridkin and Kori Jones).


Because she's a member of the Motion Picture Association of America Film Rating System, which, until the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, had anonymous members, and (again, until the documentary) whose appeals board were also anonymous.

It's an interesting documentary. The MPAA Film Ratings Board, started in 1968, has always had guidelines for each rating, but no hard, fast rules in place for what is and isn't allowed. Normally, this isn't bad—it allows the guidelines to breath and change with the times, but when the decisions are arbitrary, and feedback to the filmmakers non-existant and appeals cannot use other films' ratings in the appeal, and the members of both boards are anonymous, then it's little more than a Star Chamber.

Basically, the MPAA Film Ratings Board is not transparent.

And because it's not transparent, a filmmaker is at the mercy of the board (which, according to the documentary, whose members don't even fit the profile of the Film Ratings Board) who give no usable feedback to the film maker. The whole process seems reminiscent of the following bit from Amadeus:

Emperor Joseph II
Too many notes.
I don't understand. There are just as many notes, Majesty, as I require. Neither more nor less.
Emperor Joseph II
My dear fellow, there are only so many notes the ear can hear in the course of an evening. I think I'm right in saying that, aren't I, Court Composer?
Yes. Yes, on the whole, yes, Your Majesty.
This is absurd.
Emperor Joseph II
My dear young man, don't take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.
Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?

So, the documentary's directory, Kirby Dick, hired a private detective to penetrate the secrecy of the Film Ratings Board, and then submitted the documentary to the Films Ratings Board—it earned an NC-17 for “some graphic sexual content” but did not elaborate further. The appeal was overturned in a unanimous 10-0 vote (or maybe it was a 12-0 vote, it's not clear if two members of the appeal board are voting members). The MPAA was also caught making an illegal copy of the documentary (although that bit is in the deleted scenes section of the DVD and not in the film proper).

The ratings though, are purely voluntary, but in the same way that Microsoft Windows is voluntary—the entire industry is built around using it, and if you buck the trend, you severely limit the audience you have.

It's scary to think just how capricious the Film Ratings Board really is.

This documentary? If you like films in general, this film is a real eye opener in how films are rated.

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