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May 4, 2007

Evenings Out

How to get an
NC-17 rating

One sure way is to include gay content in your film

Over all, documentaries are not very exciting creatures. Sure, they may be designed to elicit an emotional response, like sorrow or shock or joy, but generally speaking, a documentary on the life of Alfred Kinsey would most likely be less interesting than, say, the award-winning docudrama Kinsey, with Liam Neeson playing the famous sex researcher.

Such is not the case with This Film is Not Yet Rated and the movie that flows conversationally from it, Fuck.

This Film is Not Yet Rated reveals that the ratings board at the Motion Picture Association of America routinely tallies up the number of times the F-word is used in a movie. One or two instances may still get a PG-13; an excessive amount guarantees an R.

Both films are now out on DVD They are intelligent, witty, creative and visceral documentaries delving deep into the American society, although Fuck might take itself a little less seriously than This Film is Not Yet Rated.

Of the two, Rated is by far the most “important.”

Pretty much everyone is familiar with the MPAA, or at least with their film rating system of G, PG, PG13, R and NC17, the rating that used to be X.

Until this film was released last year, few people knew that the MPAA’s ratings board is made up of people whose names are kept completely secret, ostensibly to protect them from being pressured by the studios.

When former MPAA head Jack Valenti formed the board, he comprised it of parents with children aged 5 to 17, who were only supposed to serve a few years.

But Rated director Kirby Dick hired a private investigator for the film--a lesbian one, at that--who managed to uncover the identity of all of the ratings board members in less than a month.

At that time in late 2005, half had children who were completely adults, meaning that there was no reason for them to be on the board. At least one had been on the board for around 17 years!

Dick also interviews a number of directors and a couple of actors to find out how they feel about the MPAA and their ratings board, who are accountable to no one. While few directors were willing to go on camera (hardly surprising, since the MPAA will rate their next film), a few brave souls did. Many are either queer or have LGBT content in their films.

Kimberly Peirce, who helmed Boys Don’t Cry, is absolutely livid at the fact that the MPAA tried to slap a true story with an NC17 rating. One of their biggest complaints was a scene with Chloë Sevigny having an orgasm. Peirce found it very offensive that the board was so uncomfortable with the thought of a woman feeling pleasure.

Her interpretation is backed up by Jamie Babbit’s interview, in which she notes that the board wanted her to cut a scene of Natasha Lyonne masturbating--fully clothed, hands above the clothing--or be slapped with the dreaded NC17 rating.

Babbit noted that, at the same time, the far more sexually-explicit American Pie was in theaters, and it received an R.

Babbit, Peirce, Canadian director Atom Egoyan and others speak at length about the double standard they perceive at the MPAA when it comes to LGBT content: Sex is bad, but gay sex is almost impermissible. It’s the complete opposite of the European ratings systems, where people can schtup onscreen all they want, but graphic violence will get an adult rating.

And that whole bit about keeping ratings board members’ identities secret to protect them from outside influence? It’s malarkey--they have weekly meetings with studio executives to tell them how to earn better ratings for their films. All it does it connect the ratings board more closely to the studios.

Matt Stone, one of the creators of South Park, points out the difference between when he and filmmaking partner Trey Parker were trying to get an R rating for their film Orgazmo, a broad indie comedy, and their Paramount-produced South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut. While the board wouldn’t offer any suggestions to drop Orgazmo from an NC17, they were only too happy to help South Park make the cut to a film that could be advertised on TV.

In addition to sex, nudity and violence, language will also get a film a more adult rating, most especially the word fuck. This brings us to Steve Anderson’s documentary, which contains the word 800 times, according to a tally at the end.

Anderson interviews people on the left and the right about the word, from politician Alan Keyes to Hunter S. Thompson, from former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and TV reporter Sam Donaldson (who proudly admits to using it in his private life but never on camera) to porn star Ron Jeremy and rapper-actor Ice T.

What emerges is a humorous look at the history, usage and finer points of the word, including the fact that it can be used as almost every type of word--noun, verb, adjective, adverb--and was, according to Billy Connolly, probably the first word spoken on Earth, as the first creatures emerged onto dry land.

His impression of that ancient creature is . . . disturbing, to say the least.

Not surprisingly, heartthrob-turned-Bible-banger Pat Boone doesn’t like that word, and believes that people can use their imagination to do better. For instance, when he really messes something up, he yells his own name--“Oh, Boone!”

That anecdote is moderately funny, but it is hysterical to hear IceT say that he really enjoys this new word and is going to use it himself, heading home after the interview to “boone” his wife.

Whether you like the word or not, however, both films’ examinations of society’s hypocrisy are more than enough to make anyone say it quite loudly.






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