Saturday, March 08, 2008

This Film is Not Yet Rated and Making Money

It's snowing again.

Last Saturday I watched the documentary This film is not yet rated. It's a look at the MPAA rating system and particularly at the process of rating a film NC-17 and R. It includes interviews with various filmmakers who've had to fight the ratings board along with disputed clips from their movies. It also focuses on an attempt to identify the people who do the actual rating. Their identities are kept secret by the MPAA ostensibly to protect them from outside pressure. This part of the film involves the hiring of a private investigator and tracking her attempts to identify the raters. The final portion shows Kirby Dick's, the documentarian, own struggles with the MPAA over the rating for his film about the ratings. Not surprisingly given that he includes many clips that had caused their own movies to get an NC-17, Dick's movie does as well. His appeal was rejected and he released the movie unrated. The film is very interesting. It's hard to argue against its position that the ratings are often applied in a very inconsistent manner and that the appeals process is stacked against the appellant. It also makes some cogent points about the differing treatments of sex and violence in films and of independent and studio movies in the process. There is a self-righteousness and stridency to the movie that I did not enjoy. One of the rallying cries is that the ratings, especially the NC-17 rating, harm movies financially because NC-17's are locked out of most major theatres and rental/retail outlets. This is true as far as it goes but I found it interesting that the policy decisions of the distributors and retailers, despite John Waters attacks on Wal-Mart and Blockbuster, where largely left to the side, especially give the late revelation that the majority of the ratings appeals board consists of representatives of distributors. I know, it's a film about ratings, not film distribution, but that didn't prevent a lengthy digression about the MPAA's anti-piracy campaign, which has nothing to do with ratings. I was mostly amused by the apparent shock and outrage that there were two members of the clergy on the appeals board. Gasp! Horrors! One is a representative of the national Catholic bishops' board, the other represents the National Council of Churches, the primarily liberal old mainline Protestant denominations. Also not surprising was the general, apparently unquestioned, attitude that censorship of movies is bad because censorship, as such, is bad. There was an interesting suggestion that violence portrayed in Saving Private Ryan merited a less restrictive rating than that in e.g. James Bond or Arnold Schwarzenegger movies because SPR was more realistic while the others in not showing the true consequences of the actions involved were desensitizing. All in all it was an interesting movie, but once was enough.

I also read Terry Pratchett's book, Making Money last week. It was another amusing Discworld novel. Fresh off his success in reviving Ankh-Morpork's failing postal system, reformed conman Moist von Lipwig is thrust into the position of acting chairman of the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork and the mint. Moist has to call on all his wit and resources to fend off the intrigues of the family of the former chairman, to avoid his past, to get AM off the gold standard and onto paper money, and deal with the absence of his chain smoking sweetheart, Adora Belle, who prefers to be called "Spike." It's a fun book like any Discworld but many of the characters and ideas seem underdeveloped. It also reminded me that while Pratchett can set up a world and a situation his endings are often confusing and contrived. Still for me the main joy in any Discworld novel involves the interplay of puns and ideas and satire more than the plot so I enjoyed reading the book and will happily read the obvious sequel if it's ever forthcoming.

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