we'll just get this out of the way up front - this man is (was) the devil. there is no love lost between us.
for the unititated, that's jack valenti. he was the head of the MPAA for almost forty years and the movie rating system that is currently in place was his brainchild. he was an advocate of the major studios. he was a politician in the most base sense of the word. valenti, his creation and its administration go under the microscope in kirby dick's this film is not yet rated (2006).
i think this film's greatest merit is simply as the initiator of an important conversation. while it is provocative and makes a number of valid points, i think it ultimately falls short of its intended mark. the broader cultural questions addressed in the film are part of a much larger and infinite struggle - our perceptions of man versus woman, hetero- versus homo-, sex versus violence. when the film limits itself to demonstrating exactly how hypocritical the MPAA is in dealing with these issues is when it shines. through a number of side by side examples, it doesn't take long to establish a pattern. for the MPAA, female pleasure is obviously much more disquieting than male pleasure and certain heterosexual activity is acceptable but homosexual activity of the same (or shorter) duration and explicitness is definitely not. these concrete examples combined with interview footage of valenti constantly being contradicted by himself and those in his organization are a fairly damning document of what is considered business as usual at the MPAA offices. the conclusion i draw is that now, much like in 1968 when the current system replaced what remained of the antiquated hays code, it is time for something new. this, or at the very least, the method with which it is applied, just isn't making it anymore.
a large part of where the film falters is with the cloak and dagger unmasking of the MPAA ratings board members. dick hires a private investigator to find out the particulars of the participants in this process and, while the information they dig up is important - several members don't fit within the guidelines established by the organization, senior raters meet with studio personnel - the way they present it puts me off. where serious investigative journalism would do wonders, we are treated to what amounts to amateur and juvenile pranks. these segments are about as hard hitting as "do you have prince albert in a can?". it is simply unfortunate, the subject at hand deserves better. armond white, who i am no fan of either, makes a number of interesting points in his review regarding both the recklessness of the investigation and the myth of "indie fearlessness". i never thought i would ever say this, but i think armond white is correct (to some degree). this was bungled.
all that being said, this film is not yet rated needs to be out there, it needs to be seen. it does, however clumsily, shine a much needed light on a flawed, corrupt system. i think far too few people, even people involved in film, are aware of the shadowy and unfair practices of the ratings board. if you are interested in all aspects of how movies are made it would be in your best interest to check it out. then you, like a grown adult, can decide what to take from it. what a wacky idea.