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Rating a Look-See

September 21, 2006 By:
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Directors Atom Egoyan (left) and Kirby Dick direct their attention to ratings in Dick's latest film, "This Film Is Not Yet Rated."
X marks the spot ... Wait, no, it doesn't. More like NC-17 marks the spot that Kirby Dick is in.

And it is the Motion Picture Association of America ratings board who's put him there.

For Dick, ironically, it's a good spot to be in, because if not for the myopic MPAA, his quirky clever "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" would rate not more than an afterthought.

But it was after thinking that he had completed a worthwhile documentary on the mysterious ratings board that he felt he finally knew what the PG stood for: Positions of God.

After all, who could defy a cryptic cache of censors, whose life-and-death decisions on reel life could mean Hollywood or Follywood for filmmakers?

So when the Oscar-nominated Dick dickered with the curtain cloaking the wizards, he found out the red slippers were more fool's gold than ruby.

"It is in a way a Star Chamber," he says of the star-laden Hollywood process of sitting before unidentified and uncontrolled voters on the appeals board who could find an unappealing nude scene gratuitous enough to toss to the gutters.

Art is in the eyes of the beholder, but hold on, insists Dick. Who are these voters beholden to?

Interviewing such renowned filmmakers as John Waters, Atom Egoyan, Becky Altringer, Kevin Smith, Matt Stone and actress Maria Bello -- whose bellowing remarks about the board over a nude scene in her "The Cooler" is as cool as it gets -- Dick also turned his ratings rant into a new genre: film war, a detective story about the dark secrets that make the MPAA board so ... boring, albeit deadly.

In unleashing a private eye to examine their mystical powers, if not charms, Dick had his eye on the prize: a clever, cunning film about much ado about nothing that is really not nothing at all.

A "Seinfeld" scissored with censors?

In a way, "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" is yet another exam of nothing being something.

"Who are these people?" questions Dick.

"Europeans are appalled at what Americans accept."

The Ratings Game

Independent filmmakers are so dependent on the MPAA ratings rulings that a career can fall on its rear -- skin not shown -- if one scene grosses out one too many of the board. It all gives new meaning to "cover your ass."

"And the thing is," adds Dick, "while they'll work with mainstream movie-makers, making suggestions of cuts," an independent may as well call in the mohel, not knowing where to cut his own flesh and blood to gain approval.

The board is more apt to go gunning for sex scenes while being more amenable to violence, says Dick: "What they're telling us about ourselves is that violence gets off the hook."

But bed and bored?

No way! Sex scenes inevitably have more of a chance of coming out of a movie, especially if done by those filmmakers without perceived clout.

Anything Goes

It's easy to see where Dick stands on the subject: "I don't think anything should be censored."

Self-censoring he's not. Anything goes? Everything stays! After all, he reasons, "what's to prevent a movie about the Holocaust, with graphic scenes, from being censored because of the violence. There is no possible way if they [on the board] have not lived through the Holocaust that they could understand it."

Talk about a sinful list, says Dick of "their obsession with violence."

And the appeals court is far from appealing, says the filmmaker, who felt like he was twisting in not so much a wind as a centrifuge. "There is so much secrecy around this system."

WMD -- wonks of movie deception? In a way.

If it's said that nobody doesn't like something about Sara Lee, nobody knows anything about these modern-day censors who have their cake, eat it and then fail to share the ingredients of their decisions with filmmakers?

"They act like they're in high school, like members of the student government who tell you, 'We know what's best for you.' "

What's best for Kirby Dick, possibly, was not to go this taunting targeting route. As a talented filmmaker with plans for future projects, he knows this deep down.

But the director of "Twist of Faith" keeps the faith that sanity ... well, maybe not sanity ... but truth will out. Even if the truth is that the ratings board proudly flaunts its use of Catholic and Protestant clergy as advisers, but no rabbis.

"What's with that? Are there any Jews involved? Why no rabbis?" Dick demands to know.

This story arc has its own angels as Dick's film turns up some surprises by end credits.

As for his own future, "I've been fired from every job I've ever had. This is a decision I made. Art cannot let fear govern it or what we do as artists."

We have nothing to fear but fear itself -- well, that and maybe a little homophobia, too, says Dick of the board's less-than-stellar leanings on the subject of gay sex.

However, Dick is not about to change the way he thinks, or, for that matter, present himself differently as he earns kudos and acclaim for standing up for himself.


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