He argues that the system places too much emphasis on not showing sex while allowing the portrayal of massive amounts of gruesome violence. Moreover, he argues that the rating system is geared toward looking at trivial aspects of the movie (such as the number of times a profane word is used) rather than at the general theme of the movie (for example, if the movie realistically depicts the consequences of sex and violence).One director, Kirby Dick (apparently his real name), has made a movie about what happened when he tried to find out who actually sits on the ratings board. I think it's interesting that the board members felt like they were being stalked. Apparently, the watchers don't like being watched.
New film attacks Hollywood's "censorship" system
By Arthur Spiegelman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When director Kirby Dick wanted to learn the identities of the most secretive group in the film industry, he resorted to a time-honored Hollywood tradition. He hired a private eye to follow them and go through their garbage.
Dick, whose movie, "This Film is Not Yet Rated," opens in New York and Los Angeles Friday, was carrying out what he considered a noble mission. He wanted to expose the secret "censors" of Hollywood -- the people who view movies before they go into theaters and classify them according to content.
Their decisions -- denoted in numerals and letters of the alphabet, like "PG-13" (parents warned that content may be inappropriate for children under 13) and "R" (restricted, under 17 admitted only with a parent or adult guardian) -- determine who sees which films.
Dick argues that the process amounts to censorship because it forces filmmakers to tone down -- maybe even gut -- their works rather the incur the wrath of the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board.
The group keeps the names of most of its board members secret from the public.
Although not a censorship board in the traditional sense of the term, the board wields enormous power in Hollywood. Few filmmakers, for example, want their works rated NC-17, which bars anyone 17-years-old or under from attending, because newspapers and TV stations often won't accept ads for such films, and many theaters refuse to show them.
Moreover, NC-17 carries the stigma of an "adult movie," which in many people's minds translates into "pornography."
Many ratings board decisions stem from the nature of sex scenes in films, including such factors as the length of an on-screen orgasm. Dick's movie illustrates the point with steamy shots that were cut from several films -- "Where the Truth Lies," "Boys Don't Cry" and "Storytelling" -- to meet ratings requirements.
Dick's decision to hire a private investigator named Becky Altringer and film her following ratings board members from their MPAA workplace to their cars came at a curious moment in Hollywood.
The whole town is currently abuzz over various investigations of another private eye -- Anthony Pellicano, the former "private eye to the stars" accused of wiretapping and other illegal activities on behalf of his A-list Hollywood clients.
Dick said he did nothing illegal in hiring his own investigator and filming her at work, scenes that help form a dramatic arc in his production.
"That was the only way I could get their names. They have been kept secret for nearly 30 years. If what they are doing is in the public interest, then the information about who they are should be public."
The MPAA says it keeps their names private to protect them from public pressure. The board members that Dick followed did not know he was making a movie and thought they were being stalked, a source close to the board said.
The MPAA has said its ratings board consists mostly of average Americans whose mandate is to provide guidance for parents on the nature of films' content, such as the level of violence and sexuality.
The board was established in 1968 to replace a more rigid system.
Dan Glickman, the head of the MPAA, denied any suggestions that the film industry trade association would go after Dick's movie in a counter-campaign. "Hey, this is a great country and the First Amendment is great" Glickman said,
"He raises some issues that we are looking at, but the essence of the rating system has been profoundly helpful to parents," Glickman added.
Dick said he would like to see the current ratings system replaced by one that gives more detailed information about what a film contains so that parents -- and parents alone -- can determine what their children see.
As for his own film, he submitted it to the ratings board and it received an NC-17 classification. But he decided to release it as an unrated movie, and thus avoid the stigma of NC-17.