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Friday, September 22, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"This Film Is Not Yet Rated:" You are entering twilight zone of the film-rating cabal

Seattle Times movie critic

"They are reflecting the truth of America: Violence is fine, sex is not," says filmmaker John Waters. Filmmaker Kimberly Peirce ("Boys Don't Cry") describes them as "a very powerful cultural censorship group." And longtime indie-film executive Bingham Ray says, "I believe it's a fascist system."

They're talking about one of the biggest secrets in Hollywood: the anonymous ratings board of the Motion Picture Association of America. The board wields enormous power — a restrictive rating of R or NC-17 can destroy a film's chances at success — but as Kirby Dick demonstrates in his entertaining documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," it hides behind a bizarre wall of secrecy.

Movie review 3 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"This Film Is Not Yet Rated," a documentary by Kirby Dick. 97 minutes. Rated NC-17 for some graphic sexual content. Varsity, through Thursday. Read Moira Macdonald's interview with Kirby Dick, Sunday in Entertainment & the Arts.

Dick, whose last film was a devastating examination of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church ("Twist of Faith"), has a lighter tone here; "This Film" careens from playful caper to earnest outrage.

Much of the comedy comes from a cheerful private investigator named Becky, hired to track down the board's identity. She's a no-nonsense type who seems to relish her work (which can involve going through people's garbage), and though we see a bit too much of her, her tone of brisk joviality is welcome.

Meanwhile, Dick interviews filmmakers about their experiences with the board and draws conclusions from past ratings decisions. The results do indeed show a bias against sexual content vs. violent content, and independent filmmakers vs. studios. We're shown a scene of sexuality from the indie comedy "But I'm a Cheerleader" that's far less explicit than a similar scene in "American Pie." The "Cheerleader" filmmakers were told that the scene would have to be cut for an R rating (rather than the even more restrictive NC-17); "American Pie," from a major studio, easily earned an R.

In an inspired touch, the last section of "This Film" deals with its submission to the MPAA for a rating, and Dick's wildly Alice-in-Wonderland-ish conversations with MPAA staffers. Upon receiving an NC-17 rating (which was inevitable, as his film includes clips of NC-17-rated film content), he chose to appeal at a hearing and entered a strange world where everybody had numbers instead of names. You wonder what the MPAA privately thought of "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," which persuasively argues that the board is ineffective and crippled by conflicts of interest. I'd guess, though, that they're keeping their reaction secret.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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