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Rental Unit

"This Film is Not Yet Rated

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Just about everyone knows the movie ratings system. It's supposed to keep youngsters out of stuff that might scar them. Personally, I wish there were an inverse policy, barring me from screenings of Rob Schneider comedies and anything that farts. But the Motion Picture Association of America ratings board is all we have, and at least according to this report, it's not a fair system that fosters creativity.

"TFINYR" is an unabashed indictment of this process. The main gripe: One small group of anonymous people hired by the MPAA pretty much decide what artists get to make and what the public gets to see.

The MPAA has a story too. Former longtime MPAA president Jack Valenti argues through archival footage that his goal in creating the ratings board was to have the product judged by average Americans. But according to "TFINYR," that's baloney. Movie raters, we learn, aren't required to have any background in movies; they're supposed to have young children themselves, but just as often they're in their 20s or older; they often keep the jobs much longer than they're supposed to; and their identity is kept entirely secret, during and after employment.

As the film shows, it gets worse. The board doesn't have to say what it based its decision on. Unless the filmmaker has a hired gun from Paramount or some other major studio, he or she will just have to guess, and the only appeal available is a kind of closing argument made to a different group of anonymous people who usually side with the board.

As Americans, we're used to aloof bureaucracy, but "TFINYR" tries to prove that this system ignores even the most basic precepts of American justice. It gets a little goofy at times, especially during the antics of a private investigator hired to unmask the board with the help of binoculars. But the overall points seem valid. And director Kirby Dick and his movie aren't really asking much. Let the process take place like other American systems, he says, in the open and subject to oversight. By the way, he took his film to the ratings board and guess what rating he got: NC-17 (though it was released NR). *** — Wayne Melton

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