catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 12 :: 2007.06.15 — 2007.06.29


Do as I say, not as I do

As Andy Warhol noted, “It's the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it.” However these days it’s the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) that determines much of the who, what, when, where, how, why, and to what extent of our consumption. Appointed individuals kept secret determine with an unknown set of methods what is to be censored in movies. They determine what is most appropriate and not. We don’t have the foggiest clue of who these people are. Until now! The debates that have been reverberating for decades regarding cinema censorship from how much is too much and where and who decides such is firmly in hand for aptly named writer/director, at least for this film, Kirby Dick and his expose documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated

Many of us have watched those network television movies that have been ‘edited for content’. I have to admit, it’s an experience of hilarity watching what is included and excluded. You might see a shit changed to a crap and still see a rape scene. This is obviously not the same argument but the topic of censorship is still central. How often do we consider, not just the notion of censorship, but who controls it and with what standards? It got me thinking and after watching the This Film is Not Yet Rated, I felt like I had been getting my movies from a thrift shop, second-hand images.

Regardless of where one might fall in the censorship debate, the topic has always been one of tension and social angst. This ongoing and raging debate regarding content in the movies, essentially between sex and violence, is heating up. The primary argument is, logically speaking, that many wonder why pleasure is aligned alongside pain and pain typically wins out, at least in terms of ratings. The observation is that movie ratings tend to have uneven scales, meaning that violence tends to be more likely to get by than sex. Now I don’t think the argument is that simple, but it does have a point. Would people rather see a shoot-em-up or a sex-em-up? Neither perhaps, but it feels like the sensors would rather us see a bullet. The tension lies in our arbitrary moral systems and this will always be intact. 

Though I am not entering into the realm of definitive standard here, I am at least offering the argument for rumination. Imagine if someone told you what you could and couldn’t see or read. You might feel like a child. How should we feel about all of this?

Since the inception of the movies from the Production [Hays] Code to the Legion of Decency to the current MPAA, the American public and its growing constituency have been bombarded with the battle over censorship. Examining polarizations such as indie vs. studio and sex vs. violence, or in this case puppet sex to over the top serial killing, This Film considers how being positioned against a wall or the length of a pleasure can be morally gerrymandered by a secret society. Even if one may agree with those sentiments, it’s fair to ask who determines this and why. This “catalog of grievances against the MPAA” seeks to unmask the absurdity of sinister anonymity within the MPAA in ‘you pesky kids’ Scooby-Doo ending fashion. I think the movie suggests this: Such de facto censorship hoisted by a group of bluenose autocrats afraid of human sexuality with a massive hand in the moral aptitude of cultural and societal psyche is clearly in need of our visit. Questions run amuck. Who are these people and who appointed them and why? Why their identity is kept secret? We could be watching the censored gleanings of the psych ward from Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for all we know. The point is we should consider not just what is censored but the why and by whom. 

Employing the use of private investigators, Kirby frames a pleasurably voyeuristic search for these “mystery men” [and women] of sorts, or more specifically this “board of parents”. He does this by tailing the unknowns from their bunker like base, eavesdropping in local eateries, rifling through the trash, and practicing DMV tracking skills to peer in on the mystique of the MPAA. Herein we get a ‘real world’ glance into this highly mysterious system that comes complete with tinted windows and a security guard, tucked away on Ventura Blvd. in Encino, California. The film features interesting interviews from such folks as John Waters, Kevin Smith, Darren Aronofsky, Atom Egoyan, Kimberly Pierce, Mary Harron and Matt Stone.

If you’re genuinely interested in the why and not just the what, and you can handle the dialogue and exposure to content, then give …Rated a whirl. As E.M. Forster noted, “We are willing enough to praise freedom when she is safely tucked away in the past and cannot be a nuisance. In the present, amidst dangers whose outcome we cannot foresee, we get nervous about her, and admit censorship.”

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